Door Opener – Hype or Hope?

Does Microsoft Office 365 represent a channel play for resellers? Can 365 open doors to other applications through extending the licences to include the UC and collaboration applications of Lync? Editor Ian Hunter reports.

I’ll own up to being a happy Microsoft 365 user. Earlier in the year we upgraded our aging and clunky PC laptops to Apple MacBook Airs. We already used an iMac, iPads and iPhones at our SOHO so the Airs completed our two-year transition to all things Apple.

We also used Microsoft Office. We had various versions including one for the iMac but now needed another two licenses for the new MacBooks. We pay retail prices and the local PC World could oblige for £440.00 approx. As I took the license boxes on the walk to the checkout I had an epiphany. What the heck was I doing! Back on the shelves was the Office 365 box offering up to five users for a total of £7.99 a month.

Back home Office 365 installed in minutes and we’ve never had a minute’s trouble since. Every month we get a VAT invoice/receipt for our usage, which we file away for the accountant.

As I say elsewhere in this issue, ‘but that’s me. I’m a SOHO and not really a proper business user in the strictest sense although I do consume or use a lot of 365 most of the day’.

Of course proper businesses, SMEs and Enterprises also need these basic office tools but can consume so much more in the way of services by extending Office 365 in to the world of Microsoft Lync so we spoke to a number of channel players to check out the next steps that could be taken.

Fridolin Engel, Head of Sales, Conect at distributor Exertis Micro-P, is upfront about the possibilities.

“Office 365 ‘Hype or Hope’, is this the ultimate stepping stone product that will drive IT, comms and airtime partners to offer a fully converged product portfolio?

Office 365 is driving the convergence conversation, enabling partners to provide a productive working experience, helping customers to work together in a smarter, more efficient way, that is secure, provides anywhere access to professional email, IM, video conferencing, shared calendars and document collaboration.

“Through our partners we at Exertis Micro-P are increasingly witnessing IT leaders investing, however they are investing carefully and looking for easy-to-use mobile and collaborative solutions, while keeping a close eye on cost, value and deployment risk.

“By realising the benefits of hosted services, connectivity is becoming paramount. IT service providers that were originally reticent to embrace airtime and connectivity are now starting to benefit from the opportunity that diversifying their portfolio offers. The sales of tablets have soared and Exertis Micro-P is working with our partners in delivering an ‘Out of the Box’ service with a 4G connected tablet wrapped with Office 365 and additional applications, ready to use.

“In addition, our hosted VoIP offering is starting to gain significant traction through advancements and confidence in fixed connectivity services, again integrated into the portfolio and associated through Office 365.

“Users of Lync as their desktop instant messaging are upgrading to voice and video, utilising third party solutions such as Vidyo and Blue Jeans, and are seamlessly connecting cloud-based video conferencing services. Lync users are connecting to other Lync and non-Lync users inside and outside their organisation.

“As to what the ‘Future Workplace’ looks like, people will have the latest tools to be productive, collaborative and innovative, while still ensuring they are cost efficient and sustainable. Office 365 and connectivity is absolutely at the forefront of those conversations that are forcing IT, comms and airtime resellers into unchartered waters.

“Through partnering with the right distribution company, partners are finding those waters less hostile than they anticipated and are starting to attain lucrative rewards.”












Huge Opportunity

Staying with a distributor, Pete Woodhams, Product Management, Lync Business Practice EMEA at Westcon says the enablement of enterprise voice for Office 365 is a huge opportunity that is not currently being fully exploited.

“Westcon provides Lync-complementary products and solutions from: gateways, headsets, handsets, video conferencing and applications, through to professional services – to simplify the process and increase margins.

Westcon recently attended Microsoft WPC in Washington where a recent study showed that 62% of cloud users would also procure their internet voice services or UCaaS from their email provider. Partners that added one further application to Microsoft Exchange such as Lync could expect to see twice as much growth in their Exchange business as opposed to an Exchange only offer, so this presents a massive opportunity for resellers to harness and not miss out on.

Westcon is running a series of webinars on addressing this growth area and how it opens the door to conversations on wider enterprise UC sales such as: collaboration platforms, network infrastructure and call centre applications.”

