Planning for the future is an essential ingredient to business success, and companies across the Channel are keeping an eye on what to expect in 2024 and beyond. Resellers, MSPs, distributors and vendors need to be ready for the big issues that will impact the Channel market, as well as embracing emerging technologies that are presenting big opportunities.
Upgrades to connectivity infrastructure will continue to transform the Channel, with full fibre and 5G networks continuing to be built at pace. Those network upgrades inevitably mean the end of the line for ageing networks, with PSTN, 2G and 3G networks set to be switched-off. 3G is expected to be the first to go.
Adrian Sunderland, CEO, Jola, said, “3G will be switched off by most, if not all, UK mobile operators. This will leave many end-users in the lurch with devices that only support 2G and 3G such as some vehicle trackers, payment terminals and industrial handheld devices. This will be a great opportunity for the channel to provide new devices along with SIMs that support 4G and 5G.”
Sunderland explained that most of the population will be able to obtain 5G “which will drive adoption in higher bandwidth applications”. He added, “For SME businesses, FTTP will likely provide the best performance and value for money. Where FTTP isn’t available then 5G will make SoGEA based broadband look pedestrian in comparison. 5G hardware will continue to come down in price whilst also improving in performance.”
Sunderland also expects the PSTN switch-off to be a “massive opportunity”. He said, “Most large operators and many resellers will underestimate the opportunity from the end-user businesses that have PSTN lines in locations where they have no need for high-speed broadband. PSTN replacement solutions that use 4G provide solutions that are easy to sell with a lower cost and higher margin than the PSTN lines that are being replaced.”
Whilst businesses can continue using pre-existing legacy PSTN services until the complete switch-off in 2025, during this period, service providers and their users cannot purchase or modify services that rely on ISDN or PSTN. As such, moving towards all-IP solutions is a must and will bring businesses a range of benefits.
Steven Try, channel manager for the UK, Snom, explained, “With the ISDN switch-off deadline growing closer, we’ll see more organisations making the move to all-IP next year – and benefitting from faster and more flexible communications as a result.
“Beyond facilitating seamless audio calls via the internet, cordless VoIP phones can link business applications, help businesses to easily scale up their communications infrastructure, and simplify device maintenance.
“Those trying to manage the disruption that the switch off will cause – many of whom are smaller businesses or SMEs – will be looking for the right products, services and support to ensure a seamless transition.”
Chris Angus, VP, contact centre engagement, EMEA, 8x8, added, “With the switch-off quickly approaching, partners will need to ensure they understand the changes and whether they will impact their customer base. Then, if their customers are impacted, providing them with alternative solutions will be crucial.”
The continued shift away from Monday to Friday office work will also continue to make its mark on the Channel. Resellers and MSPs are expected to continue to find opportunities to provide businesses and organisations with technologies that facilitate hybrid working.
For Nigel Dunn, managing director, EMEA North, Jabra, cloud adoption will be critical to successful hybrid working. He said, “The future office will transcend fixed locations in 2024, enabled by universal cloud technology and communication platforms. No longer will the choice be restricted between the workplace and home.
“Employees will increasingly be able to work from other locations, thanks to advanced technology such as personal video conferencing cameras with AI-driven features that make it feel like you’re meeting face to face, and professional headsets that reduce background noise and distractions. This means more productive virtual meetings and impactful presentations, and giving employees greater flexibility to work anywhere.
“We’ll also see a shift in how workspaces are used – with more organisations adopting open-plan designs and different working zones to foster collaboration and social interaction. AI will underpin these trends, helping to create efficient, interconnected digital workplaces that adapt to the needs of modern professionals.”
Try, from Snom, expects so-called “plug and play” solutions to come to the fore as organisations look to provide their employees with technologies that can easily work in any location. Advances in networking technologies will also be beneficial. He said, “With the way we work changing, IP devices have become more functional and user-friendly, helping employees to work more smoothly between the office environment and their home.
“As we head into 2024, businesses are looking for devices that are plug and play – so that employees can simply connect their desk phone to their company network at home and access all the same communication features as they would in the office. Where unstable Wi-Fi has previously caused issues for home workers when using wireless devices at home, DECT phones and handsets will also offer a more reliable and secure way to communicate.”
