Unified goal

With research suggesting that half of all enterprises in the Middle East plan to deploy unified communications (UC) in the next three years, networking and telecoms resellers that haven’t already explored the revenue opportunities available in this growing market need to start giving it the attention it deserves before it’s too late.

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Unified goal Venkat Raghavan, Al-Futtaim Technologies.
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By  Piers Ford Published  June 15, 2010 Channel Middle East Logo

As much as the channel understands UC applications, Gassan Mutwali suggests it might not yet have a total grasp on the holistic value proposition of the technology.

“The simplest reason for that is that many channels are still product pushers rather than trusted client advisers who understand the unique needs and business processes of each client,” he says. “Once you view every enterprise as unique, you can advise on how UC applications fit into the picture and overall make the enterprise more productive and efficient. Channels are advised to position point applications that meet current demand and collaborate closely with enterprises to work out the right roadmap for UC adoption, based on future growth and needs.”

Mutwali says there is still much to be done in terms of educating enterprises and demonstrating ROI. UC should be pitched as a business process-enabler — and that means every pitch will need to reflect the subtle differences of every potential customer.

But ROI is not always easy to illustrate. Allan Scott, head of marketing for unified comms and collaboration at systems integrator BT Global Services, says that the benefits of collaboration — in product design or training, for example — which return a virtual organisation to traditional, more intimate ways of communication, are almost tangible. But putting a dollar value on them is much more difficult. He agrees that global financial services enterprises are leading the way by virtue of their distributed office networks. Many of the facilities promised by UC, such as single number reach, and the desktop video technology of Cisco’s TelePresence platform, for example, are a natural fit with the demand for instant location spotting and messaging.

“It’s difficult to say precisely who is driving adoption in the Middle East at this stage although I suspect that those countries and emirates with a high concentration of multi-nationals will lead the way, and that will impact on regional and local enterprises,” he says.

Value-added distributor FVC, which favours an integrated Microsoft/Polycom approach to UC, reports early adoption in oil and gas, real estate, hospitality and education.

“We see two different types of customers investing,” says managing director KS Parag. “The early adopters who are always ahead of their industry, leveraging new greenfield technology to increase productivity and ROI; and enterprises overhauling their analogue phones and systems, expanding their infrastructure into digital technology.

“As a technology that is reliant on hardware and software for success, there are advantages for channel partners that are already in the IP telephony market. Combining this with familiarisation with Microsoft’s Customer Immersive Experience (CIE) and Office productivity software and OCS would enable them to successfully sell and deploy UC.”

In the open source domain, DVCOM’s Sabu Thomas insists the growth opportunities are bountiful. “We are developing a lot of verticals and other applications around this [Asterisk] software. We have done a complete fax solution, we are coming up with integrated SMS and we are planning to develop a unified solution with CRM, content management and database integration,” he reveals.

Gassan Mutwali agrees that telephony resellers are in prime position to grow the potential revenues of telephony applications. But he also suggests that systems integrators have an important opportunity, because they have vital interoperability skills.

“Further, resellers with a large presence in key UC-demand verticals such as government, financial services, oil and gas, and with a genuine understanding of the challenges and business processes in these industries, are suited to offering UC,” he adds. “Some vendors, such as Avaya, have realised the impact of the SME sector on the regional business and appointed partners specifically to cater for this segment of the market.”

For their part, resellers look to vendors for more education, particularly when it comes to helping businesses appreciate the ease of integration that is an increasing feature of UC. “To sell UC, you need to understand and demonstrate to the customer the business benefits of integrating the hitherto disparate systems such as telephony, messaging, video and data,” says Raghavan at Al-Futtaim. “The spirit of UC lies in the integration of these complex systems into a single intuitive platform, and therefore to deploy UC you need the combined knowledge of the systems and a strong systems integration skills set.”

Eyad Shihabi, CEO at managed services provider Smartworld, which offers hosted UC packages in the Middle East, notes a growing appetite for the single unified client model, adaptable to any size of customer.

“The Middle East channel’s understanding of UC is currently dependant on what is being provided by the traditional telephony providers, offered as a UC solution,” he says.

“A true UC platform is a comprehensive solution combing collaborative tools under one platform. The Middle East channel will need to enhance the understanding of the various offerings in the market and ensure partnerships with key vendors and providers who [themselves] have a full solution — technology and service — that brings tangible savings and efficiency for their customers.”

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