IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Communications Unplugged

Mobility is causing big shifts in the communications space. Once IT doesn’t supply the device, you have to rethink the way data is provided. By Colleen Frye

David Willis is a VP and distinguished analyst at Gartner Inc., and chief of research for mobility and communications. He discusses some communications trends and challenges with writer Colleen Frye.

ChannelPro-SMB: What are some key market trends in the communications space?
Willis: There tends to be four major drivers for change. One is the adoption of cloud computing, with more services consumed outside the enterprise data center. Second is mobility, with the shift toward mobile being the principal platform used throughout the day. Third is unified communications and the idea of trying to simplify the communication experience for users. Finally [there's] video, which enables better group interaction [and] better overall communication.

ChannelPro-SMB: What are some challenges that communications service providers (CSPs) are facing?
Willis: There is a big shift going on from traditional fixed systems to more mobile services. At the same time there is a shift from predominately voice to a mix of voice and data, hitting a point where data revenue in many markets is more than voice. As you have more mobility in small businesses you have more people using data plans, and as those devices get more capable they consume more data. That presents a challenge for a lot of carriers in terms of their infrastructure investments. We're at the inflection point where carriers are moving from 3G to 4G; it's a significant capital investment. [They must determine] what is the right set of pricing models to ensure growth at a profitable level.

ChannelPro-SMB: For customers, what does that mean?

Willis: As you look around, for most of the market you'll find some competition between mobile players and cable providers and telcos. As a buyer it's imperative to shop around and look at all options. It turns out there are excellent values in residential-grade services. But to service providers looking to provide added value beyond basic connectivity, for cable that means media services, for telcos anything from managed services through hosting.

ChannelPro-SMB: Are cable companies reaching out to solution providers?
Willis: It's a way of expanding their market; it provides a fairly stable income. It's about a relationship sell; traditional cable providers don't have as strong a relationship with the SMB - not as strong as the telcos. It's imperative they understand what sets an SMB apart from a residential customer, and how they're different from large enterprises. At this point there's an opportunistic play for alternative service providers like cable companies.

ChannelPro-SMB: How does the rising mobile market affect communications service providers?
Willis: It means people are buying more mobile services and the value of traditional services is diminished. Many organizations are issuing mobile phones as the primary phone rather than a desk phone. If you want salespeople out talking to customers, it's the best investment you can make.

The concept of BYOD has caught hold, especially in the U.S. It offloads a lot of device selection decisions from IT; that means a shift in buyer, from the enterprise buyer who wants to buy a large volume of handsets for the workforce to the consumer's choice. They want to go to a retail outlet and choose a device that would also be appropriate for work.

ChannelPro-SMB: How does BYOD impact IT?
Willis: If you adopt a BYOD strategy it means you have to tool up for it. This is where things get complex, especially for the stressed IT manager of an SMB. This provides an opportunity for third parties to do mobile management services, where you allow employees to have a choice of device but still provide the security and controls the business needs.

Tablets in particular have flooded into businesses of all sizes; 90 percent are employee purchased. IT's job is to figure out a way to connect and protect data, and that means an investment in mobile device management; you [also] need a secure network-based file sharing system. That may mean putting up a hosted virtual desktop in Citrix or VMware to provide a wide range of apps securely. It's a big shift; once IT doesn't supply the device you have to rethink the way you provide data.

About the Author

Colleen Frye is ChannelPro's managing editor.