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The Channel and UC

In the Unified Communications Market Update presentation I delivered at VoiceCon, there is a slide that shows the various vendors that provide elements of a UC solution, including switch, conferencing/collaboration, mobility, desktop, messaging and business process/application vendors, emphasizing that no one vendor provides all the elements of a total solution. As such, system integrators (SI's) and resellers/VARs have an extremely important role in integrating the various elements in order to provide UC solutions for their customers.However, this begs the question: Are most SI's and resellers up to the task? Do they have the skills and expertise needed in a UC world? And are the vendors helping their channel partners get the tools and training they need to properly sell UC solutions, integrate the various elements, including business processes, train end users and ensure successful implementations for their customers? Many challenges exist for vendors and SI's/resellers, and the need for these groups to work together has never been greater.

As Pam Avila of UCStrategies and Sierra Summit Group noted in an article "Where and What is Channel X," two factors are creating the need for a new type of channel partner--the shift from hardware-based products to software applications, virtualization and "the cloud"; and the demands of customers for solutions to their business problems.

Avila notes, "It has become painfully clear to most manufacturers that their traditional data or voice partners are ill-equipped to position and sell the converged solutions that address the business needs of their customers, especially as more solutions are software- or even cloud-based." Unfortunately, there are too few converged "Solutions Integrators" and too many vendors needing their skills to sell their products. This means that vendors can either hold their breath and wait for new partners to arrive, or they can help the ones they have rise to the challenge.

Channel partners are facing challenges as well, as their business model needs to adapt to a new UC world. The channel needs to redirect its focus to support software-based UC solutions where the switch is no longer at the center of the universe.

For the systems integrator, challenges abound--how will the channel support cloud services without cannibalizing their product sales and revenues; how can they integrate UC into the customers' business applications; can they partner with other resellers that have skills that they lack?

For years we've been talking about the need to sell solutions rather than boxes, and unfortunately many resellers are still struggling with this. The bigger challenge for channel partners is the ability to demonstrate hard ROI for UC solutions. Some vendors provide templates and online tools that channel partners can use to identify top and bottom line savings, but generally it's up to the partner to understand and prove the business case.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is that to sell UC solutions, channel partners need to engage with not just the IT manager, but with line of business personnel such as the sales manager, director of customer service, claims manager, etc. Based on my recent experience accompanying a large reseller/system integrator to meetings with customers, it is easy to get the IT and telecom staff to participate in the discussion, but much more difficult, if not impossible, to reach the line of business people.

Vendors need to step up and provide tools for their channel partners to succeed--from training to more sophisticated ROI tools to providing UC products at a low cost that the reseller can use internally in a test lab.

That's why UCStrategies' UC Summit in La Jolla, CA, which will run April 25-28, is so important. UC vendors and channel partners will have an opportunity to come together and hear about ways in which they can help each other be successful. The Summit is the ideal forum where vendors, the channel and consultants can share ideas about how to better sell UC solutions and engage customers. I hope to see you there.