As we look forward to 2011, you may want to give some thought to Albert Einstein’s quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” For many in the AV industry, 2009 and 2010 were tough years. Will 2011 be another year of treading water, or will you adapt to market conditions and look to new areas of business, such as unified communications (UC)?
The point of UC is to simplify communications for the end-user while helping organizations become more efficient. To put it in context, think about your own company: How many communication devices do you have at your disposal (desk phone, mobile phone, home phone, videoconferencing, etc.)? How many communication applications do you use on a regular basis (instant messaging, conferencing applications, etc.)? When you’re on the road, how does a co-worker, or better yet a customer, know which tool is best to reach you on at any given time? The impact of not being able to reach you can lead to inefficiency and create economic impact. UC integrates these technologies and identifies the most effective way to reach you utilizing a variety of presence technologies.
Currently, two solution sets are emerging in the UC space—all-in-one suites and multi-vendor environments. The multi-vendor environment seems to be the preferred direction favored by larger organizations due to previous investments in a variety of technologies and platforms that work under the UC umbrella. The complexity of UC implementation in multi-vendor environments requires a variety of product and integration expertise.
The AV industry already provides a variety of key technology solutions within a UC strategy, including installed audioconferencing; videoconferencing ranging from desktop through telepresense systems; and bridging infrastructure, streaming video, and digital signage, to name a few. There will also be new opportunities driven by UC implementations, such as control system applications that integrate into a VoIP phone system. As UC grows, there is no doubt that visual systems will become a core technology for the corporate world.
Going back to Einstein’s insanity quote, positioning your company and solutions to target the UC market will require that you do some things differently.
First, identify the manufacturers that you are currently doing business with who have a focus on unified communications.
Understand their product offerings and go-to- market strategy relative to UC. Work closely with them to train and certify your staff on not only technical skills, but sales and service skills as well. UC vendors are focused on working with partners that bring the skills required to successfully deploy and manage converged technologies.
Identify large IT services companies that have acted as the lead contractor on UC projects. Position and market your company’s skills as an UC-centric AV integration subcontractor to them. Find out about their other subcontractors and make introductory contact with them. Ask about preferred manufacturers’ products they sell and become educated on their products and integration. Continue to gain knowledge about IT and become the expert on AV over IT. With this knowledge, develop value-added solutions that fit well into this environment.
Don’t forget about offering professional services. There will be new opportunities from a thorough evaluation of a company’s existing communication technologies to ongoing technical support.
Moving into UC will bring new opportunities, but it will also create some new challenges. For example, the complexity of the architecture will make quoting more difficult. Also, the specific benefits of UC may vary across businesses and users, making ROI tools less beneficial. As IT, AV, and telecom become more integrated and the UC market matures, the market will consolidate further and the nature of channel partnerships will change—not always for the better.
AV integration will continue to be a core element of a UC strategy. The question is whether you will be positioned to take advantage of the opportunity as it grows.
R. Randal Riebe (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the director of AV integrator business development at Polycom.
by Mary Bakija
These days, you can’t turn on the TV without seeing a commercial about unified communications. “Many manufacturers in the industry have done a very good job evangelizing the word of UC,” said Jeff Holton, director of technology at SKC Communications, a Kansas City-based integrator that specializes in communications technology. “It might not be the whole story, but they show different pieces that help familiarize end users with the technology.”
As unified communications gains recognition with executives, integrators must be able to sufficiently address the needs of their clients. “These C-level executives are saying ‘I want this,’ and the manufacturers out there are helping drive that, but then it’s the integrators on the back-end who have to be able to sit down with them to find out what they actually want and then help them get there,” Holton said.
You can ask a dozen businesses for their meaning of “unified communications,” and you will get a dozen different answers. What is comes down to, though, is that people want to communicate more efficiently. Whether streamlining the voicemail process or knowing how to best contact a coworker, UC can help organizations operate at a much quicker, and easier, pace.
What that translates to for a company, of course, is an excellent return on investment. “It’s all about making more efficient use of an employee’s time,” Holton explained. When that’s combined with other benefits, such as savings on travel expenses when a company opts for videoconferencing, UC becomes a real quantitative budgetary element.
It’s clear that UC is becoming more ubiquitous. SKC has seen interest rise dramatically in the past six months, and Holton predicts it will only grow stronger in the coming year. “We believe that the whole unified communications industry is on a steady stream upwards,” he said. “But the industry is always changing, and as an integrator we have to stay on top of that—know where the industry is going, so that we know what our customers will need.”