Last week, ADTRAN announced a new portfolio and really, a new way of doing business. Before going further, I’ll state my usual disclaimer for posts on this blog that feature ADTRAN. As a matter of policy, I don’t normally write about them here as this blog is meant to be arms-length, industry-based thought leadership. On the few occasions that I do, my intent is always to illustrate a broader trend in the UC space rather than tout what ADTRAN is doing.
Well, you will get a taste of the latter here, but I hope you focus on the bigger picture I’m drawing attention to. ADTRAN is not the first and nor the last vendor transitioning from legacy to IP, and now from IP to the cloud, and that’s what ProServices is about. There are two basic ideas I want to explore here, and both should have a role to play in your thinking about UC.
Idea #1 – the channel needs help
Lots of help. With every passing conference and vendor event, this message gets louder and clearer. I’ve written about this often, and ADTRAN has been focused lately on catching up with the pack in upping their game with channels. ProServices goes a long way to doing that, especially if the value proposition is going to be cloud-based – both for vendors and channels.
In short, ProServices is a suite of three offerings – ProStart, ProCare and ProCloud – each is explained in the press release, with the basic idea being tiered levels of managed services to support channels that lack this expertise, and by extension their customers who are in the same situation, especially SMBs. Depending on where you play, that could be a handful or the majority of channel partners, but generally this is becoming a leading challenge across the board.
ADTRAN serves two core markets – enterprises and service providers – and the former is heavily dependent on aligning with the right channel partners. Existing channels were built up selling ADTRAN’s hardware, and more recently their software. However, the cloud has arrived faster than anyone is ready for, and channel partners are suddenly faced with demand from their customers for hosted/cloud-based alternatives, many of whom lack the right network infrastructure to support them.
I’ve written about this here in previous columns, and the key issue today is changing preferences from end customers. Of course, enterprise decision-makers don’t understand the merits of the cloud any better than the channels do, so by working backwards up the value chain, it’s only natural that channels will turn to vendors for help.
Idea #2 – vendors need to add value
Lots of value. The first idea leads us to the second idea, and that’s why ADTRAN launched ProServices. All vendors face the same challenges in this space and need to find a way to support their channel partners with both premise and cloud-based offerings. I’m focused mostly on UC here, but it extends to broader connectivity and network support, which in ADTRAN’s case takes the form of ProCloud. This is a hosted WiFi service, built on their Bluesocket acquisition, which is a virtual wireless LAN platform. With ProCloud and the broader ProServices portfolio, channels can offer a cloud-based turnkey UC solution, including broadband that is designed to support BYOD.
Like the other UC vendors, ADTRAN can provide premise-based UC solutions in spades. That’s becoming a tough business to truly differentiate around, especially with so much buzz around cloud. While it’s not clear whether this is really the best choice long-term, that’s where the value seems to be now – perceived for sure, and possibly for real. Regardless, vendors can’t afford to ignore this trend, and ProServices is meant to be an end-to-end set of capabilities that can support channels however far they want to take the cloud/hosted/managed route.
No doubt there is a lot of uncertainty still, and nobody can even agree on what to call these new services. However, both channels and vendors have to figure out new ways to provide value, and the best way to do that is to understand the customer and earn their trust. In essence, ProServices is akin to the professional services that carriers offer their business customers, and this brings the third stakeholder into the picture.
As often stated, UC is a service not a product, and as cloud and virtualization both play bigger roles, it becomes easier for carriers to own the end customer. Previously, the business was shared, with carriers providing connectivity and vendors providing the premise-based solutions. Now, carriers can provide everything, potentially cutting out the vendor and minimizing the role of the channel. This isn’t good for vendors like ADTRAN, so there’s a need to counter, and by adding the services and network support pieces, they can now enable channels to private label their own offerings and maintain ownership of the customer.
ADTRAN is not alone in this regard, but with ProServices, they have a better chance now to add the value needed to support the channel in ways that allow them in turn to provide value to their customers, not just for UC, but for the broader scope of upgrading – and really reinventing their networks. It’s debatable whether this is a joint survival strategy against the carriers, but at the end of the day, owning the customer is all that matters, and the best way to do that is provide value in ways that resonate with those customers.