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Where We're at with UC&C in Public Sector, SMB Markets

This is my first BCStrategies contribution, though some of you may be familiar with me from articles I've previously written for No Jitter, as well as my participation at Enterprise Connect over the years.

I spend most of my time as a professional consultant assisting my clients procure, implement, and optimize IT Infrastructure solutions -- especially voice and business communications systems. Over the past two years, many of my clients have been in the public sector or in quasi-public sector adjacent segments, such as utilities and college/universities, and have ranged in size from 100 to 10,000 users. Here is some of what I've learned from these consulting engagements over the past two years:

  • The public sector is conservative and generally not an early adopter of new technologies. As an example, a community college CIO told me that he had a fear of reading about a failed IT project in the local newspaper (this had happened in the past to him), and this guided his project decisions. Of course, I've encountered exceptions, such as at a university that had started a cloud migration for voice. Unfortunately, this university's experience with a cloud migration sent it back to the premises. After migrating several hundred users (out of a 2,500-user population), the university learned that its selected provider was exiting the cloud voice business. I inherited this client with orders to procure a premises-based solution ASAP. The university told me it never wanted to lose control over its environment again. This one bad experience soured the organization on the cloud for the time being.
  • In the SMB space, the need for affordable managed services is significant. This is particularly true at the lower end of the market, where organizations scramble for affordable IT services. Yes, cloud is part of the answer for offloading support, but what about managing things inside the demarc? The LAN, legacy servers and applications, security, and so on are all candidates. But medium-sized businesses are in need of managed services, too, though their approach tends to be a partially outsourced/shared responsibility (for example, internal IT handles desktops while outsourcing security). I have two SMB clients that are currently expanding their managed service requirements.
  • The players are different and continue to change. Premises-based vendors have either disappeared or have been consolidated. Likewise, channel partners have consolidated or have formed new vendor relationships. New entrants are selling enterprise voice/UC -- just as Amazon has figured out the need for brick and mortar, cloud providers have figured out the need for feet on the street via the channel. This includes traditional VARs as well as master agents. This group has a significant opportunity to provide the managed services needed to bridge the gap between premises and cloud solutions. Most integration partners I know are aggressively growing this part of their businesses.
  • Bundles abound. We had a long discussion about best of breed vs. bundles on a BCStrategies podcast earlier this year. I suggested that in the SMB space, bundles are clearly winning for the simple reason that they offer good enough functionality with the required integrations already completed. Most market offerings now include voice/UC/contact center with many vendors also including team collaboration. Larger enterprises may still justify best of breed based on the complexity of their processes and requirements.
  • Connectivity has decreased in price and increased in quality. The ability of softare-defined WAN (SD-WAN) with multiple broadband connections coupled with adaptive codecs provides a viable alternative to T1/MPLS. I have small business clients that still insist on T1/MPLS, though this is becoming more the exception rather than the rule.
  • Things take longer than one would expect (as compared to in the private sector, with professionally managed projects). The SMB space, when combined with the public sector, moves with its own deliberate speed. In my experience, the process sometimes is a bit heavy for the project; other times, the limited staff is pulled away, re-assigned to an unexpected project with higher priority. In any event, my projects get completed with satisfied clients and integration partners.

What's next for the SMB public sector? I'm eager to see how the promise of communications platform as a service, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence permeate into this space. So far, I don't see a clear case for these technologies disrupting this space in the next couple of years. Let's see if I'm right. I'll have more on the middle market with my next posting.

BCStrategies is an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.