- Look at how service providers support communication solutions, not just the vendors and products, ask for customer support center locations and processes, the professional services staff numbers by geography, number of people with certifications, and SIP trunking availability for starters.
- Consider and compare carriers and IT service providers, depending on your needs and you could be surprised that carriers are looking more like ‘integrators’ these days.
Service providers have been facing tough times with voice and data revenues falling year over year, and new ‘advanced services’ slow to make up the shortfall, combined with the desire (and often necessity) from enterprises to get more for less. The need to transform is ongoing though the focus on technology and new ‘products’ can distract service providers. While innovation and technology is important, pretty soon every service provider ends up selling a similar IP PBX or Microsoft or Cisco UC service, and differentiation in the competitive landscape disappears. Enterprises will end up choosing the service providers who can deliver outstanding customer service and support together with a ‘cost-effective solution’, designed for their business needs, and that can be adapted for future needs by skilled integration and professional services staff.
Sorry for the doom and gloom message, but we are starting to see signs of hope and service providers that are now ‘getting it’. Current Analysis is doing some interesting research around IP telephony and UC services, comparing what IT service providers (ITSPs – e.g., IBM, HP) and the biggest carriers (e.g., BT, Orange, AT&T and Verizon) can offer enterprise customers, and more importantly their service wrap and sales approach. UC remains difficult to sell to customers, precisely because it’s promising to transform how that enterprise communicates. It’s about making a business case by understanding how the customer’s business works today, the tools it uses to communicate, what the business processes are, where mobility fits in now and in the future.
This requires professional services staff with industry understanding, skilled technical and integration services staff that can migrate a customer’s existing environment to the cloud – in baby steps if they so decide, or design a hybrid CPE and cloud solution. The important thing is it all works together and that employees buy in to the solution – for example, some service providers such as Orange are running internal communications programs for customers and providing ongoing training to ensure new communications tools or ways of working are understood and adopted. The ITSPs have a slight edge over carriers when it comes to understanding verticals and customer needs, but Verizon, BT and others have taken this on board and have invested in consultants and industry experts. So good news for customers: Treating voice as another application? Want communications in the cloud? You have plenty of service providers to choose from.