While high-level catch phrases won the day in non-IT circles this past year, the emergence of unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) — packaged telephony functions integrated with messaging, mobile, and productivity apps — made 2014 the year of voice.
Surprised? Don't be. The resulting services landscape is neither new nor complicated for VARs and agents looking to pitch communications services with collaboration apps to businesses as a less expensive and more efficient alternative to buying and managing on-premises voice gear and software. What's relevant to VARs and telecom agents is that the apps work with Microsoft Lync and hosted Exchange.
VARs and telecom agents should be excited by this opportunity, not fearful. UCaaS is stickier and offers a higher average revenue per user (ARPU) option for them. There are no installs per se and less changes on the premises. If they've sold voice before, they can sell it again. Call it what you want. But, in the end, it's voice. You still have to dial nine to get out!
So What's New?
The UCaaS acronym may be somewhat new but UCaaS is essentially a delivery model for voice technologies and services capabilities that have been available for many years. As is the case with many labels, it's used to target and get the attention of C-level executives who think it's shiny and new more so than those that work in technology who have known it has existed for a long while. That's why UCaaS is an expanded opportunity for channels who are already well-versed in and have long been offering all things voice.
It's a crowded space with an A list of services providers that includes the likes of AT&T, 8X8, ANPI, CenturyLink, Comcast, Charter, eLink, Fusion, inContact, Level 3, Masergy, MegaPath, Mitel, ShoreTel, Thinking Phones, TWC, Verizon, Vonage (Telesphere), Voxox, XO and Windstream. Most all have channel partner programs to help deliver what's now called UCaaS to different size businesses. The smaller players often only sell through channels.
All of these providers have their strengths — platforms, hosted solutions, apps, means of controlling features, types of conferencing, and more. Many of these players sell through channels.
So what are the secret ingredients of UCaaS? Well, there's voice and telephony functionality, conferencing, messaging (email and voicemail), presence services (IM), desktop and browser clients, and communications integrated with apps for things such as contact center and collaboration capabilities such as web conferencing. And don't forget mobile.
The big takeaway here for VARs and agents is that businesses looking to move away from premises equipment, avoid CAPEX, and enhance communications are also looking for videoconferencing services, Outlook integration, CRM integration and off-premises PBX services.
There are some big trends in this space. These UCaaS staples can be pitched to businesses as a means of improving customer service and as a mobile-only solution in many cases. And those companies who already use unified communications solutions can add the service approach to more fully deploy these services.
What's important to remember with UCaaS is that it's an improved and optimized version of long-popular voice and telephony functionalities. Think of the throwback versions of the muscle cars of the 1960s. They are still Ford Mustangs and Dodge Chargers, but they run smoother, get more miles per gallon, and have better features than the originals.
The New Year will usher in greater opportunities as VARs, agents, and companies get past the acronyms, titles, and catchphrases and get back to the basics of the voice business. That would make 2015 the year of voice — again.