Change is one of the few constants of any IT sector, and unified communications is no different. But in recent years, the changes in this sector have felt more seismic. Once, UC&C was itself a niche trend. Now, vendors big and small are rushing into the sector.
It can be confusing to keep up with all those vendors’ activities, but what is much clearer is who among them are performing well — and, more importantly, why. The business of UC&C today, though larger than ever before, has in many ways stayed the same thanks to how it adheres to basic principles of improving business processes.
Trends we have seen this past year have not been about the technology itself nor the performance of one or a few particular brands from the crowd. No, what is important to the end-user and the UC&C provider is how on the whole this technology is being sold, and for what purposes it is being used.
Looking back on this year of further disruption and change, it’s most important to consider the state of the market in the context of exactly this point: business value in terms of processes.
Trend #1: Selling Managed Services
Let’s begin with the most important business model we have seen in UC&C this year and earlier: that of the MSP.
It’s common knowledge in the industry, but the very idea of a “managed service provider” was not even conceptualized as we now know it until about 15 years ago. In fact, it was not truly until 4 or 5 years ago that we saw the majority of UC&C provisioners change to this MSP model.
Where did this change from? Well, it’s like asking the question of the chicken and the egg. Market changes drove IT specialists to this model — customers began to require managed PBX services more than just a PBX installation, and so the providers adjusted. But at the same time, many providers were pushing the market to make these changes to create a more stable business model. With managed services, a provider can sell with far more security, because they earn on a consistent monthly basis.
Whichever asked for change first, the end-users or the MSPs, the fact is we have entered a feedback loop where both parties are pushing the market entirely toward managed services. And this has left IT specialists in one of two categories: First are the innovators, who invested in this change early, and second are the laggards, who waited until 2022 to make the switch.
Not an MSP? You’re Lagging Behind
Those who are in the “laggard” camp are in a tough situation now. Although there are ways to still move forward, they’re difficult, and there is no magic one-size-fits-all answer on how to proceed.
But it’s only difficult to regain pace with your competitors — not impossible. If you were to try, your first step must be sales training for your existing staff. You’d have to train them to become skilled in selling your new market focus to actually see a return on investment from this new way forward.
Next, your focus has to shift. Just like Steve Jobs reinvented Apple, cut out 80% of your portfolio and focus only on the remaining 20% that does the best business.The only way is to drill into your biggest moneymakers in your portfolio and your customer list: Select your most profitable niche and bet everything on that.
Most often, it will be best to wrap your highest-selling services into a larger unified communications offer in order to personalize your selection of tools. You may even want to pair these high-selling services with IT security and internet connections as common add-on offers.
Then, most importantly, use a vendor model that lets you own your customers. This means you selling your services directly to the customers, without a vendor dictating the terms of your deal or taking your profits and leaving you with only a commission. Remember, for your business to have value, it must be you who your customers contact and buy from. If you become a sales agent who earns only on commission, you will have given up control of your customers and, pretty soon, you’ll be betrayed the second you have sold to the last customer in your portfolio. We may be in a new globalized economy in a new millennium, but a business still needs to have customers to be called a business. If you sell them out you don’t own a business anymore.
In short, the only way forward in UC&C is this:
- Ensure your organization knows how to sell your services
- Focus only on the parts of your offer that make the most money, then pair them with unified communications, security and possible internet connection
- Partner only with vendors who let you own your customer base
Again, even if you take these steps, it will be hard to catch up to the providers who have already switched to selling managed services. But at least you will be selling something the market demands, and you’ll still own the lasting value you earn.
Trend #2: CEBP
But that’s only about the UC&C business model. What about the technology being sold?
Of course, there have been many developments over the past year. We’ve all heard of components like the Metaverse or AI transcription software, but unless you’re a vendor, these shouldn’t concern you. The ones making money off new technologies like these will be vendors — not MSPs or end-users — and even then it will only be after many years down the line.
For MSPs, the most valuable trend today is communications-enabled business processes (CEBP). Actually, this is not a new concept — it’s been around for almost a decade already — but it’s far more relevant than ever thanks to how it can be implemented by UC&C technology.
CEBP refers to optimizing business processes by streamlining the element of human communication; it’s the concept of improving communications, making them faster and reach farther so that our work becomes easier to do.
If we were to point to just one part of business to focus on as MSPs, it should be this component of CEBP. Forget concepts like IT, logistics, AI and so forth — the most important parts of business are processes and the people who run them! And in the same way, the only benefit we can ever expect to give or receive from technology is making work easier for the people in charge of those processes.
