Converged voice and data is well into the mainstream adoption phase, with most businesses clued up on what they want from a voice and data solution even before contacting a provider.
And with the more recent arrival of cloud, offering hosted telephony and data services is driving more customers – regardless of size – toward converged systems. Whether resellers are already in the voice and data game, or recognise the need to join in, there are still challenges to overcome amongst the opportunities.
Here Michael Lloyd, Managing Director at Nuvola Distribution, highlights some of the changes happening in the voice and data market and how resellers can respond.
The potential for tailored solutions to meet business needs is part of the converged solution's great appeal, but the perceived complexities of the data side are still preventing some traditional voice resellers from moving from focusing on just voice, to both voice and data. This hesitation to embrace what is rapidly becoming the norm will put these resellers at a significant disadvantage as the market for pure voice telephony inevitably shrinks and the competition establish themselves as providers of converged products and services.
Why is it changing?
Although there is still room for resellers offering PBX systems, there is a definite move away from legacy voice products and it is data products and services that are filling this space. For example, in 2014 Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise saw 8 out of 10 of its resellers experience growth, growth underpinned by a rise in customer demand for converged solutions, and by the progressive reseller's capacity to deliver them. As a key UK&I distributor for Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, we are putting in place support programmes to help resellers cross the 'voice to data' bridge.
Clouding the issue
While the cloud is not the manifest destiny for all business ICT solutions as some would have us believe, it is a growing part of our industry, and is becoming a key factor in resellers moving into mixed voice and data.
From our perspective, we anticipate delivery via hosted and private cloud to make up about 20-25% of our business in the coming year, and I am sure we will see that figure continue to rise as customers look to augment their solutions with aspects of a cloud service.
Vendors and distributors need to help resellers to bridge the gap
With vendor loyalty ebbing in the IT channel, resellers feel less tied down and free to move to better prospects, particularly as they search for ways to differentiate themselves from the rest of the market as they go down the path to converged solutions.
But what we find is that many of the resellers do need help in making this transition. They have a lot of experience on either the data or the voice side of things but need value added distributors or vendors to provide the knowledge and experience to bridge the technical and commercial gap.
Resellers may be put off by the idea of re-educating themselves in an area they are unfamiliar with, but more often than not it proves to be a painless – and fruitful – exercise. From our own experience in working with Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, the technical, commercial and sales resources they make available combined with well structured marketing support provides resellers with a low cost to market route to getting into converged solutions.
Differentiation is the lifeblood of the channel
People in the industry have been talking about convergence for at least the last 15 years, and its overuse has seen it become a broad term that can mean different things to different people. It can be the full UC&C experience with real-time multimedia and seamless, cross-device collaboration or it could be as simple as accessing voice mail from a PC. But it's only recently that resellers have started to recognise this as an essential part of their own business growth, driven by a strong customer demand for simplicity and integration.
There are many ways to get into convergence, but if resellers are not incorporating at least some voice and data solutions into their offerings, I can see them getting left behind in a fast moving data-centric market.
Whichever route a reseller takes, I think one of the most important decisions to take is ensuring they partner with a supplier that offers a range of products and value added services. This makes it possible to satisfy a range of customers – whether big or small – and should allow every reseller to differentiate on what they can offer rather than competing with other resellers solely on price. This thereby creates a win-win situation – better for the customer and better for the reseller's bottom line.