It’s well documented that communications technology has evolved significantly in the last decade. IP telephony and unified communications now provide a cost-effective and far more efficient alternative to traditional PBX phone systems, which often require high maintenance and do not support advanced communication channels such as video and web-conferencing. Indeed, a report from Transparency Market Research forecast continued growth for unified communications at a CAGR of 15.7% for 2012 to 2018 – demonstrating the demand for such solutions.

To fully take advantage of VoIP and unified communications, most businesses look to work with partners to manage the installation, implementation, deployment and maintenance – drawing on their technical expertise and familiarity with the solutions they provide.

However, supporting software-based communications can present a range of challenges for specialist resellers – whether traditional PBX resellers or even more general telephony resellers that have already made the leap to VoIP telephony systems.

Traditional PBX resellers often do not have a detailed understanding of IP networks and how they can be used to gain access to an IP enabled PBX, or more importantly route VoIP calls through it. They are also unlikely to have sufficient knowledge of the infrastructure required to provide these services.

Of course, by partnering closely with relevant vendors, resellers can gather expertise quickly, but this often comes at the cost of a reseller’s flexibility to provide a full range of customised solutions and means they can no longer remain completely vendor agnostic. This is why we see many telephony partners almost exclusively selling one or two vendor solutions, supported by expert personnel often trained, or in some cases provided, by the vendor.

The broader challenge for any telephony reseller is that the IT requirements of companies big and small goes far beyond telephony systems. A recent report by TechNavio has forecast that the data centre colocation market in the UK is set to grow at a CAGR of 14.43% in the next five years.

Gartner is now suggesting that cloud computing will make up the bulk of global IT spending by 2016, with a projected CAGR of 33.2% from 2012 to 2017. Furthermore, businesses now need to be better connected than ever before, supporting flexible working practices and dealing almost solely in online content/communication. Therefore, connectivity is a major priority for all businesses, requiring faster internet speeds from broadband and WLANs.

Therefore, for telephony resellers, even those offering unified communications solutions, there is a big challenge in being able to demonstrate understanding of this bigger picture that all modern businesses are facing.

The Opportunity For Telephony Resellers

That said, in my own experience of working with customers, particularly in the larger SME classification, I’ve found that if businesses can find a trusted IT partner, which provides a reliable and high quality service, they actually prefer to keep it all under one roof, so to speak. As well as being more practical from the point of view of the IT manager to have one port of call for all the IT systems in their jurisdiction, dealing with a single company often leads to developing a more sophisticated partnership.

So as a result there remains a real opportunity for telephony resellers to take advantage of the growing demand for VoIP and unified communications. To do this, telephony resellers need to broaden their portfolios. Fundamentally this means adding broader IT infrastructure capabilities to their offerings to increase their ability to respond to any customer demand.

This is where resellers have an inherent advantage over vendors with their ability to offer appropriate solutions without compromising on cost or quality based on the best possible combination of technologies from multiple vendors for any given situation.

To give an example of the opportunity for telephony resellers, a business may have only invested in a new PBX system fairly recently and be reluctant to rip and replace. At the same time, the running costs and maintenance of traditional PBX systems are a drain on IT budgets and do not support nearly as many of the communications facilities in modern IP enabled suites.

However, SIP trunking can provide an alternative method of connecting a business’s PBX system to the public telephone network (PSTN) – using a data connection to connect to a SIP service provider instead of using ISDN technology. So in this situation a telephony reseller can help protect the investment on the current PBX system but also provide the cost savings and service benefits of an IP enabled system.

Of course that is dependent on the reseller having the technology portfolio to support the roll out of a SIP trunk – and not all resellers will have these expertise in house.

Broadening Portfolios Through Partnerships

Rather than building up this in house expertise, resellers can quickly build up their product portfolio through growing their relationships with other organisations. In the example above there could easily be three parties involved in an IP enabled PBX deployment for instance: the PBX reseller, the network manager and the SIP trunking provider. However, in many ways this isn’t actually an ideal situation as it relies on three different organisations all with fairly specific sets of expertise and potentially completely different priorities.

Instead resellers need to think about longer term partnerships founded on a shared ethos and level of service. For many resellers a more attractive partnership option is working with a data centre provider. Partnering with a data centre company not only takes care of all the infrastructure and support challenges for partners, it also allows them to offer a wider range of solutions – rather than work with a high number of vendors with specific expertise and potentially conflicting interests.

In terms of technology, unified communications may be the obvious evolution from IP PBX, but for specialist telephony resellers it can introduce new challenges to overcome. For example, Service Level Agreements (SLAs), LAN switching and routing, network firewalls, wireless mobility services and integrated applications. Again, a data centre partner can help solve these issues.

Going beyond communications altogether – partnering with a data centre opens the doors for resellers to provide more end-to-end solutions to their customers. Not only does this mean they can sell more services, it presents an opportunity for them to become their customer’s sole IT partner. There is also a huge opportunity for a PBX reseller partnered with a data centre company with owned infrastructure in terms of upgrading and scaling up existing customer solutions – as well as taking on new ones.

It’s not just about making money. Resellers should be looking to serve their customers in the best way they possibly can and part of that process is by giving them as much choice as possible. If a customer is interested in upgrading its PBX system to a fully-fledged unified communications suite, they may have other outstanding IT requirements, which require a more bespoke solution that just a simple communications overhaul.

Working with a data centre partner means the reseller can give their customer a range of different options, which may be more cost-effective and provide solutions to other existing issues. This is where the reseller can become more of a trusted partner and advisor to its customer and a one-stop shop for all of its IT requirements.

The Considerations For Partners

Entering a data centre partnership is a major decision for any reseller organisation to undertake. The selection process needs to go beyond ensuring the data centre has the right specification though. Apart from anything else resellers need to ensure that data centre partners match up with their own service levels.

Data centre partners need to provide an on-site support team so this needs to be someone who understands the needs of a partner and its customers. There needs to be a common vision in how to deliver good customer service because the data centre partner is potentially going to be meeting and dealing with the actual customers.

To gain the best value out of a data centre partnership, resellers need to work with a company that can support additional services to the ones they currently provide. For example, a telephony reseller should consider whether its potential data centre partner can support services such as colocation and cloud. This will allow them to deliver a broader service offering, increase revenues and margins, upsell services into existing customers and attract new ones.