CV Report: 9 to Anytime

9 to Anytime

Servicing the changing workplace environment

By: Tara Seals
[Excerpt from ChannelVision July-August 2016]

There’s no doubt that businesses are changing in terms of how they work. They’re more mobile, more cloud-based and more appcentric. In turn, this is changing the landscape for channel partners looking to sell into the marketplace.

Make no mistake, the changes are sweeping. A Unify Square-Osterman Research survey for instance reveals that Skype for Business usage on mobile is expected to nearly double by 2018 – from 20 percent today to 39 percent in 2018.

Essentially, businesses are looking for ways to allow people to better work together to create value – and be happier doing it. This has led many sectors – especially tech companies – to be progressive in adopting flexible working practices and collaboration tools because they understand the value they bring, especially in combination.

The borderless office is now truly a reality as well. A Dropbox survey from earlier this year found that in the U.S., 40 percent of all surveyed employees said they could occasionally work from home or from a location other than the office. This was a familiar pattern across all the countries surveyed. Such “flexible” companies are not only poised for business success, but they will also attract and retain the best talent, broaden their diversity and further a virtuous cycle.

Interestingly, the biggest myth that the survey explodes is the technological advantage of the millennial “digital natives.”

“Although younger workers see their older co-workers as slower to adopt new technologies, our data shows that adoption levels are quite even across age ranges,” the report noted. “Older workers are just as likely to use as much technology as their younger peers.”

That said, younger workers are more stressed out, anxious and frustrated by technology than their older peers. For example, in the U.K. more than a third (36 percent) of Millennials aged 18 to 34 find using technology at work stressful, compared to only a quarter of those aged 55 and up (25 percent).

This seemed counter-intuitive at first, but when one considers that “it just works” technologies such as smartphones, social networking and so on have become completely ubiquitous in the personal lives of younger workers, the fact is that the software used to get work done in the office hasn’t historically met that same standard of simplicity.

“Perhaps when Millennials in the office are confronted with a messy array of technologies that do not function seamlessly, stress levels increase,” Dropbox noted. “For workers who have been around a bit longer, technology has always been a work in progress.”

Changing Technology Adoption

Channel partners see some trends of their own that are changing how end-user customers use communications technologies to do business – especially the move to the cloud and to unified communications (UC).

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“So many organizations are finally fully embracing the full gauntlet that UC has to offer,” said Josh Lupresto, vice president of sales engineering at Utah-based master agency CarrierSales. “It’s no longer just Hosted Exchange. It’s Hosted Exchange, document collaboration in real time, chat and CRM, all under the same roof, so companies can grow and scale.”

On the UC front, businesses are starting to expand the functionalities that they actually use – most notably, video and presence technology are seeing increased adoption, often working hand in hand. But integrated ways of working across the board are increasingly sought-after.

“There is no question that the decentralized workforce is a driving phenomenon,” explained Sam Ghahremanpour, president at UC and cloud PBX specialist Broadvoice. “But when you think mobility and teleworkers, you have to understand that they want the same performance across laptop, tablet and phone, whether they’re at HQ, their home office or a coffee shop.”

He added that UC has become considerably more democratized than it was even 24 months ago.

“UC used to be a lofty term that was pitched to higher-end clients; now it’s much more within the grasp of your average customer, whether they’re an SMB or a large enterprise,” he explained. “And it’s the same with the video piece – that used to be very high-end technology for a very few. And now the barrier to entry is much lower, and it’s much more commonplace.”

And those systems are increasingly in the cloud. Dominic Antonini, president at technology distributor and master agency, Telecom Brokers, noted that businesses are rarely buying boxes these days.

“It’s very rare that someone wants to buy a new premises-based PBX system,” Antonini said. “Back in the ’90s they wanted that 100 percent of the time. Today, it’s maybe 5 percent. The question almost all businesses we serve are asking is, do I keep my existing system or convert it to a cloud-based system?”

Bringing cloud and UC together is an undeniable change as well: One of the biggest and hottest markets at the moment is UC as a service, or UCaaS market.

“This is a market that’s only 9 to 12 percent penetrated today,” explained Drew Lydecker, president at master agency AVANT Communications. “But for UCaaS, the deals are very, very large, so it’s an opportunity that never existed before. We think of it as the three Cs: Cloud, colo and carrier/ connectivity, and all three are being disrupted right now.”

Antonini has also seen a trend toward carrier migrations – the rise of the cloud has brought into play a lot of smaller service providers.

“It used to be really hard to get customers off an AT&T – but now, customers are more open than ever to switching to new service providers,” Antonini said, noting that the market changes have driven Telecom Brokers to expand its portfolio from a comfortable 50 to 60 providers to now, up to 170. “Today, it’s the applications and their business needs that are driving business investment, whereas before it was a question of just saving them money with a replacement service.”

Another top trend is the consumerization of IT. With the advent of more and more fiber availability and the rise of the app-centric economy, consumer-grade and enterprise-grade options are starting to blend together. Channel partners have a role to play in educating their customers.