Dunn, from Jabra, expects the shift towards hybrid work to be long-lasting. He said, “Work-life boundaries will continue to blur as employees embrace hybrid, flexible working. Seamless integration of professional and personal technology will reduce device switching and enhance connectivity. Traditional workplace technology policies will vanish, with employees increasingly able to choose devices and software that best suit their preferences.”
Amidst this shift to homeworking, the wraparound services offered by channel companies could come into the spotlight. Jamf is a device management and security vendor, and Abdul Terry, the company’s manager of channel sales, expects vendors to work with partners to ensure the solutions and services being offered to businesses will deliver the intended results.
Terry said, “Partners will be pivotal in providing the necessary technologies to support digital employee experiences. This will result in partners moving towards a service-oriented approach in 2024 so they provide customers with tools that support remote and hybrid work.
“The services provided by partners will be critical to address several industry challenges, especially the skills gaps, the evolving technology landscape, and software supply chain security.”
Tapping into AI
Artificial intelligence, or AI, will continue to become more deeply embedded into technologies across the channel ecosystem. Tony Martino, CEO, Tollring, explained, “It wasn’t long ago that the term cloud dominated the tech scene, yet its practical application remained somewhat enigmatic. Today, the spotlight has shifted to AI, yet similar ambiguity surrounds its integration into a channel provider’s business, scope for monetisation and its value for customers.
“2024 will deliver more clarity on how the channel can effectively incorporate AI into their offerings to generate revenues. We will see affordable AI solutions with straightforward implementation that will make the technology far more accessible. The focus will be on cross-platform solutions, such as versatile analytics, that are capable of adding value across an entire product portfolio.”
Martino added that “the crucial aspect” will be for channel providers to have AI-based solutions at their disposal. That means, Martino explained, “offering not only innovative solutions to engage their customers but also the potential for substantial profit margins without requiring extensive investments”.
Dunn, from Jabra, added, “This past year has seen an explosion of AI affecting all industries but, in 2024, we can expect to witness a significant acceleration of its influence in transforming the channel market, revolutionising the way businesses operate. This shift will largely focus on enhancing the customer experience and offering personalised products and services in AI-driven collaboration.”
Dunn expects a notable development in 2024 to be an increased integration of AI into video conferencing solutions. He explained, “For instance, [that could include] video bars with intelligent features that provide real-time feedback and analytics.
“These innovations not only enhance the quality of virtual meetings but also empower businesses to make more informed, data-driven decisions. Contact centre software will further exemplify this trend by measuring the tone of voice and sentiment, providing immediate feedback to improve customer interactions.”
AI could also help businesses stretch their budgets further. Angus, from 8x8, said, “We can’t ignore the fact that every business is being asked to do more with less and AI and ML will play a fundamental role in overcoming this. AI will allow businesses to service more customers with the headcount they have, as well as being able to make typically repetitive job roles more interesting.
“AI and ML can fulfil mundane tasks and allow employees to take on more challenging roles, which will in turn help to attract and retain talent, while servicing customers in a consistent fashion.”
AI could also be used internally by channel companies looking to improve their business performance. Andy Palmer, UK channel lead, enterprise data and cloud solutions, Seagate, explained, “AI is transforming the way businesses interact with their customers and partners.
“It’s been encouraging to see channel vendors and partners leveraging data to inform their sales pipeline by adopting various methods using AI. That has included data pre-processing and data labelling, as well as subject matter expert review.”
Palmer explained that analytics powered by AI can help determine sales trends from customers based on their product requirements.
He added, “Channel partners can also use data to reveal trends in their past, review current sales, and make predictions. Information, like when sales peak or dip, can highlight which strategies are the most and least effective. Companies can then use this data to create more effective promotions, following seasonal and long-term trends to adapt to changing markets.”
There is also broad expectation that businesses and organisations will continue to consolidate their suppliers in an effort to streamline operations and/or cut costs. Some resellers and MSPs are following suit for reasons ranging from simplifying their product offerings to being able to take advantage of scale sales incentives through offering solutions from a reduced number of vendors. Angus, from 8x8, explained why this is happening.
