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Solutions Integrators and UC

The UCStrategies team has been planning its next UC Summit, which brings together "Solutions Integrators" with vendors and consultants to explore how we can all work together to help grow the UC market, and of course, everyone's financial prospects.You may be asking yourself, what is a "solutions integrator?" We created that term to describe companies that sell and integrate UC solutions--including VARs, interconnects, telecom dealers and system integrators. From the vendor perspective, this group is called "the channel" or "channel partners," but from the end user or enterprise perspective, these are the people who not only sell them the voice and data products needed for a UC solution, but also help put the solutions together, tying them together with the organizations' existing systems (telephony, data), desktops, devices (wireless, wireline), and perhaps most importantly, applications.

In the past, the job of resellers, VARs, interconnects and telecom dealers was essentially to sell products or "boxes" (PBXs, phones, voice mail systems, etc.), and in some cases they would also provide some related software applications.

The situation today is much different, with the focus on applications first, requiring an understanding of the customers' business, business processes, workflows, etc. As you've heard countless times by now, Unified Communications is: Communications integrated to optimize business processes. It's the job of the solutions integrators to do this integration, and this is a different type of activity than simply selling boxes.

Today's solutions integrators must understand various work modes in the context of the business processes that are being performed, e.g. is the work primarily customer-facing field work (sales, service), or on-site process-centered mobile work (health care, retail, manufacturing, distribution), or on-site or virtual office desk-based work (financial services, enterprise support departments), or flexible location information or knowledge work (development, marketing, consulting, management)? The solutions integrator must then be able to convert that information about the processes and the roles within those processes into designs that specify the best communications modes and applications and support those choices with the best UC software, hardware, devices and procedures.

To do this effectively solutions integrators need new skills, new contacts at their customers and prospects, and most importantly new ways of working with customers to identify the best applications opportunities. The relationship between the organization and the solutions integrator is key, and also different than in the past--it's not just a matter of determining how many PBX lines are needed, or how much storage space is required for voice mail messages.

For a UC deployment to succeed, enterprises must work together with their solutions integrators to identify how UC can best be utilized within the organization, and how to make this happen. We would expect the solutions integrators' primary UC vendors to provide them with the tools and proper training to enable this level of performance.

End user organizations and solutions integrators need to work together to understand the impact that a UC solution will have on the company's business (of course with the help of an independent consultant). For example, implementing conferencing and collaboration tools will inevitably lead to a more collaborative work environment, which will likely impact the organizational structure of the company. These types of considerations may seem out of the realm of a reseller, but it needs to be examined by a solutions integrator when helping customers implement unified communications.

What this means is that companies should look for and work with a solutions integrator that can not only sell a shiny new IP-PBX, but can work together with the company to identify and understand the impact a UC solution will have on the individual workers and the company as a whole, ensuring that the implementation is successful for everyone involved.