MSP, IT, Telecom, Channel: Convergence and the Cloud

Small and growing businesses have always relied upon various service providers and vendors to deliver the solutions required which support the business operation. Often viewed as the critical infrastructure of the business, phone and computer systems are among the first acquisitions a new business makes.  Phones and voice service, wired and wireless networks and all forms of communications infrastructure are part of IT and represent a large portion of the business information systems.

Small businesses used to have a phone guy they could call for phone stuff. The phone guy was a person or company who got phone lines installed, ran cabling for phones, installed phone systems and set up voicemail. The phone guy could help get cheaper long distance calling rates and train users on how to use the paging system and transfer calls.  The phone guy interacted mostly with the office manager or receptionist – the person in the office most likely to be “in charge” of the phone system, influencing these purchasing decisions greatly.

The computer guy, on the other hand, made sure the workstations and server were working, defragged hard drives, installed software and set up printers. The computer guy was the person or company that sold and supported the IT in the business, and often consulted with the business owner or line manager when it came to addressing information system requirements.

Telephony and networking is now clearly in the realm of IT, which changes how services are selected and purchasing is influenced. Computing and communications infrastructure, networking and mobile is all part of business IT. The separation of services – voice versus data – is gone.  The phone vendors and the IT suppliers are now the same company, providing the critical infrastructure, the platforms and the application services that businesses are buying. These service providers understand that the foundations for delivering voice and data services are the same; the skills of their techs and the tools they use have converged to the point where there is little separation of duties.

Cloud services and outsourced solution providers offering hosted PBX and virtual applications infrastructure have revealed to business owners that there is often little difference in what the phone guy and the computer guy can provide. Business owners want converged solutions: voice and data when and where they need it to support business operations. Just a little research reveals that these anytime/anywhere models are widely available and that the cloud is the key.

IT services are critical to the business, but the server doesn’t have to be under the front desk or in a back closet in order to function.  There is simply too much evidence in the market for these business owners to ignore;  shooting the server is now a viable option.

Every day more business owners are being inspired to [shoot their servers] seek out the services that will allow them to continue to benefit from innovations in technology while relieving them of the direct responsibilities of equipment purchasing, implementation, administration and lifecycle management.

Cloud services deliver this capability, and channel partners and Value Added Resellers should recognize their opportunity to get inspired as well, and to start offering cloud-based and hosted services to their customers and capture the “buying decision” opportunity that has [been] created.

Ready. Aim. Fire.

Source: Go Ahead and Shoot the Server: End of Microsoft Small Business Server Inspires Cloud Adoption with Small Businesses « Cooper Mann Consulting

Recognition of the convergence of voice and data services and channels hasn’t really hit home for a lot of resellers and channel partners, and this has rightfully positioned providers on both sides of the equation as viewing the others as direct competitors.  The phone guy thinks he is his customer’s “trusted advisor”, and that the loyal customer will certainly come to him if there is ever a need.  As well does the computer guy believe that he is the trusted advisor, having the ear of the business owner and wielding enough influence to ensure a continued revenue-earning relationship.

In truth, both the phone guy and the computer guy probably have earned their business customer’s trust and were the go-to people when there was a new business need. The problem is that the customer may no longer call one or the other of their “go-to” guys because the forward-thinking guys are offering one-stop service that delivers everything the business needs.  The lines between phone and computer stuff are not so clearly drawn any longer; it is all cloud IT and full service providers are winning the customer business.

Channel resellers, agents and MSPs are all telling their SMB/SME customers the same things, and at a base level they’re selling the same things, too.  Everyone is talking about lower up front investments and improved business productivity… and what they’re all selling is cloud and virtual. “Businesses need cloud in order to compete; move CapX to OpX; mobile is the new office” and “remote workers and devices need a secure quality network”.

Whether it relates to telephone systems with voicemail, automated attendants and a little intelligent voice response thrown in, or if the deal is for servers and workstations, software and network cabling, it is all business information technology and the trusted advisor is the guy who can provide it all. Convergence has clearly arrived.

Make Sense?

