Jan
21
2015

Valley Business Solutions – what being an MSP means for their Customers

I’m continuing the case study analysis of this ADTRAN customer because they’re a great example of how a channel partner can transform their business and find new ways to add value with their customers. In my last post, I reviewed why becoming an MSP is good for both Valley Business Solutions and ADTRAN, and now the focus shifts to end customers.

With ProCloud’s managed WiFi platform, VBS saw a path to the next growth area for their customers. There was little upside to continue reselling commodity products and services, especially with so many competitors doing the same thing. The real asset for them was the customer relationship – not the technology on offer – and becoming an MSP allowed them to do two things to maintain that. First was the ability to private label ProCloud as VBS Managed WiFi, thus creating a closer bond with customers. Second was the ability to customize applications for each customer, allowing them to focus on solving business problems rather than selling technology.

How does the customer benefit?

Not all ADTRAN channel partners have followed this path, and this reality is likely typical for other vendors. We are at an inflection point with today’s technology, where channels need to jump curves to stay competitive. Many are not willing or able to do that and prefer to ride things out with their customer base. VBS did not wish to pursue this sunset plan and chose to go where the growth is happening.

Just as channels are struggling to adopt new technology, so too are their customers. What VBS understands is that their customers don’t need to be leading technology adopters – instead, they get that with managed services. Once freed from that challenge, VBS can focus on the business problems of each customer and then determine how managed WiFi can address them. To illustrate, here are two examples in terms of vertical markets that VBS is serving today.

Education market

This is a promising vertical for an MSP, as many learning institutions are cash-strapped with limited IT resources. BYOD has become a major challenge as wireless devices have become the tool of choice for students. These are becoming the default endpoints not just for everyday personal communication, but for many aspects of their educational experience. They need wireless, high-speed connectivity for accessing online textbooks, sharing notes, doing research, making presentations, viewing archived lectures and even virtually attending live lectures.

VBS addresses these needs head-on by providing campus-wide connectivity to support these devices, without IT having to own/operate physical infrastructure. Given that many campuses have a sprawling footprint and the fact that students are rarely in one place long, there is great value in what VBS Managed WiFi delivers. VBS could never have done this just trying to sell a new phone system or upgrade infrastructure. This is a very different opportunity, where the school has a chance to shift from Capex to Opex and can gain cost efficiencies by reducing the need for printed textbooks and providing a better learning experience for students.

Houses of worship

VBS is based in Tennessee, and in the Bible Belt, churches represent an important vertical sector with specific needs. While you may view this as a highly traditional space, the research indicated they have wireless needs just like anybody else. One example is the fact that many church goers have a Bible on their tablet, and they use this during worship instead of a conventional printed Bible. Whether 10 or 100 people need this, the church needs to have enough wireless access on hand so those people could worship worry-free.

A more daunting example has to do with controlled access to the Internet. While churches have many good reasons to provide WiFi, they have valid reasons to keep their space free from inappropriate Web content. The public Internet is rife with such material, and this presents an important pain point for churches. Ideally, they would like all the good of the Web without the bad, and one way that VBS does this is via ProCloud’s content filtering capability. This allows the church to specify which websites to block over their WiFi signal, which can be especially helpful for their Sunday school and educational programs.

As with the education sector, this is an example of a specific “business” problem that their Managed WiFi offering was able to address. Rather than sell WiFi on the merits of the technology, VBS has brought this to the church community in terms of real world issues they are not able to solve on their own. In that context, being an MSP allows VBS to add value in ways the customer may never have thought possible.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/valley-business-solutions-what-being-an-msp-means-for-their-customers/

Jan
15
2015

Valley Business Solutions – why becoming an MSP is a Good Idea

My last post began a case study exploration of Valley Business Solutions (VBS), an ADTRAN customer based in Tennessee. Normally the focus of a case study is about how a vendor solved a particular problem for a customer, but my research indicates something bigger going on. There was a case study element in that post, but I want discuss more about how ProCloud provided a transformational opportunity for VBS, and why this serves as a great model for other channel partners to consider.

This also speaks to where ADTRAN is having success and how the broader communications environment continues to evolve. While UC may have been the starting point for how vendors and channels jointly explore new directions, both parties have to follow the wind. Ultimately, the end customer determines this, but many have little of sense of direction. This is where channels truly add value, as they are the middleman between vendors and businesses.

Why being an MSP is good for VBS

Valley Business Solutions knows what’s best for its customers – at least in terms of communications technology, and for a variety of reasons, they have determined that the Managed Services Provider path is the way forward. This is not an easy decision to make, and I’ll explore that further in my next post. For now, the idea is to determine the best way to remain relevant with as many customers as possible. To some extent, VBS has based this on customer input, but this can also lead to some dangerous assumptions.

