Enterprise Communications


How Telecom Vendors Can Stay Relevant in a Changing Communications World

by Melanie Turek 24 Mar 2013
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In what has become a fun annual event, I participated in the Locknote session at Enterprise Connect this week, and while several key topics were discussed, my favorite question was “Who are the winners and losers?” Everyone answered it a little differently, of course, but in my view, the clear winner at EC and going forward are the end users—you and me and every other employee who today has a range of options for communications and collaboration, whether they are brought in by the employee or delivered to him by his IT department.

But that sets up a couple of potential “losers.” The first is the IT/telecom department, which is fighting a battle against diminishing budgets and resources while at the same time trying to fend off the tide of BYOT (bring your own technology). If this organization can change, learning to take advantage of consumer-driven devices and apps where appropriate, and finding good enterprise-grade substitutes where necessary—and looking for ways to inject communications into business processes, working with line of business managers and end users—it will not just survive but thrive.

The second potential “losers” are the traditional telephony vendors, who need to change not just their products but also their skill sets in order to stay relevant in the new world. They face the challenge of learning about business processes and embracing change in both how they sell and how they service their products. Everyone agrees that if you want IT buyers and line-of-business managers to pay good money for a UC solution, you have to show them where the value lies—and it’s not just in enabling better communications and collaboration; it’s mostly in enabling better business processes.

And yet, Frost & Sullivan research shows that the vast majority of organizations have not implemented communications-enabled business processes (CEBP), and do not feel that UC deployments are well aligned with their business needs. Why the disconnect?

After all, it’s not like business relevancy is a new idea; analysts and vendors have been talking about the importance and value of integrating advanced communications with business processes for years. Heck, some people even define “unified communications” as CEBP. The difficulty has always been assumed to be that business processes are hard to identify, vary from company to company, and are not any telephony vendor’s core competency.

The last point is valid; most of the UC vendors’ professional services offerings are around technology implementation, not business processes or change management. But business processes themselves, while difficult to understand in the abstract, are actually very well defined in almost every mid- to large-size enterprise in the world, thanks to SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, and a host of other vertical and horizontal business applications that companies have been running for years to improve and enable how they get work done.

UC vendors looking to help their customers inject communications into their businesses for better results—streamlined decision making, improved service and support, shorter cycle and supply-chain times, and so on—should start with the leading business applications already installed on most customer sites. They don’t need to become experts on developing new business processes themselves, and they don’t need to introduce customization into the mix. They just need to look at what’s already out there—well defined and, at this point, well tested—and identify those places where adding voice, conferencing, video or social communications can improve the process.

Perhaps more importantly, however, both IT and telephony vendors face one more daunting challenge, and this one will be much harder to face: The pace of change is happening so quickly in their industry, it’s hard to understand how they will be able to keep up. We all know that large companies take a long time to make even small changes, let alone wholesale course corrections. And this was OK until recently, because change happened incrementally, and at the behest of the IT department. Vendors were often two-to-three years ahead of their customers with new products and services (consider, for instance, how long it has taken to transition from TDM to IP), but that wasn’t a bad thing: when those customers were ready to change, their vendors were ready to supply them with the necessary technology.

Today, the entire game has changed. In a software-centric, user-driven world, change happens constantly. New app revs come out weekly, if not daily, depending on how many apps you run. New devices are available in cycles measured by months, not years. And consumers who are willing to pay for the new technology for their personal use because they see benefit in having the “latest and greatest” expect their companies to do the same thing.

So the biggest challenge for IT and their vendors is how to become increasingly agile, with the ability to roll out new software and hardware and even change tack completely on a dime. Will they be able to keep pace with consumer speed? Probably not, and that’s OK. But what isn’t OK is maintaining the status quo.

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