J

Channel Partners: Selling Telephony With a Side of Remote Access and Cloud Hosted Applications

Channel agents and telephony resellers are facing stiff competition these days. Line access or voice service isn’t as easy to sell as it once was, and the convergence of digital voice and data has made things even less simple. Business customers demand comprehensive solutions that can address a variety of business problems, and they tend to seek out those solutions from the advisors they trust. The “advisor” could be a software reseller, an accounting professional, the local IT guy, or the professional that delivered great telco, voice or network access.

Convergence isn’t only for voice and data solutions; convergence is the combining and compressing of channels delivering those solutions. MSPs and “pure” IT resellers are also feeling the squeeze, finding telecom agents and channels among those challenging the VARs and MSPs operating today. Marketing budgets are increasing, but differentiation is not.  Reselling is a crowded space and everyone has become a service provider. Having the right messages to win new customers and retain existing ones is essential not just for success, but for survival.

Once a channel partner or provider has established a solid customer relationship, it is important to capitalize on that goodwill (and develop even more) by delivering the other value-added services the customer needs. Access, connectivity and voice solutions are just a start when it comes to servicing small and growing business customers. Having come from an application hosting background, I am very aware of the demand for mobility and “always-on, always-available” computing services among businesses small and large. When the partner is working with the customer and is solving connectivity and telephony problems, the likelihood of successfully selling additional IT solutions to address mobility is quite high. The challenge has often been with the investment required for training and certification; development of new competencies which are viewed as diversions from the core business. Evolution of technology, markets and demand suggests that offering a broader base of solutions isn’t a diversion any longer, it has become a core requirement.

Secure remote access to on-premises systems, managed hosting on cloud servers delivering always-on service or disaster recovery, and collaboration tools that keep everyone on the same page – these are the solutions that savvy businesses are looking for, and which represent the additional value channel partners and service providers could be delivering to their valued customers. After all, if the customer can’t get what they need from their trusted reseller/advisor, they will find somewhere else to buy, removing their “advisor” from the mix. Most business owners would agree that it takes less to nurture and maintain existing customers than it takes to find new ones, so the investment in offering and delivering value-added solutions is well worth it.

The best way for channel partners to retain their customer relationships is to offer a full range of solutions and value-added services to meet the variety of needs of their business clientele.  MyQuickCloud, for example, is a highly successful partner solution and add-on for resellers of IP telephony services and line access. MyQuickCloud offers very flexible and affordable secure remote access and cloud hosting solutions that do not require investments in training or certification to resell, giving channel partners and telecomm agents the right stuff to beat out the competition and keep small business and growing enterprise customers happy and coming back for more. Partners leverage their expertise and creativity in developing solutions with MyQuickCloud, resulting in cost-effective and powerful network, application and continuity services not previously available.

MyQuickCloud secure remote access creates a secure business cloud from on-premises systems, with hosted or co-located cloud servers, or any combination of on-prem or offsite hosts. The on-premises capability leverages investments in existing infrastructure and adds value and capability to locally installed systems, a benefit which is not available with traditional hosting models. Able to be positioned as simple remote access, managed hosting or complete disaster recovery, MyQuickCloud gives channel partners a simple yet comprehensive approach to meeting customer computing needs regardless of the applications in use or mobile devices to support. MyQuickCloud is also used by installers and support technicians, enabling remote access to client on-prem systems, turning service and support into a more streamlined and efficient effort and improving customer service and retention.

I wrote an article a while back about how it all comes down to 3 applications for small businesses… applications to address fundamental business requirements. Among those requirements is the need to communicate.  Whether it be via voice or electronic mail or other means, every business communicates and every business needs communication tools.  Chief among the communication tools is the voice service (telephone), whether it be on-premises or hosted, digital voice or IP (not much analog out there anymore) or some combination of all of the above. Extending telephone systems to service a remote and mobile workforce or to connect multiple business locations is a high demand business and has proven to be very lucrative for many partners.  Adding value to these solutions by delivering remote access or hosting service simply increases the overall value of the system and allows business customers to take full advantage of mobile, connected and integrated working models.

Make Sense?

J