This may sound like an old-fashioned view of business — and, I agree, it is — but in the world of communications especially, it’s important to know the specific role technology plays. The entire reason humans have advanced to the modern day is because of communication: We’re able to share ideas, to transfer our thoughts and concepts from one brain to another. Now, technology allows us to transfer ideas from oceans away in an instant — a thought that’s amazing on its own, but all the more important because of the new ideas it leads to. Businesses are like machines, and communication is the oil to make them run faster longer and smoother.
Well, that was a very philosophical view of things just now, wasn’t it? But coming back down to earth, you’ll find that more important than any specific UC&C innovation is the concept of improving productivity through communication. The more people you’re hearing from, the more ideas you gather, and the greater your possibility for innovation and success. Today more than ever, technology drives this concept forward, and in the process, it delivers improved business processes. All delivery processes must be enabled through APIs to keep customers informed and connected to increase customer satisfaction and increase lifetime value.
Again, this is what CEBP is all about, and it’s why it’s the most important concept in UC&C today. Technology advances and trends change, and all of that is good to look at. But more than any of those, to make money you must first look at the foundation of value that communications provide.
Trend #3: Security
This past year especially, security has become a huge concern in the IT space. It’s no longer just big companies that are dealing with breaches and ransomware; small businesses and even schools have been targeted by these scammers in horribly high numbers. And so it’s entirely logical to ask how to keep your own systems, and therefore business, safe from attacks.
In my view, the first mistake that organizations make in security is this: They rely too much on expecting their own people to do the right thing.
It’s common practice now to train your employees on things like not sharing your password or how to not fall for phishing attempts. But if you’re using this as your main line of defense, you might as well share your admin login credentials now.
However much training you give employees, they are still people, and people like to take stupid risks. That means no matter how much you train them, there’s no guarantee against one of them sharing confidential information by being tricked — or just for the fun of breaking the rules. Remember, enforcing security isn’t their job; even if you say otherwise, they aren’t being paid to keep your company safe.
Actual security comes not from expecting everyone to make good decisions but from allowing only a few trusted people to make them. Yes, not “one,” but “a few” — the same way that a nuclear missile launch must be approved by a team of generals, big company decisions should not be left up to just one person with little authority.
Instead, they must be controlled so that only a select few can pull the trigger on those decisions, and the requirements for both the number of people and their authority must increase depending on the severity of the decision. For example, to authorize a payment of up to $1,000, you might need only one person at only a managerial level. But to authorize a payment of $50,000, you should require authorization from two people with a higher internal status.
This is maybe not the quick fix for security many are looking for, and that’s because security does not come from quick fixes. A secure system is possible only through design (which, by the way, is why Wildix works — it’s secure by design). The system must be built for security with secure principles in mind because the alternative will always be a system that can be destroyed by the mistakes anyone could easily make. A piece of advice: Communications systems that are built out of products from multiple vendors are easier to break into.
The Cloud & Security
One of the most important structural changes you can make for security is to move everything from your company — files, programs, as many components as possible — into the cloud.
As I said earlier, the market is now in a place where managed services are what sell. That’s for a good reason: Using managed services means you have fewer business processes to worry about. By using the cloud and software as a service, the matter of security is no longer an issue your organization has to manage and maintain. Instead, you can leave it to professionals who have built a secure infrastructure already and who will manage that security as their dedicated job.
For this reason, the cloud you move to should be an established system — not one you made yourself. Yes, this means giving up control. But it’s always been a part of business that you can’t do everything yourself. Of course you should research your options and look for skilled professionals who fit your needs well, but using your own resources too often will stretch your resources too thin.
Where We Are Now
The way the market runs now, the advice I would recommend to both those selling UC&C and those buying it is the same: Rely more on managed services, and look more to using communications for business processes.
Again, business processes work through collaboration. An employee has a job that they’re good at, and by doing that job, they make a larger process move forward. But it’s harder to do that job if that employee is assigned to do too many other things outside their specialization. Being more efficient in your own processes means doing more of that specialized area, not doing more of everything possible.
Managed services are both popular and valuable because they enable employees to do more in their job. They remove some elements to worry about, from communications to the security of your files and programs. Thanks to that, they put a focus back on doing work already proven to be valuable and streamline entire processes.
Yes, right now the cloud and managed services are the UC&C trends that matter most. But if you have not made the switch to using them yet, you won’t make money just from using them as part of a trend. First, you have to understand that these are ways to work better, communicate better and collaborate better — in other words, to do all the fundamental parts of business more effectively.
With more brain power, more communication, and more resulting collaboration, success will definitely come from the market’s current trends (or even in spite of them).
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