CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? IT-oriented channel pros are launching voice and unified communications-as-a-service practices in growing numbers, both for competitive and moneymaking reasons. In a recent ChannelPro reader survey, 52 percent of respondents say they currently offer VoIP/UC to their customers. Among those channel pros who don’t, 23 percent plan to add it in the next 12 to 18 months.
For Mike Bloomfield, it’s a competitive necessity. “You have to do it because everyone is an IT guy,” says the president geek of Tekie Geek, a managed IT services firm in Staten Island, N.Y. “Today you’re not just competing with IT staff, you’re also competing with alarm guys. You’re competing with the phone guys, printer guys. It’s important to have a lot of tricks up your sleeve, and a wide array of services. That’s why we got into voice over IP.”
Moreover, it’s a service in which small and medium businesses are increasingly interested. According to a recent study from UC and cloud computing vendor Intermedia, conducted in partnership with Techaisle, 40 percent of SMBs are adopting some form of collaboration solution, up from 32 percent two years ago. And hosted VoIP is among the top three UC categories SMBs plan to use in 2019.
The VoIP/UC vendors are reaching out to channel pros too. “We’re seeing a scramble for providers out there to attract channel partners, and they’re being very aggressive,” says Irwin Lazar, research leader, UC and collaboration, at Nemertes Research. “Dialpad, 8x8, RingCentral, Nextiva—they’re all going after that same set of integration partners as they shift to more of a channel model.”
Want to capitalize on that opportunity and set up your VoIP/UC venture for long-term growth and success? Channel pros currently in the trenches have some recommendations.
Choosing the Right Product
As is always true when picking solutions, due diligence is critical when evaluating VoIP/UC offerings, says Lazar. He suggests partnering with a provider whose solution has broad functionality in your geographic service area, as well as robust reporting and management capabilities.
According to 42 percent of ChannelPro reader survey respondents, meanwhile, call quality is the most essential attribute to look for in a VoIP or UC solution, followed by ease of rollout (26 percent) and troubleshooting and diagnostic tools (19 percent). Bloomfield agrees about the importance of call quality, which he says comes down to “all that fun technical stuff” like whether or not the provider’s compression is lossless.
SMBs themselves say their top five purchase decision factors are reliability, cited by 63 percent of respondents, followed by price, features, quality, and support, according to the Techaisle/Intermedia research. “The reliability and the failover and the redundancy of the solution are critical,” says MJ Shoer, director, client engagement, and vCIO at Onepath LLC, a nationwide MSP headquartered in Kennesaw, Ga.
Tom Praschak, president and CEO of CompassMSP, a managed IT company in Florida with offices in Miami and Jacksonville, looks for “serviceability” of the solution. “We are a services company, and I like to be able to perform the services on my own without always going back to the manufacturer,” he says. Serviceability, he adds, comes down to three factors, beginning with design. “Some products aren’t designed to be serviced,” he notes. That’s followed by how good the vendor’s management tools are and how much training they provide.
Since you need to determine if the client’s network can handle VoIP, your provider should also have a qualifying and troubleshooting tool that you can install on any endpoint within the network to determine that, Bloomfield recommends. The backbone of VoIP/UC is the network, he says, and it must have good quality of service and reliable managed network switches. “There’s a number of providers out there that offer managed switches. But the ability to have them monitor your bandwidth, your traffic, remotely is a major important tool. You want to be able to quickly see what’s going wrong.”
Lazar cautions against getting locked into one provider, as VoIP/UC is a crowded field likely to see acquisitions in coming years. Typically, he says, channel pros use different vendors for different tiers of service, employing Cisco, for example, with larger customers and Nextiva with smaller ones.