This is not the sort of thing most business customers
want to hear: "Unified communications applications and deep integration are usually not cheap, and are usually complex."
That's Raymond H. Apy, president and CEO of Warwick, N.Y.-based Annese & Associates. From experience, Apy knows that the complexity and cost of unified communications (UC) deployments mean that demonstrating a return on investment requires a close understanding of the customer.
"You must be attentive to finding real business needs, and it is also best to try to seek and show return on investment for every dollar spent by the savvy client," Apy explains. "To do this, your presales teams of salespeople and engineers must be skilled at a level high enough to be able to engage a client in this manner -- to be able to probe deeply about their business workflow, pain, issues and opportunities."
|Mature UC Solutions
- PROS: Integration, speed to market
- CONS: Pricewise, still a premium
- BOTTOM LINE: UC is a consultation sell, period
Demand for UC is increasing in companies of all sizes,
according to IDC, and Ingram Micro's new focus on bundling integrated UC offerings for specific customer environments should make it easier for solution providers to take advantage of the opportunity by lowering costs and speeding sales cycles.
UC integration frameworks minimize the number of interfaces needed to access people and they help to streamline reachability and collaboration. This boosts workplace efficiency, cuts down on system administration and management responsibilities, and lowers the total cost of ownership for combined systems. UC integration also provides clients with a single view of their communication platform, which is easier to manage than multiple consoles. In addition, UC integration helps clients consolidate hardware, save on telephony and travel costs, and ease communication services provisioning.
Solution providers can also take multiple approaches to UC deployment, including managed services and hosting arrangements. A lot will hinge on solution providers' own flexibility and their clients' self-starting capabilities. "For customers and their integration efforts, it's really up to their programmers' creativity," says Michael O'Brien, a technology solutions engineer at Ingram Micro.
UC integration brings together many technologies, including IP and non-IP telephony, instant messaging, presence information, videoconferencing, call control and speech recognition. It can also encompass voice mail, e-mail, SMS and fax. In contrast, UC add-ons are one-time products, managed services, or annual support services. Going forward, demand is likely to be a mix of UC add-on and UC integration projects, says Apy.
"Combined, UC add-ons and UC integration can yield for the Ingram Micro solution provider higher total revenue and gross profit potential -- within UC deals," Apy says. "UC integration helps solution providers by providing incremental increases in gross profit per solution through additional margin from the add-on products, but more importantly, from the higher profit opportunity presented by the integration services that clients require for turnkey implementations."
One case in point is a K–12 educational environment.
"If you start digging, you might find that having a telephony system integrated with the public address system throughout all of their buildings has great value to them in terms of student and staff safety as promoted by ubiquitous, reliable communications systems," Apy says. "You might even find that communities and school boards would pay top dollar for such a solution. That's just the start."