What a time to be selling hosted telephony!

As the nation suddenly becomes more conscious about flexible working, Comms Business Magazine talks to Richard Potts, Managing Director of Distributor North Supply, about the short-term challenges and issues around selling hosted telephony as well as what the Channel could expect to see over the next 12 months and beyond.

Comms Business Magazine (CBM): Do business owners still perceive hosted telephony as a cost rather than an enabler?

Richard Potts (RP): The past months have changed many people’s perception of what doing business is going to be like in the future. Are we going to have a second pandemic wave, are we going to have localised lockdowns or what happens if this is the new norm and there is another threat to our welfare just around the corner? Who knows?

What we do know is that customers now want more flexibility. They want to be able to work from the office or home, locally, or some distance away and I see using mobile devices with applications that offer this flexibility are the key to meeting these new requirements.

UC is a word that has been bandied around for many years and taken on many different guises. I see UC as the simple flexibility to offer consistent ways of working across a varied range of devices, used to cater for different environments.

CBM: Where are the short-term gains going to come from for partners during this time?

RP: Core telephony that provides the good old-fashioned option of verbally conversing or speaking to someone combined with applications such as MS Teams or conferencing to allow more effective colleague interaction seems to meet most customers basic requirements. Add to this Video when we are looking our best and out of our pyjama’s and desktop applications that allow us to share and discuss more complex or immediate projects also seem to have proven their worth during the recent lockdown.

As users float between these environments and devices, the ability to reflect their status and their availability also starts to make more sense, and what we say and what we do on all devices also needs to be secure. Solutions that offer good levels of security and encryption are likely to prosper, and so tools that offer these features may not now be seen as options as they have been in the past but are now seen as being essential for the future.

Cloud or hosted platforms can offer these solutions but then so can many on premise PBX’s that are still connected to ISDN or SIP so long as they have an internet connection and the PBX has softphones and UC capability or upgrades available to provide these features. I believe it will be down to what the customers knowledge levels are and what are the preferences of those that are advising them as to what solution is best.

Most issues encountered by company IT teams seems to have been related to elements currently outside of their control; i.e. their staff’s home broadband, so lean designs requiring little resources are likely to become more favoured unless companies also agree to fund any upgrades that can deliver reliable connections to support the new ways of working.

Cloud has its advantages and there are many but let us not forget that there are options to meet customers requirements in other ways, which may be preferable in the short term to allow customers to make the leap to cloud as and when they are ready.

CBM: How will the market evolve over the next 12-24 months?

RP: The evolution of the market will, I believe, be influenced by a number of factors.

Right now, businesses are still responding to the challenges of COVID-19 and facing the primary objective of keeping their employees safe. We all recognise that there has been a tremendous rush to place many employees in a working from home environment to maintain some form of business continuity.

Progressively we will see many of these staff return to the office but it is likely that there will be a new and different form of ongoing work patterns that will see a hybrid and more flexible model deployed; one where meetings comprise a cluster of people in the office and other clusters of employees working remotely.

Cloud based applications such as hosted telephony will continue to offer flexible solutions for this scenario.

Had there been no such thing as COVID-19 I believe much of the focus in the short to medium term would now be focussed on Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning (AI/ML) as automation can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes increasing productivity.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine