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What I Learned at the UC Summit
As an industry analyst, I often speak with vendors and enterprise customers about the UC market, but don't always have a chance to hear from resellers/channel partners and end-user consultants. UCStrategies' UC Summit brought these groups together to learn from one another about how to succeed in Unified Communications and help grow the market. By focusing on the needs of channel partners (which includes VARs, resellers, dealers, and system integrators, now referred to as "Solution Integrators") and end-user consultants, the UC Summit provided a forum for interaction and education for the attendees. Hearing from the people that are out there selling UC solutions provided the following insights.It's all about Communication Enabled Business Processes (CEBP) or business process integration. As Joe Schurman of Evangelze Communications wrote in a recent Network World article about the UC Summit (http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/60916), "In order to see ROI in a Unified Communications solution, the solution has to have a CEBP strategy from the foundation through to line of business and utility application integration."
However, attendees noted that selling CEBP solutions greatly lengthens the sales cycle and requires sales tools and skills that they may be lacking. UC requires a consultative selling approach, rather than the traditional "box selling" model that VARs and resellers have built their businesses on, and it is difficult for many of them to make the transition to solution selling.
One reseller noted that he's built up a great business based on selling switches, but UC adds more complexity, and several attendees agreed, noting that some of their sales people don't know how to move to the next step to sell UC solutions, particularly when related to understanding customer's business processes, and how to talk to the line of business managers rather than the IT manager. It became very clear that more training is required, and vendors need to step up and help their channel partners attain the skills needed.
Another challenge is that many solution integrators specialize in either voice or IT products and don't have the skills and expertise to sell a solution that integrates voice, data, and applications. Some of the successful solution integrators are either hiring sales professionals with the expertise needed, or are partnering with others to supplement their capabilities.
Interoperability, or the lack thereof, remains a major challenge for solution integrators, who need to ensure that the necessary products and technologies that go into a UC solution work seamlessly together. In many cases, it's up to the solution integrator to do the integration and testing, since the vendors can't guarantee interoperability with all of the myriad products in the UC arena.
Consultants have a different set of issues. Several commented that they work for their clients and not the vendors, but are often pressured by vendors try to sell their entire UC product line and offerings, when a best-of-breed solution would provide a superior result. On a positive note, most consultants were pleased to see the increasing focus on solutions rather than just products, since this supports their work with their clients, which most often has a solutions orientation.
The importance of best-of-breed solutions became apparent during discussions with companies such as NET and Acme Packet, which provide technologies that, while not as sexy as telepresence, are critical solution elements. Attendees had the opportunity to hear, not just from the likes of Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, and NEC, but from companies they may not be as familiar with, such as AVST, Aastra, Interactive Intelligence, Siemens, and Verint.
The need for ongoing education and discussions about unified communications is just as great now as it was several years ago when it was being introduced to most people. Events such as the UC Summit and Enterprise Connect, and resources such as ucstrategies.com and nojitter.com continue to help keep the dialog going.