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How Telecom Vendors Can Stay Relevant in a Changing Comms World

In what has become a fun annual event, I participated in the Locknote session at Enterprise Connect last week, and while several key topics were discussed, my favorite question was, "Who are the winners and losers?" In my view, the clear winner at EC and going forward are the end users--you and me and every other employee who today has a range of options for communications and collaboration, whether brought in by the employee or delivered by the IT department.

But that sets up a couple of potential "losers." The first is the IT/telecom department, which is fighting a battle against diminishing budgets and resources while at the same time trying to fend off the tide of BYOT (bring your own technology). If this organization can change, learning to take advantage of consumer-driven devices and apps where appropriate, and finding good enterprise-grade substitutes where necessary--and looking for ways to inject communications into business processes, working with line of business managers and end users--it will not just survive but thrive.

The second potential "losers" are the traditional telephony vendors, who need to change not just their products but also their skill sets in order to stay relevant in the new world. They face the challenge of learning about business processes and embracing change in both how they sell and how they service their products. I discussed one easy way to do that in an earlier post, but they will also need to hire experienced business process engineers and consultants in order to achieve success.

That said, both IT and telephony vendors face one more daunting challenge, and this one will be much harder to face: The pace of change is happening so quickly in their industry, it's hard to understand how they will be able to keep up. We all know that large companies take a long time to make even small changes, let alone wholesale course corrections. And this was OK until recently, because change happened incrementally, and at the behest of the IT department. Vendors were often two-to-three years ahead of their customers with new products and services (consider, for instance, how long it has taken to transition from TDM to IP), but that wasn't a bad thing: when those customers were ready to change, their vendors were ready to supply them with the necessary technology.

Today, the entire game has changed. In a software-centric, user-driven world, change happens constantly. New app revs come out weekly, if not daily, depending on how many apps you run. New devices are available in cycles measured by months, not years. And consumers who are willing to pay for the new technology for their personal use because they see benefit in having the "latest and greatest" expect their companies to do the same thing.

So the biggest challenge for IT and their vendors is how to become increasingly agile, with the ability to roll out new software and hardware and even change tack completely on a dime. Will they be able to keep pace with consumer speed? Probably not, and that's likely to be OK. But maintaining the status quo won't be fast enough, either.

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