The right tools for the job

How might channel companies revamp their portfolios in 2024 and beyond? Comms Business finds out more.

With organisations across the UK on the cusp of an all-IP future, resellers and MSPs are evaluating their portfolios so they can pinpoint any adjustments that might be needed in the short- or long-term. Channel companies are used to adapting to the evolving market, and this is often as much about survival as it is about growth.

Gavin Jones, channel partners director at BT Wholesale, explained, “Resellers and MSPs have to evolve offerings in response to the changing needs of customers. There is so much competition that if they don’t adapt, customers will simply go to a competitor that can provide the future-proof technology and infrastructure that allows them to evolve themselves.”

With the UK preparing to say goodbye to ageing telecoms services, resellers, MSPs and other channel companies are being compelled to closely examine what they are offering to customers to ensure their solution mix will continue to meet customer needs.

Mike van Bunnens, CEO, Comms365, said, “Organisations in the UK are heading towards an all-IP future, prompting resellers and MSPs to rethink their strategies. The impending PSTN switch-off represents a significant long-term shift in the IT and telecoms industry. Resellers and MSPs already understand that they must adapt and offer VoIP and IP telephony services to meet future demands.”

Demand and decline

For Iain Sinnott, head of international carrier sales, Enreach for Service Providers, a mixed portfolio can be a great foundation for success. He said, “I worry for any traditional voice player that has not already adopted a mixed portfolio of voice, meeting and collaboration, customer experience, and mobility technologies, to help their customers optimise their performance. There are change agents like ‘switch off’ being pushed by all and sundry, and if their customers start to feel their historic supplier is failing to modernise, then they will quietly turn to others, potentially their trusted IT supplier.

“Offering simple PBX in-the-cloud will just result in squeezed margins, so partnering with a converged solution portfolio provider, one able to take your team on an accelerated learning curve, is perhaps the best advice, but prepare the team for an intense period, because much of the competition is already well practiced in this area.”

The networks behind those solutions are also being put under the microscope. Matt Mimo, CEO, Tardis, said, “Now that the stop sell is in effect, resellers and their customers must look to future-proof connectivity solutions. As the analogue PSTN networks come closer to complete deactivation, and FTTP is yet to see a truly national rollout, other connectivity modes are helping to fill the gaps.”

Mimo explained that unsteered roaming mobile technologies can use 4G networks to “deliver an incredibly resilient connection in any area with coverage and seamlessly switching between operators to provide the best performance”.

He added, “IoT SIMs are currently mostly used for roaming applications and MSPs must ensure their deployed fleet can switch on Nb-IoT and CatM-1 via a one-click portal.”

Van Bunnens, from Comms365, also expects IoT adoption to drive “the next big demand”. He explained, “The demand for IoT SIMs is increasing across all sectors as they see the improvements in the operations of early adopters and want the same benefits for themselves. The potential of connecting and managing devices and sensors is being realised and repeated at an increasing rate, so resellers and MSPs should be venturing into the IoT market, sooner rather than later, as it presents significant growth opportunities no matter the industries they cater to.

Unified communications solutions are also continuing to attract investment. Jamie Ward, CEO of Gradwell Communications, said, “Unified communications are essential to modern business operations. The cloud telecommunications market is forecast to triple in value by 2026, which presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for IT MSPs. They can earn significant additional market share by expanding their portfolio. Less than 20 per cent of traditional IT-only MSPs currently offer cloud-based telecom services, but with the right partner it’s easy to adopt and support.

“It’s also worth noting that business adoption of platforms such as Microsoft Teams has exploded in recent years, the pandemic arguably being the catalyst. Users are comfortable with the interface and make good use of the basic features, but there’s so much more that can be done. We’re working with our partner base to offer seamless integration with feature-rich cloud telephony, enabling their customers to benefit from call recording, in-depth reporting and call routing functionality while still managing calls through the Microsoft Teams interface.”

Sinnott, from Enreach for Service Providers, also pointed out the demand for customer-facing solutions. He said, “Any tool that supports customer-facing teams, or adds to the ways in which a business’ customers can interact with them, will continue to dominate the agenda in 2024, and this will include a deeper use of smartphones for apps and FMC. This is because this is how cloud communications suppliers can add the most value in terms of human productivity, sales success, customer retention and net promotor scores.

“Traditional voice will continue to decline in volume. However, it will retain – and possibly grow – in importance as it becomes either the premium level of service, or the escalation medium when automated tools fail to satisfy a customer’s need. While businesses become attracted by automated chat, live chat, and even voice chat bots, the human touch is yet to find its equal.”

