Unified Communications: Best of Breed or Integrated Solution

Technology research company AMI Partners recently released some research which shows that in regards to unified communications (UC) smaller businesses are evenly split between cobbling together a variety of best of breed solutions and using an integrated solution.

I was recently speaking with the founder of Alianza, Brian Beutler, who has created a platform to enable broadband companies to offer not offer communications but a range of other services through their pipes.
Larger providers such as Verizon and AT&T will invest in their own infrastructure but smaller carriers and resellers will want to get as much revenue from each customer as they can. Offering services, beyond traditional voice and/or internet service is one way to do it.
“Whether using Skype on their smartphones, or installing in-house IP-PBXs or using web conferencing services, SMBs are clearly signaling their desire to utilize all available communications and collaboration solutions,” says Sanjeev Aggarwal, Vice President at AMI-Partners. “However, SMBs are not familiar with the notion of unified communications, nor are they aware of the various platforms being cobbled together through acquisitions in the IT space,” adds Mr. Aggarwal. “What SMBs need and are willing to pay for today, are easy to use point solutions that can help them enhance their business communications and collaboration at little cost and without requiring heavy IT support.”
The worlds of unified communication, high speed internet access and hosted applications are colliding, the challenge is for service providers to know how to best grow in this market by offering more services.
For example, NY based M5 Networks started out with a focus to provide telephone service to customers over a managed, private network. Instead of using the public Internet phone system, M5 uses private, Internet Protocol based networks, from their customers to their network. This market will continue to grow for them and their competitors.
The challenge for M5, Verizon, AT&T and other telecommunication companies that provide manged telephone service is what to offer for the “second course”. Businesses get VOIP (the first course) – although there are still a few million customers who have not yet purchased VOIP. At the same time, these telecommunication companies must go beyond just selling only VOIP and sell other services, such as tools for sales, HR, CRM and more.
Hosted application companies would be wise to partner with telecommunication companies to get their services into the hands of the small-medium sized business customers. It’s like cable companies and cable show providers such as HBO and TLC. Both need each other.
Think of the cell phone model. There is the hand set maker (Motorola, LG, Nokia). There is the carrier (Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile). There are software providers (Avantgo, Handango and many others). The first two partners definitely need each other. But to add revenue and offer more competitive services the carriers need to provide services to various sets of customers. This is where 3rd party service providers come in. The high-speed internet services market is similar to some degree.
What does this mean to you?
As your business grows it is 100% vital that you carefully consider how your company will be not just today but in 1 – 3 years. You purchase telephone service from some company, but what about your use of hosted applications. Will you purchase these services from the same company or choose a dedicated provider of these services. Will you choose a best of breed solution or will you choose an integrated solution that wraps a variety of business services into one offering?
Your local technology consultant (not just a one person shop, but the consultant who is growing and can help take you to the next level) should be consulted and brought in early to help in the decision making process. If they have existing relationships with vendors this can be an asset and help in giving you a good solution or it can be a problem if the solution they are pushing is not really the best solution for you.
AMI writes that Cisco, Microsoft and possibly Google are the leading contenders for an integrated UC platform in the SMB market, but still have a lot of work ahead of them. These companies are surely going to lead in this space, but they are going to have to do it with partners – channel partners to do the support/installation (Google will probably skip this route) and telecommunication vendors who provide or resell the pipes and have the initial touch point with the customer – YOU.

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Ramon Ray, Editor & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com . Editor and Founder, Smart Hustle Magazine Full bio at http://www.ramonray.com . Check him out on Google Plus, Twitter or Facebook

3 thoughts on “Unified Communications: Best of Breed or Integrated Solution

  1. Brian Beutler

    Hi Ramon,
    Nice article.
    Regarding the AMI research…I think that with time the SMB’s will gravitate towards the integrated solutions-after all having an fully intigrated solution is really what UC is all about.
    I think that in the upcoming as UC becomes more main-streem the successful solutions will be those that are the most flexible and those that can most easily be intergrated with other applications.
    I really like your cell phone model!

  2. Josef Rabinowitz

    1) It’s more than just “a few million” customers that haven’t yet switched to VOIP…a LOT more. And for good reason. See #3 and #4, below.2) “Unified Communications” has come to mean several things: Mainly either a voicemail system that finds you anywhere and forwards VM’s to your email, or voice and data converged in the form of VOIP. I assume that you’re referring to the latter, correct?3) I very strongly recommend AGAINST companies investing huge amounts of money to replace their existing still-working phone systems simply to get the few extra bells and whistles that VOIP offers unless those bells and whistles are absolutely necessary for conducting business. Otherwise those bells and whistles will end up like my friend’s very expensive exercise bike that eventually became a tie-rack ;-).4) VOIP is today’s version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. The savings just aren’t there. Or rather, they ARE there vs. the Verizons of the world. However, there are many CLEC’s and resellers who offer much lower prices than VOIP and there are no call quality issues (nor is there a need to buy a new phone system).

  3. Elizabeth Vanneste

    First, I’d like to clarify that we are not providing “Voice over the Internet”. M5 Voice as a Service is delivered over a managed, private IP network. The only situation in which the service is delivered over the internet is when a remote employee or employee with a phone in their home office is using the M5 Service via their broadband provider.What we have found is that our customers appreciate the On Demand Solutions they can access through Voice as a Service – these include call center and reporting capabilities that provide them with information which enables them to sell, service and staff better. Being able to graph usage by time of day or by salesperson, and track the effectiveness of an advertising campaign, gives them the information they need to be more productive. In addition M5 is working with SaaS vendors to support integration with the M5 platform for CRM and UC applications.

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