The channel war for unified communications

During the past few months, we have attended numerous product briefings and presentations for unified communications products and solutions from companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya, Ericsson and Nortel, to name a few. Depending on the company, each one of them has their own unique definition of “unified communications.”

My definition of unified communications is being able to compose, listen, send or receive messages to other people, regardless of the device that I am using at the time.

There’s a lot of time, effort and investment being put into this “new technology”area by all of the major players. We have not seen this much investment in marketing for a new technology since the early 2000’s, when the early adopters were investing heavily in educating us all about VoIP.

The benefits on a personal level were amazing, and the organizational benefits were worth the time, effort and investment incurred. The ability to share information on a global level from any location and device, whether desktop, laptop or cellular phone is excellent.

We now have traditional computer software developers like Microsoft and data manufacturers like Cisco investing heavily in both marketing and education.

They are spending massive amounts of money on advertising, events, media and pre-release customer trials to help their customers learn and understand the benefits that unified communications can bring to their organizations.

One of the common questions we ask during these industry sessions is, who within the channels will install and support these unified solutions? It takes a broad range of technology skills, knowledge and experience to successfully implement unified communication solutions (both on the vendor and customer sides).

Most of the time, the vendors don’t answer the question directly, but say that they are investing heavily to educate their channels to develop the skills to be able to install and support unified communications solutions. Many of the vendors tell us that they are reaching across traditional boundaries of computing, data and voice to cross-educate, so that the channels are capable and prepared to supply and support the new products.

From our experience and research on the telecom side, traditional telecom dealers, carriers and integrators are struggling with reduced margins, shortage of talented professionals, and increasing cost of sales.

We as industry consultants and suppliers now have to help our clients develop the strategies, skills, and business cases so that the technology can be successfully deployed, and ensure the solutions deliver the promised productivity benefits.

We need strong, financially viable channels that have the ability to deploy and support technology solutions.

So, who will win the channel war?

Let’s hope the customer and channels both win!

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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