Monday, 24 August 2009

Communication as a Service

Wow, thank you for all your feedback and email I received on my last post Is Google Voice a Game Changer? I do appreciate it. Here I want expand the discussion around delivering business communications as a Service, and ask what role the voice vendors will play.

Even if Google Voice is primarily consumer focused, it still has merit. What I believe Google has accomplished with its Google Voice launch (only available in the US so far) is to instill a bit of fear with carriers, network providers and even with voice equipment vendors. People go: Google did WHAT? You’re telling me that Google can liberate me from the stronghold of my service provider, circumventing roaming charges, one number, aggregated voicemail etc. Wow, that’s very cool... I want that.

It’s not that I think Google Voice represents technical innovation or feature superiority over what other service providers in the voice space can provide today. The issue is that these other providers don’t have the audience and mindshare to be fully heard yet. On the other hand, Google does have scale and mindshare with us, both as individuals and as consumers in order to bring this type of service model to forefront. Perhaps Google has illuminated what “some-what-more-intelligent” communications is to more people. If so, that is good.

But Google Voice is not business grade and is certainly not a full featured Unified Communication (UC) solution. But for a business who can’t afford an IT staff to manage a UC solution, the alternatives aren’t that obvious. Full featured UC solutions are still complicated to deploy, and the operational footprint is too large for the vast majority of small and medium businesses to seriously consider it. Various types of service providers (SIP, FMC, high-speed broadband) have recognized this and are working feverishly to put themselves in a position to deliver communications capabilities in the network, as a service. However, their biggest challenge is establishing the right sales channels.

What about the voice vendors…are they in a position to deliver UC as a service? No, not yet. Even if Cisco did acquire the voice conferencing service WebEx in 2007, it’s still just one slice of the UC spectrum. The fact is; the business model for most voice vendors is still based on selling hardware equipment and software licenses through an indirect sales channel. But in a world where software and services, embedded in the network is becoming more common, what role will they play?

Question: Which of the leading voice vendors (Cisco, Avaya, Siemens EC, Shoretel, Mitel etc.), do you think will be first in evolving their business model to include Communication as a Service, either as a complement or as an alternative to premise based equipment? Alternatively, who will be first to acquire or create a meaningful joint venture with a network/service provider or a Fixed-Mobile Convergence (FMC) provider? Such a move would open up many more sales channels and make UC more accessible for the small and medium businesses.

Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Is Google Voice a Game Changer?

Google un-wrapped its anticipated GrandCentral voice project earlier this year under the name of Google Voice. Although Google Voice only available in test mode to users in United States for now, my guess is it will become the talk of the town going forward. What impact will Google Voice have on the voice communications market? Will it be a game changer… and for whom?

Key Google Voice features:
  • Calls are routed to all my registered phones simultaneously. In other words, layered integration of mobile and fixed line phones
  • Text messaging & conference calling feature.
  • Inexpensive international calling
  • All my voicemails are aggregated at Google Voice. Transcribed voicemails or voicemail notifications are emailed or sms’d to me.

However, it is the flexible service layer of Google Voice handling inbound and outbound calls that is the differentiator. With the ability to port existing mobile number to Google Voice, I can rid myself from long and expensive contractual commitments with other mobile carriers. By loading Google Voice apps onto a smart phone, my outbound calls can be routed through Google Voice with significant cost savings as a result.

I’m sure it will take some time for the market to learn and adopt Google’s new voice proposition, but if successful Google will likely change the game for service providers and mobile carriers.

Question: Does Google Voice give Google an entry point into business communication market? For example, could Google Voice serve as a cost effective mobile integration service to the SMB and enterprise market?

I’m interested in your opinion…

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Do Unified Communications and VoIP Vendors Need New Channels?

After a couple of weeks of holiday and R&R it’s time to get going again. During my time off, in between dips in the ocean and naps in the shade I couldn’t help but ponder how the Unified Communications (UC) and VoIP market is changing. What’s happening? Where is the technology disruption heading? Is the channel capacity of the vendors wearing down? Who are the most suitable channel partners going forward?

One thing for sure, the indirect sales channel for Unified Communication (UC) and VoIP is a lot more diverse today than just 12-18 months ago. Today, Service Providers, IT consulting firms, System Integrators, technology VAR’s, vertical software & ISV’s, cloud/Saas providers etc. are all part of the collective sales channel for UC and VoIP. But, they are all selling and delivering customer value differently, aren’t they.

What the UC and VoIP vendors have been slow at recognizing is that the classic channels for “moving” product to the end customers are eroding or diverging. The vendor contest for market leadership will not be decided on technology alone but rather on who can develop the most comprehensive distribution paths for their solutions to the end customer. It’s all about reach, far and deep. Geographic coverage used to be the critical dimension for reach, but that is far from sufficient today. Delivery models, influence, capabilities and commitment are dimensions that also need to be considered. The vendors that can develop the most comprehensive and low resistant distribution paths to the end customers will benefit massively. You would think that UC and VoIP vendors already have a functioning model for selling through service providers, system integrators or vertical consulting firms. Not so, think again. There is still not enough focus or flexibility in most vendors operations and underlying infrastructure to accommodate different sales models and delivery models.

Heather Margolis at Channel Maven Consulting wrote a great article on the “New Breed of VAR” as an enabler of new routes to the customer. Ms. Margolis is spot on in her assessment. The technology disruption along with new delivery models (cloud or as managed service) and more sophisticated financing options have opened the market for a new breed of VARs that perhaps were not selling UC or VoIP before. However, recruiting this breed of VARs and enabling them to sell UC value in what ever way that suits them, with an attractive commercial proposition, is the responsibility of the vendor organization. This is an area where vendors are struggling. What new channels have Cisco, Microsoft, Avaya, Polycom, Shoretel or Siemens EC enabled today?

What do you think?