Part of knowing your customer is knowing that they don’t always know best. Most of VBS’s customers are SMBs with limited technical expertise, and their scope of understanding will define their thinking. VBS has learned that a key way to add value is to re-frame technology needs around business problems, and this has allowed them to have success with ProCloud managed WiFi services. Businesses don’t generally come to channel partners asking for UC, and they may not even come asking for WiFi solutions. They just know that wireless growth is out of control but don’t really know how to address it.

This is where channel partners like VBS add value. They know the customer well, including their understanding of these problems. Since they are well-versed in what ProCloud can provide, they can introduce new ideas and capabilities that show how the customer can get on top of these wireless issues. This approach is known as consultative selling, and VBS recognized they needed to work this way, not just to keep customers happy but also to stay ahead of their competitors.

By adopting this model, VBS moves away from the legacy model of selling hardware and adding little value. The customer relationship is still paramount, but with all the disruption coming from both the cloud and mobility, there was little room for growth by sticking with that legacy model. This means that the core value proposition is based less now on the physical products and more on the applications they enable and how those applications impact the business.

That’s the new value proposition that has led VBS to becoming an MSP. With this model, they are free to frame ADTRAN’s technology in terms of business solutions and outcomes. Their value now comes from the trust based a strong/long customer relationship, and from that, an ability to understand what customers truly need – rather than what they think they need. I’ll provide specific examples in my next post along with the business model benefits for being an MSP.

Why being an MSP is good for ADTRAN

This path is also good business for ADTRAN, and that needs to be part of the analysis. Of course, this result applies to any vendor, and hopefully you’ll see this isn’t just about ADTRAN and ProCloud. Vendors face the same business issues as channels, and being on the same page is key for survival. ADTRAN acquired BlueSocket and developed ProCloud to stay current with the mobility and cloud trends, and to make these work, they must have the right channel partners. Other vendors have made similar moves for the same reasons, so this shift isn’t specific to ADTRAN.

The MSP business model isn’t as capital intensive as selling hardware, but ADTRAN knows this is where the growth lies. When channel partners embrace MSP, they get a nice re-set with their customers and that positions them to drive new revenues as new applications enter the ProCloud sphere. This is a model that works well on a few levels for end customers, and will filter back to the vendor because they now have an engaged user base around which to develop new applications and grow the business. There’s definitely a virtuous circle at work here, and the best way to get it is for both vendors and channel partners to be aligned with meeting customer needs.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/valley-business-solutions-why-becoming-an-msp-is-a-good-idea/

Jan
14
2015

Complimenting challenging FTTH rollouts; G.fast reignites Ultrafast broadband in EMEA

As we hit the halfway point in this decade, it would appear that common sense is once again returning to our beloved broadband industry. There is increasing recognition that our long running romance with pure Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) strategies may fail to bear the fruits once promised. There is no question that today’s fixed line operators must innovate and invest to ensure they keep pace with the ever increasing-threats posed by the cable industry.

Once fractured and unorganized, recent cable consolidation has created giants with considerable resources. Compounding this threat is the mobile industry’s shift towards fixed operator acquisition to protect against stagnating mobile subscriber growth and ARPU erosion. Where FTTH has always been positioned as the panacea for all industry ailments, mass adoption has not taken hold, thanks mainly to barriers like cost and availability.

We tip our hats to notable exceptions consistently offered up as precedent that ubiquity can be achieved; however those who have completed even modest due diligence, recognize that unique attributes have played a significant role in the success of these FTTH rock stars. From the bottomless pockets of the UAE, to the unique scale economies achievable from the mega-MDUs of Asia, the sad truth remains that these unique attributes don’t translate to the majority of broadband markets. The cold hard fact remains that broadband providers are businesses, who in the majority of cases are accountable to investors. Those investors expect a timely return for their investment above all else.

Gone are the days where monopoly operators could make 25-year infrastructure investments, safe in the knowledge that they could maintain service pricing at the required levels to ensure satisfactory returns. With most operators being held to significantly shorter investment horizons, they must invest in solutions which keep pace with and offer protection from the subscriber poachers who bait their traps with higher headline speed offerings.

While FTTH’s eventual dominance is unquestioned, the reality is that ubiquity is unlikely in many of our lifetimes. Service providers who persist with a pure strategy risk significant subscriber erosion, not because of any technical limitations with their service offerings, but rather time-to-market delays. Recent years have revealed many examples where true FTTH has consistently taken longer to deploy and priced out higher than original models predicted.