He said, “It’s easy to use multiple vendors to supply one solution, such as a contact centre solution, however customers today want everything in one place. Partners will therefore need to consolidate the vendor profile for the customer by ensuring they have vendors in their portfolio that can sell everything as one package – from UC, CC and chat solutions to analytics, integrations and professional services. Gone are the days of piecing together five different vendors to create one solution for a customer.
Some stakeholders believe some benefits are only available to end customers if they consolidate their suppliers. Iain Sinnott, head of international carrier sales, Enreach for Service Providers, explained, “2024 will be an interesting year in which technology companies from the telco, mobile, IT and connectivity sectors, including those already covering most or all of those areas, truly have to compete to win a long-term partnership with end user customers.
“Whilst in mid-market and corporate sectors the cost-to-manage can perhaps be borne by individual product suppliers, in the SMB sector and especially below the 100-employee level, properly supporting that partnership with their customers will require the recurring revenue of at least three of the four product groups to make economic sense.
“This is something the end customer also needs to understand. The pace of change in technology is much greater now than five years ago, and with much stronger ROIs. However, if a customer splits the supply of key components across multiple providers, they will find none of those suppliers can afford the level of account management needed to bring attention to the smaller incrementally beneficial applications.”
Evolving business models
Amidst these broad changes, channel companies are shifting their business models to ensure they remain competitive and profitable in 2024 and beyond. For some resellers, this means becoming services-based providers, with the gap between the definitions of resellers and MSPs moving closer together.
Sinnott, from Enreach for Service Providers, explained why shifting to becoming an MSP can be advantageous. He said, “2024 must be the year resellers upgrade their status to MSP, master a portfolio across all key product groups, invest in sales and account management training, as well as better portfolio wide customer portals, and bring greater value to their position as a trusted advisor and technology researcher.”
Vendors are also adapting their partner programmes to ensure they are offering resellers and MSPs the support they need. Terry, from Jamf, said, “In 2024, partner programmes will no longer be underpinned by discounts but instead will give way to comprehensive enablement strategies. The difficulty in finding qualified staff, especially software developers, cloud engineers, and security experts, will make it crucial in 2024 for channel partners to plug this skills gap.
“The growing concern around software supply chain security, particularly within third-party software and open-source code, will drive an increasing demand to provide robust partner training and enablement. It will also be essential to equip partners to navigate relentless economic fluctuations and optimise their offerings.”
People across the UK are also becoming more conscious of their impact on the environment, and this is rippling through to businesses and organisations, as well as the Channel. As such, sustainability is expected to continue to be put under the microscope.
Palmer, from Seagate, said, “The biggest shift we’ve witnessed this year is that sustainability has become the number one priority issue for many customers, with research finding they want to work with channel partners that share a similar level of commitment. As a result, business leaders are becoming increasingly aware of the need to reduce the environmental impact of their operating model.
“This extends to their supply chains and channel partner ecosystem, which is now expected to deliver IT solutions that help them reduce their energy consumption and lower carbon emissions.
“With growing scrutiny on their sustainable efforts, customers want their channel partners to be like-minded, both in taking genuine and measurable action themselves and providing greener technologies. Companies that fail to act now to improve their ESG credentials may face significant financial and business impacts in the future due to their product portfolio not reflecting sustainable solutions.”
The good news is that resellers and MSPs can look to their vendor partners for support in reaching their sustainability objectives.
Seagate’s Palmer explained, “Channel partners need to prioritise sustainability proactively – both looking at their own sustainability practices and providing support and guidance to customers. Currently, one of the greatest IT challenges for organisations aiming to embed sustainability into their operations and product portfolio is a lack of quality data.
“The ability to receive tangible environmental data from suppliers about their technology products and services will help channel partners communicate the environmental benefits of the IT solutions they are recommending. Easily understandable and measurable data will also enable the channel to support its customers in their ESG journeys and ensure their sustainable strategy aligns with customer expectations.”