• Service providers are taking advantage of the rise in cloud services to create managed service bundles, providing small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) with a one-stop shop for solutions delivered at a single monthly rate.
• SMBs have an increasing array of options to support a move away from capital investment to an operational expense model, managed service bundles offer the potential to reduce complexity and manage costs.
SMBs, defined by Current Analysis as those with 20 to 500 employees, represent a sizable segment of communications users. Tier 1 providers such as AT&T, CenturyLink and Verizon have typically served this segment with business bundles that package business lines and Internet service under a single monthly fee for very small businesses, and PRIs and network-hosted VoIP for larger SMBs. Over the last several years, and coincident with the rise of new competitors in the form of cable operators such as Comcast Business and Time Warner Cable Business and over-the-top providers such as 8×8, major service providers have reinforced their focus on the SMB segment, reshaping partner strategies, adding tools and portals, and expanding VoIP and UC solutions to include managed bundle offers that frees SMBs from the task of managing communications services.
Hosted VoIP offers typically include calling features and audio conferencing, with phone rental optionally bundled in the monthly rate. Service access, mobility, security and support are often managed separately, and on separate contracts. Today, major service providers are creating managed bundles that that include CPE, implementation and dedicated support in the price of the service, with some offers also including firewall and security features, collaboration tools, mobile integration options and wireless plans. The common thread across these offers is delivering a reliable, comprehensive solution priced on a per seat basis under a single contract and single invoice.
CenturyLink was early to the SMB managed bundle market with Managed Office, launched in early 2014. Managed Office packages communications elements including voice, Internet/connectivity, Microsoft Exchange, security and online backup along with CPE (switches, routers, wireless access points). CenturyLink includes a dedicated project manager throughout the implementation process, onsite and remote customer training options, dedicated customer support for Managed Office customers, and billing that treats the solution as a single service, priced by the seat.
Mobility is becoming a bigger requirement from SMBs, and in 2015 AT&T and Sprint both launched SMB managed bundles incorporating wireless services. AT&T Mobile Office integrates Skype for Business with AT&T Voice Connection to deliver a solution that packages fixed/mobile voice with collaboration tools. Mobile Office uses the Microsoft E4 license for a full range of collaboration features, and it is provider agnostic, so customers can use non-AT&T mobility or broadband services. AT&T caps the offer with white glove onboarding that includes a dedicated technician, user administrator training, and a dedicated toll-free support number.
Sprint Workplace-as-a-Service (WPaaS) is a turnkey solution that packages voice, WAN, audio/video conferencing and dedicated support on a per seat rate and a single monthly bill. Skype for Business underpins the voice and collaboration features for WPaaS, with Sprint layering on wireless features via managed WiFi, mobile device management and optional wireless plans, although it is mobile operator agnostic. Sprint provides 24/7 support, including proactive monitoring of the network, CPE and service.
The value for these services to SMBs is in simplifying deployment of communications services and allowing them to dedicate resources to building their business. But cost remains a primary driver in SMB UC decisions, and managed services can come at a higher price relative to standalone services. In evaluating services, SMBs should ask their provider to explain exactly what is included in the managed service bundle, and what isn’t, and have a discussion about cost savings and expected cost of ownership. SMBs should expect their provider to deliver on promises of value and good support, because there are plenty of other options if they don’t.