For the service providers with existing copper assets, these fiber deployment delays may prove a blessing. Continued innovations in copper access technologies have permitted rapid deployment of ubiquitous superfast broadband services through the emergence of Vectored VDSL2 technologies. 2015 will see the latest copper innovations – capable of ultrafast speeds approaching Gigabit rates – reach commercial deployments. G.fast offers a standards-based approach that will permit service providers to eliminate many  traditional sources of delay faced by full FTTH deployments. No more landlords seeking their pound of flesh, no more missed subscriber appointments, no more planning delays. More than capable of addressing the headline speed threat posed by the cable industry, G.fast offers the predictable roll-out schedule that investors demand, coupled with a time to market proposition which will facilitate a rapid response to cable erosion.

Leveraging existing assets prevents subscriber churn to cable, while simultaneously offering continued access to wholesale Bitstream revenue streams. This also eliminates the risk of opening up an LLU optical super highway that competitors can poach on the backs of others’ FTTH investment. Copper has suffered a confidence crisis many times in its life, but with fewer than 10% of European households connected to FTTH, it will remain highly relevant for years to come.

 

Ronan Kelly is ADTRAN Chief Technology Officer for the EMEA and APAC regions

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/complimenting-challenging-ftth-rollouts-gfast-reignites-ultrafast-broadband-in-emea/

Jan
08
2015

ADTRAN Case Study – Transitioning from Products to Managed Services

Welcome to 2015, and I look forward to helping you keep on the pulse of Unified Communications. In keeping with a new year, it’s time to change things up with a different focus. For the next couple of posts, I’m going to feature a case study about an ADTRAN customer, Valley Business Solutions. I recently spoke at length with their GM, Alex Dizon, and this yielded several takeaways that are very much on trend for the UC and collaboration space.

My posts here are typically written for business decision makers, but VBS is a VAR, so they represent the seller’s side of the coin. The channel sits in the middle between vendors and end customers, and they face their own set of challenges with the ever-changing UC landscape. While vendors struggle to develop UC solutions that resonate with the needs of businesses, channels struggle to find the right business model for selling UC. While my analysis of VBS is specific to ADTRAN’s offerings, the dynamics are industry-based, and apply equally well to every other UC vendor, channel partners and ultimately, end customer.

Before continuing, I should also explain that although ADTRAN offers various flavors of UC, VBS partners with them primarily for ProCloud so they can become an MSP – Managed Services Provider. This isn’t really much different from offering hosted UC to end customers, and in VBS’s case, the focus is on providing WiFi connectivity. They could just as well be supporting NetVanta UC, and that in itself is an important storyline to follow.

What does the customer really want?

Ultimately, both vendors and channels depend on meeting customer needs for success, and that’s a key reason why I’m doing this case study analysis. There will certainly be cases where end customers know what UC is, and after careful consideration, have determined this is what they need. Other times, however, the vendor or channel is selling a variation of UC, but the customer doesn’t think of it that way. In other words, they are buying a solution, not a technology.

A recurring theme of my blog here is that UC is a moving target, and this really is both a strength and a weakness. As a vendor, ADTRAN is happy to sell NetVanta UC all day long, but if the VAR is having success selling WiFi as a managed service hosted by ProCloud, that’s fine too. The main thing is to drive adoption of hosted or managed services, as this represents one of the best growth opportunities right now for both vendors and channel partners.

In that regard, this case study is a very real example of how everyone in this business needs to adapt. UC can be defined in many ways, and while VBS’s customers may not be deploying a formal UC solution per se, they are certainly using elements that fall under the UC umbrella. The end customer doesn’t really care if you call it UC or managed WiFi to drive all their productivity applications. What really matters is meeting the customer’s needs rather than trying to make them fit into a UC box.

This is just one way vendors are adapting. Just because you can offer UC doesn’t mean the end customer is ready to buy it. VBS has learned that the key to staying competitive in today’s market is to focus on solving business problems instead of selling technology. If NetVanta UC truly is the best solution for the customer, that will be their recommendation. More often than not, however, there are other ADTRAN offerings tangential to UC that speak best to what the customer needs.

The bigger picture

A more important driver for adaptation is the cloud, and this is where the case study becomes more instructive. Aside from selling solutions, both vendors and channels need to be selling simplicity and great user experiences. This is a far cry from the legacy days of selling hardware-based phone systems tied to capital budget cycles. VBS started out in this business, but soon realized the limits of being an equipment dealer. They saw that the future was going to be in applications with little opportunity to add value to phone systems.

Furthermore, with legacy telephony going into decline, VBS knew it needed to shift from a capital-intensive business model to one built around recurring revenues from value-added services. This transition took the company from being an undifferentiated dealer to a value-added reseller, and with that, their current focus on selling solutions is easier to understand.

