Industry Experts: Cloud Is Blurring Boundaries Between IT and Telecom Consultants

Cloud computing is causing many different kinds of disruption in the channel, but one of the biggest is blurring the traditional lines between telecom agents and IT solution providers, a panel of industry experts said Wednesday at the PlanetOne Communications Telecom Tour in Newport Beach, Calif.

At the same time, the new IT landscape is creating opportunities for both types of businesses, Ted Schuman, CEO of PlanetOne Communications, a master agent based in Scottsdale, Ariz., said at the event.

Gregg Rowe, area vice president at CenturyLink, said "cloud computing is merging the IT side of the fence and the telecom side of the fence," making it harder for both types of businesses to understand what they should be selling.

[Related: CRN's 2014 Network Connectivity Services Partner Program Guide (Part Two)]

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Schuman described the distinction as WAN verses LAN providers. What the two types of businesses offer is becoming similar because WAN/connectivity and LAN/IT infrastructure products are all increasingly being delivered as cloud services, he said.

The merging of the two business types was evident at the event, where IT solution providers accounted for 40 percent of attendees this year, Schuman said. A few years ago more than 90 percent of attendees would have come from the telecom side of the business, he said.

"Cloud and distribution models that we never dreamed are possible are being sold routinely," Schuman told attendees.

Bob Buchanan, vice president of cloud channel at Windstream, said confusion is inevitable with so many options in the market, from IaaS to PaaS to SaaS offerings coming in at different prices with different options and functionality.

"The master agent that can pick a few really good providers that maybe target different segments of the market and work in different parts of the stack will be in a good position," Buchanan said.

Lisa Miller, senior vice president of sales at Level 3 Communications, advised attendees to "pick your spot, figure out what's going to work, and then just keep replicating that."

With so many new technologies on the market, solution providers must find areas of vertical specialization, according to Miller. "It's really hard to be credible out in the marketplace today with everything changing," she said.

Dan Foster, president of business markets at MegaPath, said the proliferation of new technologies creates opportunities for solution providers. CIOs can't keep up with all the emerging products coming to market, he said.

"You're seeing a lot more focus in terms of vetting solutions as opposed to a product," Foster told attendees.

Rowe noted that a typical CIO's tenure has gotten shorter, and they are getting pushed down in their organizations. IT and telecom specialists can offer those beleaguered IT executives a cheaper alternative to solving problems and improving agility.

"This whole cloud concept, be it agility in networking, agility in storage or application, is critical to them," Rowe said.

"Today the environment is changing so fast, it's almost impossible for a CIO to keep up," Miller said, adding that consultants need to "demystify the cloud" for clients.

"It's really not that much of a challenge. Make it simple for them and use that to educate them," Miller said.

Jason Ness, vice president of sales and engineering at Telnes, said the cloud "can be overwhelming." He advised attendees to identify technologies that let them quickly begin offering solutions to customers, whether it's backup, or disaster recovery or hosted services.

"Pick one as a starting point," Ness said.

One area Telnes has seen its partners find success is in offering hosted PBX solutions, Ness said.

NEXT: Security a great business driver

Security is another area of specialization that can jumpstart business for solution providers, all the panelists agreed.

Chris Werpy, senior vice president of solutions and services at Masergy, described security as "a great gateway drug to drive those deeper conversations."

Creating a secure IT environment has become much more difficult for IT organizations to do relying only on internal staff, Werpy added.

The cloud is way past the adoption phase, and most dollars spent in the next few years will be on security. Companies will rely on outsourcers to create their security postures, he said.

CIOs might determine what applications their businesses run, "but it’s the performance and security around those applications that's critical," said Miller, adding security breaches not only impact business processes, but also can detrimentally affect the brand.

Panelist also advised legacy vendors interested in offering cloud services to focus on outcomes.

"Discussions are not product-led, but strategy-led, and the solution is still in the gaps. And not one solution is going to fill the need for a typical business. There's tons of options and that's creating lots of confusion, which is opportunity," Buchanan told attendees.

Werpy advised attendees to start conversations with potential customers around application and business policy outcomes before talking about resources.

Rowe advised them to search for IT workloads that would benefit from elastic solutions.

"There isn't a single perfect solution," Rowe said.

Some need hybrid, some need to be private, some need to be managed, some need to be public, he said.

"You need to have a partner that helps you form a strategy and put that all together," Rowe said.