Jeff Green, CEO, Elisha Telecom, discussed video platforms as one area of demand. He said, “Due to the widespread adoption of video calling and omnichannel solutions integrating chat, messaging, and social media, the prominence of voice and email interactions is fading. In fact, it’s safe to say that video communication has likely become the preferred communication method by now.”

Green added that he is seeing a turndown in demand for hardware, in particular for deskphones. He said, “Deskphones have one foot in the grave. There will still be niche cases where they’re preferred but, in the modern working world, no one wants to be tied down to a specific place.”

That chimed with the view of Mark Pillow, managing director, Voip Unlimited. He said, “A quick win many of our reseller partners find is educating customers on removing physical desk phones, and replacing with Bluetooth headsets and the cost savings that go along with it, that builds the foundation of trust resellers can then leverage to suggest more impactful changes that can deliver even greater benefits and develop the relationship from there.”

Pivoting to alternative offerings

Understanding what is in demand and what is in decline is a great first step, and resellers and MSPs that have identified a need for change will then need to pivot to alternative offerings.

Ward, from Gradwell Communications, highlighted the importance of working with vendor partners to make that shift successful. He said, “By expanding their portfolio, IT MSPs can retain their customers while benefitting from additional revenue streams. The key to success is choosing the right technology partner. Some of the MSPs we speak to are nervous about branching out due to lack of resource and understanding the technical complexities. Leveraging your partner’s expertise makes it much easier.”

Hilary Oliver, chief marketing and experience officer at Tollring, added, “Adding new products to a portfolio requires considerable investment and impacts every part of a business. Resellers therefore need to find technologies that can add value across their entire portfolio and be applied easily to different business streams. Finding commonality across the business makes it easier to train sales teams as well as to promote and sell solutions.

“None of us in this industry are strangers to change and, as technology continues to evolve, resellers need to move in step.”
Jones, from BT Wholesale, discussed the importance of training employees to ensure they are confident with new solutions within the product portfolio.

He said, “Those resellers and MSPs that specialise in technologies with declining demand will need to adjust strategies soon to ensure that they remain competitive. Investing in training and upskilling of employees will be key to this. By embracing current technology trends and ensuring employees are up to speed with new offerings, portfolios can be adapted to serve new customer requirements.”

Jones pointed to a recent survey carried out by BT Wholesale that found that 70 per cent of respondents chose mobile connectivity as the top priority for investment. He said, this “makes it clear that having a variety of fast, reliable future-proofed connectivity options in the portfolio provides solid foundations for selling additional services on top”.

Of course, the Channel has a rich heritage in keeping pace with change and skilfully making any necessary adjustments. Adrian Sunderland, CEO, Jola, explained channel companies can draw on their experiences navigating previous technological transitions or market challenges. He said, “Resellers and MSPs are successful because they understand their customers’ businesses and have successfully solved their problems in the past. If a technology is dwindling, then the first thing to do would be to look at the problem that technology was solving and then use your understanding of the problem to help pivot into an alternative solution.”

Finding opportunities

When asked if there any broad opportunities or quick wins that resellers and MSPs could consider, Ward, from Gradwell Communications, said, “The Microsoft Teams opportunity is arguably the quickest win for IT MSPs. Businesses are already using the platform and are comfortable with it, so the conversation is easier to have. It’s a win-win for IT MSPs; their customers can save a fortune by moving away from expensive Microsoft calling plans or running multiple systems in parallel, and the relationship becomes much stickier while generating additional revenue for the MSP.

“Again, by working with the right partner they can take this to market quickly, the partner will support customers through the set-up phase and ongoing management is easy due to no third-party plugins or additional toolbars being required.”

For Jola’s Sunderland, mobility presents a “huge” opportunity. He explained, “If you’re not already selling mobile connectivity and mobile solutions, then you should look to partner with a mobile data aggregator. We’ve helped resellers and MSPs that have never sold mobile data identify and win opportunities within a few weeks of becoming engaged. The reality is that your customers likely trust you much more than they do a large mobile operator and selling, supporting, and billing mobile doesn’t need to be difficult.”

Mimo, from Tardis, added, “Multi-network SIM and router solutions, that provide the equivalent speeds of fixed-line connectivity services, are an easy place to start. This is especially important now that the stop sell is live, and many businesses will be limited to their existing services. Cellular solutions offer a relatively low-cost method of expanding network and technology capabilities without having to dig up roads or invest vast amounts of resources for leased line services.”

For Comms365’s van Bunnens, this is broadly about widening the scope of what you currently offer customers. He said, “As businesses find they rely on their technology partners for more operational aspects than ever before – internet, voice, security, AI, cloud and more – resellers must widen the scope and range of the solutions offered.”

