NWN Driving Big Cloud VoIP Sales Growth By Beating Telecom Giants

NWN, No. 81 on the CRN 2014 Solution Provider 500 list, is driving dramatic cloud sales growth by beating telecom giants such as AT&T with its fast-growing NCloud hosted VoIP service.

The Waltham, Mass.-based national systems integrator is rising up the cloud charts, completing its third consecutive year of 100 percent growth for its NCloud service in 2014. NWN, one of the first Cisco partners to build a Cisco hosted VoIP service, is now providing cloud services to more than 80,000 phones, video devices and contact center agents.

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"We are the phone company of the Internet era," said NWN CEO Mont Phelps, speaking about how his company's multimillion-dollar investment in hosted VoIP is changing the game for customers. "We are absolutely the leader in providing hosted VoIP. Nobody is doing what we are doing."

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One sign of that hosted VoIP prowess: a nearly $800,000 NWN five-year contract win last year against telecom behemoth AT&T to supply a hosted Cisco VoIP solution to the West Contra Costa Unified School District in California.

In notes on the award, AT&T is referred to as "non-responsive" for the contract. "Although AT&T’s proposal included a lower price, it did not provide a form of service provider contract as required by the RFP (Request for Proposal), nor did AT&T provide for several required contract clauses as indicated by the RFP," according to the notes. "The RFP specifically provided that a proposal which did not include these provisions would be considered non-responsive. Additionally, AT&T’s proposal did not include a price for the costs of the classroom and administrative phones as required by the RFP."

AT&T refused to comment.

NWN said its ability to provide customized and flexible hosted VoIP in contracts such as the one for the West Contra Costa Unified School District and its ability to back it up with its own 24x7 NCare managed services support offering is driving its hosted VoIP sales growth vs. the telecom giants.

Now, the company is moving to put more sales muscle behind the the cloud effort by appointing 13-year NWN veteran Brian Gai as senior vice president, telecommuncations and cloud.

Gai, who will oversee the Western cloud computing sales effort, joins NWN Senior Vice President, Cloud Go To Market and Hosted Solutions Chris Ludwig, who is overseeing the Eastern cloud sales charge.

"We have been at this for three years now and we are well beyond the experimental stage," said Phelps. "We are entering the real adoption stage, hitting the knee of the growth curve. This business is going to be huge."

NEXT: NWN's 20 Years Of Managed Services Leadership

NWN's more than 20 years of managed services leadership in supporting data centers, business applications and wide area networks has given the national systems integrator a decided advantage against telecom giants, said Gai.

"Everything beyond the PBX is not a traditional support model for the telcos," he said. "We understand networks and tie into those networks. We write applications and deliver higher-level collaboration flows that provide productivity gains."

The agility, flexibility and support NWN is providing is a critical competitive advantage against telcos, according to Gai. "The key to providing any type of cloud service is how you care for the customer afterwards," he said. "Our NCare managed services is a huge differentiator for us against the telcos. The technology is not the hard part. The hard part is supporting customers and end users. That is the game-changer for us."

NWN now has 250 customers supported by 115 NWN employees manning the Waltham managed services command center. Gai said that in his new role he is looking to further accelerate NWN's hosted VoIP business throughout the Western states. "We recognize this is a market that is going to explode," he said. "We were one of the first ones to stand up hosted collaboration. We have more than $6 million invested in the infrastructure and personnel to run this environment. What we have built is a carrier-grade infrastructure for supporting VoIP across the country."

NWN has built two world-class, tier-three data centers, one in Raleigh, N.C., and the other in Santa Clara, Calif. Both of the data centers have redundant functionality. "We can fail over from one complete system to another complete system and can architect any level of flexibility based on a customer's need," said Gai.

The additional sales muscle comes as NWN moves to increase its cloud portfolio with hosted video, hosted LAN and hosted wireless alongside Unified Communications as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service, Disaster Recovery as a Service and Backup as a Service.

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The NWN cloud offerings can be tailored to any business from several hundred to tens of thousands of users, according to Gai. "Across the country we are working on deals from 250 seats to 20,000 seats at a time," he said. "We have a very large, ever-growing funnel. If existing customers have on-premise VoIP and they want to switch it to us, we have a really elegant way of operationalizing their existing capital expenses. We are going to take all those capital expenses and spread them out over time and operationalize them into a single managed service. At the end of the day, we are going to monitor and manage it with a fully staffed, 24x7 NOC [network operations center]."

Among the NWN contract wins is an 1,800-seat VoIP based solution for the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools in Orange County, Calif., that provided dramatic monthly cost savings along with full monitoring, management and 24/7 support from NWN.

The increased NWN momentum in the cloud market comes just one year after being named named as a voice and data services provider for the State of California Public Utilities under the CALNET3 government contract.

The CALNET 3 status makes NWN the only systems integrator competing for California VoIP contracts head to head against the likes of AT&T and Verizon. One big NWN differentiator with CALNET3 is its ability to deliver a complete Cisco hosted cloud offering including VoIP, contact center and WebEx under an integrated platform.

Ultimately, Gai said NWN's biggest hurdle is overcoming the resistance to change that comes with a customer moving from a PBX-based traditional phone system to a hosted VoIP cloud solution.

"Our biggest competition is a customers' unwillingness to change," he said. "It's the status quo. Once the customer makes the decision to change, the telcos typically have trouble responding. We are a very nimble cloud provider. We are big enough to be very elegant with our services and small enough to be flexible to deliver what a customer needs."

That flexibility, along with its proven managed services track record, gives NWN a big advantage as it seeks to take share in the multibillion-dollar VoIP cloud market against the telecom giants, said Gai. "We are beginning to take market share from them, and we are planning to take a lot more," he said. "We are going after that with our MPLS network. If we get just 1 percent of that, it will be a huge number. Our goal is to capture 10 percent of the statewide California telecom market in 24 months. That's a big number."