The Future Looks Bright!
"Phone Systems are sold, not bought - always have been, always will be," something Jeremy Cooke said to me in our first meeting, over twenty years ago now, when I first started working with SDX - I was with Bay Networks at the time and we were developing the original Data Networking Cassette for INDeX - has stuck with me ever since. Though the same holds true today, there are now, and will be for some time to come, two critical criteria that dictate which path customers will follow for their voice needs; namely IT strategy and their preferred method for business expenditure.
We've been saying that voice is essentially just another IT app - albeit a time sensitive, business critical app - since the late 1990's. With the advent of Unified Communications it's finally become a reality. So, with voice as an app, IT strategy moves centre stage when it comes to taking and making phone calls. Where are the core business apps running, on-site, or in the cloud? And if it's the former, are they running in a native or virtualised environment? And as for business expenditure, do they see voice as a capital expenditure or operational expense. The answer to these questions has tended to point the way to either a cloud/hosted or on-premise solution. But after a short period of clarity and well-defined positioning, we're back to square one again. The emergence of solutions that mix cloud and on-premise solutions, in the form of Hybrid voice, one off CAPEX payments for cloud and pay monthly for on-premise, means that all solutions should be able to meet the two primary customer requirements.
All three architectures for voice are likely to be with us for some time to come. If all three deliver the same features and benefits (and it's still a BIG if for most vendors), the technology they're based on becomes irrelevant. Solving existing business issues and underpinning the delivery of new services and products, become the key drivers and differentiators. This requires the channel to take a more consultative approach to sales then they might have done in the past. Mind you, this is totally at odds with Hosted Voice sales at the low end, which requires a Sales Agent approach.
The other winner is future proofing; the ability to move seamlessly between all three methods of deployment, because if history teaches us anything, it's what's in vogue today won't necessarily be the case tomorrow. In the late eighties and early nineties Outsourcing was very much the IT buzzword. Large corporates reduced costs by "rightsizing" or de-skilling their support staff and moved computers and data off-site under the control of third parties - sometimes transferring staff as well. Then, concerns over ownership, loss of control and security began to outweigh the financial benefits and there was an about-turn. Sound familiar?
VARs can put themselves in the strongest possible position by partnering with suppliers who can deliver voice over all three architectures; cloud, on-premise and hybrid. Ideally, this should be through a single supplier with a common platform so there's the flexibility to move from cloud, to on-premise, or visa versa, or to hybrid, at any stage in the future should their customer's needs or service pricing change, etc. We're also seeing a shift towards resellers managing their own private cloud voice offerings, with the retention of customer control & margin retention through a choice of service delivery, as the penny finally drops on what the hosted/cloud service provider end game means for the future of the channel. At the end of the day people will always buy from the people that they like doing business with - and that's another thing that Jeremy was fond of saying.