Van Bunnens pointed out areas in which quick wins might be found, such as in offering complementary cybersecurity services and hybrid cloud solutions, or even by providing bonded internet in locations not covered by the FTTP rollout. He added, “Once that trust has been built with a new business customer, resellers can take a closer look at their unique challenges and work with vendors to create innovative solutions.”

The long-term

Keeping pace with demand right now is important, but successful channel companies also keep an eye on the long-term view. Many stakeholders agree that IP-telephony is here for the long-term. Ward, from Gradwell Communications, said, “The pandemic has already caused a shift towards businesses adopting unified communications and IP-telephony, and changes in the market such as the PSTN switch-off mean that these solutions are here to stay. Organisations yet to adopt cloud communications will be forced to do so, and those who made knee-jerk changes during the pandemic now have the opportunity to review their technology stack and implement more effective lasting changes.

“Lots of organisations adopted a myriad of solutions quickly to give their workforce the tools they required, however the cost and management burden of continuing to run all of these is not practical. IT MSPs should be looking for multi-faceted, feature-rich and competitively priced cloud comms solutions that cover all bases, delivered by a partner who offers an end-to-end service including marketing and pre-sales support, access to technical engineers and comprehensive ongoing support.

Sunderland, from Jola, expects the telecoms channel to zone in on ICT solutions. He said, “The channel will become more and more ICT focused. The solution to most business problems nowadays is solved by software first. Nobody buys hardware PBXs they take a hosted solution or even just have everybody outside of contact centres use their mobile phone or Teams.

“We used to talk about the telecoms and IT convergence but we’re beyond that now. Everybody is in the ICT channel, it’s just that some specialise more in communications and other in IT. This shift towards everybody being involved in ICT should be in the forefront of your mind when you’re thinking about how to develop your people as well as your portfolio.”

AI is also expected to become more deeply embedded within solutions across the UK. Green, from Elisha Telecom, explained what the implications might be for contact centre solutions. He said, “AI-powered interactions will continue to get better at replicating genuine human interaction, in turn becoming more engaging and enabling greater savings. However, bots shouldn’t pretend to be human in an interaction anyway, and businesses should be transparent in their use, augmenting and improving human interactions rather than replacing them.”

Chris Angus, VP, contact centre engagement, EMEA, 8x8, added, “The rise of AI, ML and integrated services will also continue into next year. Every organisation is being asked to do more with less, as well as to give their workforce more interesting tasks to focus on. As a result, we need to focus on how customers can improve the customer and employee journey by using machine learning and AI, as well as providing advanced feature stacks for people that wouldn’t traditionally be using contact centre functionalities.”

Personalisation is also expected to come to the fore. Oliver, from Tollring, said, “Delivering the right information to the right people at the right time is becoming increasingly important; personalisation of services at scale. Expectations are changing and as such the channel needs to provide solutions that deliver the right information to the right persona – customers no longer want to search for what they need, they expect everything to be delivered to them in the way they expect to consume it.

“APIs play a significant role in being able to meet these changing expectations, together with the consolidation of services as technologies advance. Channel providers should prioritise simple messaging as their portfolios evolve in order to bring their customers on the journey.”

Pillow, from Voip Unlimited, added, “The industry will likely place a greater focus on understanding and meeting the unique needs of individual customers. Portfolios will need to evolve to offer more personalised solutions and flexible pricing models. With the significant transformation with a shift towards more integrated, software-driven, and customer-centric solutions. Evolving portfolios will need to align with these changes to remain competitive and meet the evolving needs of businesses in these sectors.”

Vendor support

Resellers and MSPs can be supported by their vendor partners as they navigate adding to their portfolios. Sunderland, from Jola, explained, “Good vendors can be transformational in helping resellers and MSPs add new products and capabilities to their portfolio. Bad vendors can actively hold you back! Whatever type of product you’re looking at, ask your vendor what they can do to make you successful at launching and selling their product.”

Ward, from Gradwell Communications, added, “Vendors can absolutely support resellers and MSPs to make any portfolio changes successful. While many organisations claim to do this, the thresholds for access can differ hugely which means that some IT MSPs could struggle to get all the support they need. Billing, ongoing management and maintaining in-house teams are often cited by our partners as concerns around adopting new technology. IT MSPs should check what access to resources they would have through a partner based on their size and growth potential, ensuring that they will get everything they need from the outset.”

Effective partnerships should lead to collective success. BT Wholesale’s Jones said, “Vendors are central to easing the shifting demands of end-users on channel players. They must work with their partners to provide product training, supply marketing resources and collateral and provide scalable, flexible offerings that will allow resellers to enhance their portfolios.”

This feature appeared in our December 2023 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.