Parallel Lines: Channeling the unified comms opportunity

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Swivel Secure managing director Richard H Harris says delivering a complete unified comms experience is vital in dealers and resellers building longer-lasting relationships with their customers

In its simplest form, unified communications is the ability to get all of our chosen methods of communication, together in one place, or one device, interacting with each other seamlessly and effortlessly.

In fact, in its simplest form, it’s an Apple iPhone.

You may dislike Apple’s walled garden approach to industry standards but it’s a simple truth that Apple, overnight, put a highly desirable unified communications device into the hands of the people.

Overnight it allowed them, with a single device, to speak, to text, share images, download and upload video, social-network, run instant messaging, manage Hotmail and Gmail, play games, listen to music and download all sorts of applications.

Consumer smartphones

Others have followed in its wake and the consumer ‘smartphone’ category has appeared out of nowhere – even the ubiquitous business-centric BlackBerry found a consumer audience for a while and launched pink and blue editions to match the mood.

As every manufacturer rushed to deliver the iPhone clone, Google saw the opportunity and joined the fray with an OS to rival Apple for brand appeal and functionality.

Meanwhile, fixed and mobile operators continued talking about unified communications in the language of multi-layered triple-play and quad-play networks with advanced protocols for this and network gateways for that; in their world, unified communications was a project.

For Apple, Google and consumers, it was a product – and it worked straight out of the box. Now businesses are following where consumers blazed the trail.

Apple’s iPad, for example, is a marvellously desirable consumer plaything, and a powerful and compact business tool.

The operator question

But who stands to benefit from the opportunities converged devices and services can deliver? One group that needs to find a way to monetise the service they deliver is the operator community.

And while I am not suggesting we draw on the violin strings when considering that community, there’s no doubt the challenges they face will affect us all.

Voice revenues are in decline and have been for some time. The operators largely ignored Skype, but in 2009 it accounted for 12 per cent of the world’s international minutes. Voice tariffs are in a race to the bottom.

The graphs of this decline are alarming, especially in the mobile world. The usage incline is like a hockey stick, but the ‘all you can eat’ data tariffs that help drive adoption mean that, in comparison, revenue struggles to get airborne. Wi-Fi hotspots become more attractive as operators seek to curtail this excess.

Lest we forget, it is the operators, fixed and mobile, who invest the billions required to build the infrastructure to make all this possible.

The 4G or LTE networks currently ‘under construction’ require significant further investment. There has to be a return or there is no investment. There has to be a return or there is no build.

Return on investment

That return will surely come from developing and providing value added services that meet the desires of consumers and the needs of SoHos, SMEs and Enterprises.

And that is where the operator’s channel partners, distributors and retailers can really help.

The astute channel partner will take a look at areas such as message integration, remote log-in services, cloud-based back-up of contacts and messages, mobile payment systems, web and application developer tools and services, and the ability to enable enterprises to securely authenticate both parties on calls so customers can talk about, say, private financial matters and be certain it is their bank on the other end of the line.

Channel opportunity

It is the very existence of this rich range of powerful support systems that convinces me there is a tremendous opportunity for channel partners to help, in particular, smaller businesses to get to grips with all the new possibilities.

Companies such as Wapple, Service2Media, ecademy, LogMeIn, Salesforce.com and other SaaS (software-as-a-service) providers are opening new opportunities for savvy dealers to capitalise on.

These are businesses without IT departments to help or hinder them; to a small business the CRM system is the phonebook or cloud application on the handset.

Unified communications and the myriad of cloud services and applications could have been designed with these organisations in mind.

So don’t just sell them an iPad; find out about their needs, suggest or install useful programmes, recommend or deploy value added services, partner to provide training on social and business networking and new media.

That way you can deliver a unified communications device that is not only desirable and fit for purpose, but one that also helps to create and build customer value and loyalty.

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