This theme for 365 and Lync of the applications being a ‘gateway’ to other sales opportunities is one taken up by Nigel Dunn, Managing Director, Jabra Business Solutions UK & Ireland.

“Microsoft Office 365 provides the channel with a great opportunity to obtain reoccurring monthly revenues and sell supplementary devices, such as headsets.

Selling Microsoft Office 365 subscriptions that includes desktop versions of Lync ranging from IM and presence to full Enterprise Voice, creates these further sales opportunities that the channel should maximise to gain a greater share of wallet and encourage business transformation across all sizes of organisations.

To secure the on-going incremental business generated by these monthly contract subscriptions, vendors and resellers need to maintain Lync adoption within Office 365 by promoting the financial and productivity benefits it provides; therefore safeguarding renewal of the existing business plan and deterring downgrades to lower-priced packages that do not incorporate Lync.

We know that one way to do this is to use the audio device as the ‘technological nudge’ to integrate the user to the Lync application and thus increase adoption – a plus for the channel as it also supports the inclusion of audio devices within the initial tender rather than becoming a consideration once the budget has been spent!”

Likewise, Robert Pope, Head of Business Development at Outsourcery says his company is seeing Office 365 act as a gateway to the deployment of additional unified communications services based around Microsoft Lync.

“Office 365, while being an excellent service, is missing an essential full voice capability that organisations are in need of in an increasingly mobile workplace. Many end-users who come to us to implement Unified Lync have chosen to do so because of the way they are currently having to work without the voice (PBX replacement) element. Users end up having to break the stream of communication from instant messaging, email and screen sharing to find a phone number, and manually type or key it into a telephone; it’s often the missing piece of the puzzle for a fully integrated communication strategy.”

In terms of trends in the market, Pope says that surprisingly end-users are proactively approaching resellers to demand solutions delivered from the cloud, with the same consumption based service model as Office 365.

“This completely flips the traditional sales process on its head and we’re providing resellers with the capability and services to capitalise on this opportunity. Our partner model enables resellers to cater to the needs of end-users instantaneously, before they head elsewhere. Of course, there are some resellers who haven’t quite got there yet, who need to catch up with the marketplace before their lack of momentum impacts both their reputation and their customer base.”

FCS Viewpoint

Chris Pateman, CEO of the Federation of Communication Services , wanted to tell us a cautionary tale regarding Microsoft 365 that his organisation are currently trying to get to the bottom of.

“One thing that has been exercising us about MS365 is the way in which it essentially makes communications provider (CP) competences available as off-the-shelf elements of the broader software suite.  This means people who have been happily making a living selling PC upgrades, laptops and MS Office software solutions to business customers are now able to sell calls, call recording, conference calling etc. from the same supplier.”

Pateman says this is a problem as whilst business software is not a regulated product, electronic communications most certainly are.

“We have a situation where legitimate CPs who have spent years expending time and effort in complying with GC14 (Own-initiative Monitoring and Enforcement Programme and Dispute Resolution Schemes) are now being challenged for business by competitors who have never, historically, given Ofcom a second glance.

Microsoft have yet to give me a clear answer about how they propose to equip their resellers to deal with this issue.  In any event it is the reseller who has the contract with the customer.  So it is the reseller who has to demonstrate compliance.

Perhaps it’s significant that Ofcom has just embarked upon an own-initiative investigation into UK Free Software Network – an organisation which most of us probably wouldn’t think of as a CP, as they supply only broadband solutions. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time Ofcom has investigated a non-voice provider for a suspected breach of GC14.

If MS365 is an opportunity for the channel, then one of the big opportunities has to be that the channel is already fully equipped to deal with the regulated environment in which its communications functionality needs to be compliantly delivered.

If you’re selling communications to consumers or to business customers employing fewer than 10 people, you need an Ofcom-compliant code of practice and you need membership of an Ofcom-approved alternative dispute resolution service.  If you’re an FCS member, by the way, you can have both for minimal cost!”

See Pateman says at the time of going to print that the FCS is still waiting to hear back from Ofcom about when they expect to conclude their investigation.


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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine