PlanetOne CEO: The IT And Telecom Channels Have Converged

PlanetOne Communication took its 2015 Telecom Tour to Southern California on Thursday, meeting with around a hundred of its agents and prospective partners to discuss their rapidly changing industry.

Last year, Ted Schuman, CEO of the master agent based in Scottsdale, Ariz., told CRN that the IT and telecom channels were merging because of the cloud.

This year, the once-disparate practices have completely converged, Schuman said after the event in Newport Beach. "I'm telling them, go back to school" to learn how to capitalize on the opportunities for integrating connectivity and IT services and upselling new features.

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

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PlanetOne is seeing its agents close ever-larger deals as new products become available for them to resell, Schuman said, boosting traditional voice and networking packages with cloud-based services like hosted call centers, data backup and recovery, video conferencing, Software-as-a-Service and VDI.

Illustrating the metamorphosis, at least half the agents in the room come from the IT side of the fence, Schuman told CRN.

But with new business opportunities come new challenges, and a big one every agent must face down at some point is IT security.

John Ayers, senior director of security at Level 3 Communications, Broomfield, Colo., told the agents they need to understand that a firewall is hardly enough to protect their customers.

"It is really a constant fight out there today," Ayers said in a presentation on data security threats.

Level 3 sees more than six attacks a second against its public infrastructure, Ayers said, and an increasing number are fairly sophisticated, including several zero-day attacks a month.

That heightened threat level is a result of trends that are transforming the industry: cloud, mobility and social media. The perimeter has changed because "we're all trying to get to the cloud," he said.

Most small companies still assume "no one wants what I got," Ayers told the agents.

But they're probably wrong, he asserted. Small companies often possess much customer information -- from Social Security numbers to tax information to bank accounts -- that makes them the focus of hackers.

Businesses must employ solutions to protect data at rest -- residing on local storage -- and data in motion -- traveling between points on their networks, he said.

Networking providers like Level 3 can help agents offer those solutions by adding a layer of threat intelligence and alerting users if the integrity of their data is compromised.

"Think of us as the post office," Ayers said. "We see the letter, know who it's going to, who it's from. We won't look inside, but can see if someone tampered with it."

A panel, made up of representatives from six connectivity and communications vendors, that took the stage after Ayers' presentation all agreed that network security must be a priority for every IT organization.

Jason Ness, vice president of sales and engineering at Everett, Wash.-based Telnes Broadband, told agents the most dangerous element in the business environment is the user.

All carriers have invested heavily in securing their networks, he said, but "there's so much vulnerability from the user perspective."

At the same time, fear makes a great sales tool, Ness reminded the agents.

Craig Young, CEO of MegaPath, Pleasanton, Calif., told agents they should focus on securing the network even before securing the premises.

When applying security in a cloud environment, "you have to take it from the prem through every hop through the networks," Young said.

All the panel members agreed that solution providers don't need to be born in the cloud to find success in selling cloud services.

Ness advised those unsure of which vendors to work with to rely on master agents like PlanetOne.

Young added that only startups are going to be born in the cloud. "Otherwise you're going to be doing baby steps," he said.

Brett Theisen, senior vice president of worldwide channels at Salt Lake City-based inContact, said the majority of partners the contact center software developer works with started selling premise-based systems, and they've moved on to add cloud solutions.

Theisen and Jon Heaps, senior vice president of global channel sales at Milwaukee-based Corvisa, another contact center solution provider, agreed that cloud has beat out on-premises as a model for deploying contact centers.

The panel also advised the agents at the gathering to focus on hybrid environments.

Chris LeGuluche, a channel director at Plano, Texas-based Masergy Communications, said they should expect most customers migrating to the cloud to adopt a hybrid strategy. "Very few enterprises are going 100 percent in the cloud," LeGuluche said.

"It's going to be a hybrid environment -- that’s the stage that we're in for the next five years," agreed Skyler Stewart, a regional vice president at Vonage, Holmdel, N.J.

That means baby steps to cloud, Stewart said, "but we'll be there before we know it."