From there, the link to the cloud is really a short hop, and that’s where both ADTRAN and VBS have adapted quite successfully. The cloud presents new opportunities for everyone, but only if you’re ready. Clearly, many of VBS’s competitors are not ready, and I’ll explore the implications of that as this series continues in my next post.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/adtran-case-study-transitioning-from-products-to-managed-services/

Dec
30
2014

Will UC be about Process or Outcomes in 2015?

In my last post, I talked about whether UC is disruptive or being disrupted. Both are going on, but these days it seems more like the latter. UC can certainly be disruptive – in a good way – by integrating many widely-used applications into a common interface. That’s the UC that most of us understand and are still striving for in the workplace. Many of the initial technology challenges that have held back growth have been addressed, but are still a factor, and UC remains a long way from being simple plug and play.

Another hold-back, of course, has been user adoption, which I have written extensively about in previous posts here. Since UC doesn’t solve any obvious problems, it has to be brought to end users, and more to the point, sold to them. This is not something they are organically asking for, and IT cannot assume they’ll discover UC on their own. In this regard, UC’s disruptive nature has more to do with the vendors and how it has become core to their business and even their salvation as we move into the post-PBX era.

This type of disruption, however, is coming as much from outside the core of usual suspects as from inside. Last post I touched on this briefly, with the idea being that the UC value proposition has not evolved as fast as other trends around it. As a result, we are now seeing other approaches that have everything to do with the cloud, mobility and social business, and little if nothing to do with telephony.  These offerings don’t even necessarily call themselves UC, signaling a major shift in focus from process to outcomes.

What to expect in 2015

As the year closes, decision makers need to look ahead to what these trends mean for UC in 2015. If you’re in that mode now, here are three things to consider not just for what vendors are doing, but also for where they can really add value to your business.

  1. The cloud keeps simplifying technology issues

As more UC elements become cloud-based, the conventional challenges around connectivity and interoperability become less problematic. Both UC and the cloud continue to mature around standards-based technologies, making it easier for businesses to go down this path. SIP trunking provides affordable, high capacity bandwidth to support immersive collaboration without the limitations of legacy connectivity. WebRTC continues to develop, making it easier than ever for UC to be screen-centric, at the desk or in mobile settings.

This amplifies the broader trend of hosting UC applications in the cloud, and moving beyond the complexities of integrating with a phone system. All of these trends point to less need for UC vendors to focus on the process of communicating and the challenges of making all these applications work together.

  1. UC will become even more affordable

This is a logical extension of the above, as cloud economics continue to improve. UC has largely moved from hardware to software, but the cloud takes things one step further in terms of the cost. Networks are virtualizing everywhere, as both enterprises and carriers are following this path to reduce operating costs. They are also doing it to be more flexible and agile for competitive purposes, but economics is the main driver.

All of this is good news for businesses, and you can expect the cost curve to continue its downward trend in 2015. We have already reached the point where voice can be near-free, and video is no longer a luxury for only the most robust networks. Add to this the falling cost of UC-friendly endpoints, and the barrier to adoption becomes pretty nominal. Smart devices are almost ubiquitous now, and even the desktop is becoming quite inexpensive. With the cloud hosting almost everything, employees will need little more than a dumb screen on their desks, and that’s exactly what Google has in mind with Chromebook and Chromebox.

Add to this an intensely competitive marketplace, where you’ll have lots of suitors for UC. I’m not saying to go with the lowest possible price, but there is a lot at stake for these vendors, and you need to be sure they can address both process and outcome.

  1. Outcome-focused UC means more choices

If you believe that the process of delivering great communications solutions is well handled now by UC vendors, then you’ll need to make sure the outcomes they are touting are what you need. You’ll need to look at UC very differently this way, but it should be expected, since that’s where the vendors are going in 2015.

In short, this means that UC’s value proposition will be built around the end user experience, especially Millennials. The emphasis will have more to do with collaboration and teamwork rather than person-to-person communications, taking the offering well beyond the conventional telephony that UC has been built on. What matters most here will be mobility, video, content sharing, and a more social aspect around how work gets done. With so much of this being in the cloud, collaboration very much becomes an on-demand environment where communications applications are embedded in everyday workflows.

As such, UC becomes a means to an end – outcomes – rather than the thing itself. That has, in turn, given rise to new players who will compete with the UC vendors you already know. The pillars of UC in 2015 will be different, and if you want to be leading edge, you’ll have more options to choose from. If you’re willing to get up to speed on this, the payoff could be faster and greater than what you may have had in mind with a more conventional path to UC. In that sense, are you prepared to be disruptive?

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/will-uc-be-about-process-or-outcomes-in-2015/

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