Unified communications: chances for channel?

Cisco Collaboration Manager, Wael Abdulal
Wael Abdulal, Collaboration Manager, Cisco UAE 

Unified communications (UC) is changing the business landscape – enabling improved collaboration between individuals, organisations, and countries, while reducing expenses by combining multiple communication applications. The opportunities for vendors and end-users are therefore obvious, but how can the channel cash in on this snowballing technology?

Growing work demands have led to a fairly decent adoption rate of UC solutions. Although the initial uptake wasn’t as strong as some analysts had predicted, last year, over 32 percent of Fortune 500 companies were deploying UC technologies, and ABI said that by 2016 the UC market will have made in excess of $2 billion.

However, in the channel chain, locating the opportunities can get a little tricky once you’ve had the obligatory “selling makes money” conversation. One of the simple reasons as to why this technology hasn’t picked up and taken off in this industry could be because many analysts have seen the adoption rate coincide with the size of business. According to researchers, larger organisations have adopted UC solutions is fairly quick timeframes, whereas the smaller and medium sized businesses have played it cool.

But there is hope for UC in channel, according to experts across the region who believe that taking advantage of intelligently intertwining streams of communications is a fairly full-proof business move. But it’s a fierce market place – competitive and active, according to Wael Abdulal, Collaboration Manager, Cisco, UAE.

“The UC market has experienced significant growth in the Middle East and according to analyst firm Frost and Sullivan, this segment is expected to reach $235 million by 2014 in the region,” he claims.

“Companies across all business segments and verticals are investing in unified communications, along with video solutions, to reduce costs and increase staff productivity. As businesses strive to do more with fewer resources and to better serve customers, collaboration has become more critical than ever and next-generation unified communications solutions make it possible for businesses to build borderless enterprises and work effectively from anywhere, with anyone.”

And K.S Parag, MD of FVC certainly shares Weal’s enthusiasm, claiming that migration from simple video technologies to full UC solutions has been in effect for the last couple of years.

“It’s a much more cost effective tool, it gives you presence as well as instant communication across your space,” he says.

“We don’t just use UC, we exploit it. We couldn’t live if we didn’t have it. If our unified communications cut out for one day, we couldn’t live – that’s how important it is.”

Ahmed Rushdy, Senior Technical Consultant, Comstor, adds:

“Today UC is a major pillar for a profitable business as any successful business relies on customer service satisfaction and accomplishing tasks securely any time anywhere and this exactly what UC is offering.”

Syed Mafuzur, Regional UC&C Solutions Manager, Huawei
Syed Mafuzur, Regional UC&C Solutions Manager, Huawei

So how can the channel really utlise this technology?
“One way that the channel can utilise UC and gain a competitive edge is through implementing the actual technology into its own business,” says Syed Mafuzur, Regional UC&C Solutions Manager, Huawei.

“Not only would it serve as a real live scenario, but it would also serve as a reference to customers, giving them the confidence that the technology is live in action as business engagement takes place. Channel players — like any other end-user — would also benefit from improved working efficiency and a reduction of communication costs.  A laptop based video-conferencing solution can for example, offer sales partners an easier way to stay in touch through their personal devices for instance, while working remotely.”

Mohammed Areff, Managing Director, Gulf and Pakistan, Avaya, takes a similar view, claiming that Avaya’s channel partners need to use UC and video technologies in order to be able to sell them.

“We see customers buying this technology as soon as they experience it, and so we all need to be capable of speaking from experience of sharing this innovation with customers, not just showing it to them. UC and Video can be very helpful in keeping us all competitive,” he says.

“As an example, most of our business partners serve our customers as the first tier of support; and UC allows their staff to be connected whether they are at home, in the office, or on the road, in case there is a customer issue. And sales and technical staff can be a lot more responsive using it – in most cases the staff who work for our partners are travelling a huge portion of the time, possibly serving the whole of the GCC. With the need for that kind of mobility comes all of the roaming and telecoms costs – but if they use UC they can be connected to their office communications using free WiFi or 3G/LTE data packages.”

Gaining the competitive edge
For smaller organisations, such as those working among the Middle East channel, deploying, distributing, or implementing a new technology in the hope that it will benefit you is a financial risk. Mikael Hansson, Head of Delivery Management, Ericsson, believes that the key is to ensure your processes are aligned with your tools, so you can be confident that you’ve the necessary tools for your business plan.

“Many businesses are embracing UC tools to adapt to growing market demands. Because there is a wide variety of applications and tools being offered, each enterprise needs to assess what UC tools will work best with its ISIT infrastructure. To gain a competitive edge in the market, processes should be aligned with tools.”

Weal Abdulal, Cisco, firmly believes, however, that the adoption of UC is a far simpler business move.

“UC is a catalyst for evolving from merely using technology to rethinking business, changing process, and adapting culture. In a post-PC world, collaboration is more critical than ever,” he says.

“It means getting the right information to the right people at the right time to make the right decision. In turn, these well-informed and quicker decisions help organisations get work done, fostering productivity, innovation, and growth.”

Quashing concerns
Of course, with all fairly hyped solutions, concerns arise which keep organisations asking questions, and UC is no different. A technology which is claiming to evolve the way we communicate and collaborate will have repercussions for current technologies. How does the landscape appear?

Tariq Hasan, Regional Sales Manager of Wireless Network Services, Motorola
Tariq Hasan, Regional Sales Manager of Wireless Network Services, Motorola

“We think that the future of business communications lies in software-based solutions. Hardware is rigid, inflexible, expensive, and severely limiting,” says Areff of Avaya.

“Solutions that work hard behind the scenes to generate context, making things appear simpler to the end-user, are software-based and they present benefits that vastly overshadow those of hardware upgrades in cost-benefit.”

Moreover, not only will hardware vendors be affected by this transition to software and cloud-based communication services, but also companies such as telcos and integrators who implement individual communication services. With larger vendors bundling UC solutions, competition increases for service providers and telcos who offer the capabilities for end-users to utilise these.

“For suppliers and the people who do business with them, using UC gives them the chance to use better and bigger services in far reach places, which will hinder some of these limited organisations,” says Taj Elkhayat, General Manager, Middle East & North Africa, Riverbed.

“So now, telcos are adopting video conferencing and providing managed services so that more companies can do this – they’re getting on board. It did create a shock to telco services at first, but you’ll see them moving more toward UC in future. For them it’s about offering the right amount of connectivity to let people leverage these technologies. It is a technology that is growing, it’s emerging quickly, and what was once a strain on telcos is now a way for them to monotise that service. In the past they were losing money due to people having options, but now they can monotise these services and make new revenue streams.”

Motorola’s regional sales manager of wireless network services, Tariq Hasan, supports this point.

“For Service Providers there can be some concern as certain implementations will see their revenue decline especially in areas where IP based communication can be achieved at a fraction of traditional communication. Local regulations plays an important role in determining how and to what extent any service can be deployed,” he says.

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