“The business environment of the future is going to quickly move to a be more along the lines of Slack, HipChat, WhatsApp,” explained Greg Praske, CEO at master agency ARG. “Those consumer-oriented apps are quickly leaking into the business environment because it’s how people want to interact. The good news is that business-appropriate options like Cisco’s Spark are here now with the appropriate controls, persistence and security. The channel partners who have experience in integrating voice, collaboration, email, chat, etc., are in the position to assist companies in their evaluation of what’s right for a particular company and then assist with the implementation and support.”

Changing Sales Landscape

As businesses start to use technology in new ways, the sales process for channel partners is also changing. Decision-makers are often a team rather than one person, the cycle is longer, and the trusted advisor role is more important than ever.

There’s also the matter of institutional and mindset shifts.

“You have to accept that the market has changed,” said Antonini. “For instance, T1s as an industry standard were around since the ’70s. Now, the average bandwidth is 10-20 megs. 20 megs is the most common bandwidth. The move to the cloud has driven bandwidth needs way up, and prices are coming down dramatically, so you have to account for that.”

It’s also about understanding the scope of the opportunity ahead. “Telecom isn’t just selling phone service or bandwidth solution, it’s how these pieces tie together, and partners need to embrace the tools they have,” said Broadvoice’s Ghahremanpour. “The era of selling dumb pipes is coming to a close – and there are so many other opportunities to go in and solve a problem, such as offering an SDWAN to create a much more highquality, resilient network than they have today.”

The additional challenge is the fact that the IT and telecom worlds have almost completed their collision and are in many cases fully melded. Yet telecom partners still struggle with speaking IT’s language, and vice versa.

“The challenge is to try to gain that credibility in a market where the IT suppliers have traditionally had VARs in place,” said Antonini. “You have to learn a new language.”

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ARG’s Praske said that his agency has been retooling for the new market realities for at least four years.

“It has become a more integral conversation,” he said. “Before, you may have talked to the IT department, but what you’re doing now is discussing the business challenges of each business unit, so you’re talking outside of the technical aspects about what this can do for your customer. You spend a lot more time than ever before on the total cost of ownership and ROI, and opex vs. capex, and you’ll find yourself having some pretty complex finance conversations.”

That means that the channel partner’s role has become more complex in general.

“The IT department may have researched some things, but you’re now partnering with them to consult with their company,” Praske explained. “That requires a bunch of different people – usually an engagement with a larger group on the client side – and on your side you need a lot of specialities and knowledge sets. But there’s definitely an opportunity for the independent channel person to go in and educate and assist through the business process for their clients.”

Recommendations for Change Management

For partners looking to ramp up and thrive in this new landscape, the biggest piece of advice seems to be to educate oneself, and acquire expertise. That should be in the form of classic education opportunities – webinars and downloadable docs, for instance – but also setting oneself up to be an expert in a given arena.

“You have to scope out what you want to specialize in, and you have to do your homework on both the technology and the provider options,” said Praske. “On the UCaaS side, there are literally over 1,000 providers. How do you sort out who’s who, and who’s appropriate for which market? Some providers don’t want to touch opportunities under 250 seats, and some can’t approach those over 100. Do you know who plays where? It takes a lot of work in vetting this.”

Lydecker noted that not everyone is going to be an expert across the board, and that’s okay.

“This is a complete transformation for the partners as much as for the customers themselves, and there are more swim lanes than ever before,” he said. “Everything is around speed and agility. Large VARs, MSPs, agents, systems integrators – everyone wants to get up to speed the fastest way possible, but everyone in the company has to be committed to the change and understand and believe that change is coming. This is a journey, not an overnight flip-the-switch situation. My best advice is to partner with those that have been through that change already.”

So, channel players should be open to asking for help. “Anyone starting now … well I’m not sure they’ll catch up,” Praske said. “Partners that are just getting around to it, they’re probably going to need to partner with a master agent and look for a ‘sell with’ model instead of the ‘sell for.’ But regardless, it’s time to get serious about the business. It requires an investment, so invest quickly.”

Lydecker noted that channel partners should be excited – despite any lingering uncertainty about how to adapt.

“This is a golden era of the trusted advisor,” he said. “There’s so much disruption and confusion in the marketplace, and businesses are transforming from the way they’ve done things for so long. This is actually an incredible opportunity for partners and for end customers to reinvent themselves.”

One thing’s certain: it’s unlikely that the rapid pace of change is going to settle down anytime soon.

“I’m already looking ahead,” said Antonini. “Telecom Brokers is building out next-gen portfolio, with services built on WebRTC that allow direct, native calling and video from a website. It’s also getting more difficult for enterprises to control their networks, so security and things like multifactor authentication are going to be the standard – we’ve added that to our portfolio.”



About ChannelVision Magazine:

ChannelVision is a bi-monthly digital and print magazine, read by channel partners selling all manner of voice, data, access, managed and business services (both on premise and “in the cloud”), as well as, technology, gear, and equipment.  ChannelVision is a highly focused and efficient way for service providers, hardware, and software companies to reach experienced channel partners targeting the small/medium business space.  Serving a controlled circulation of providers and indirect distributors of communications, network, IT and cloud-based business services, ChannelVision is telecom’s gateway to perspective on how to adapt, what to sell, and how to sell it.