5 Value-Added Voice Opportunities For VARs

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IP telephony

1. Managed Communications
Like most IP-enabled technologies, unified communications has the same potential for managed services--rich in scalability, customer satisfaction and recurring revenue streams.

Managed unified communications allows solution providers to build holistic systems that integrate voice and data, click dialing and instant messaging, telepresence and videoconferencing into common IT infrastructures and applications. Customers can choose the options they want without having to make the investment in infrastructure or integration work.

Through a client- or Web-based interface, users can manage their communications as if all the software and hardware components were on-site. Companies adopting managed communications services gain extendable applications and features without the cost of supporting in-house IT talent.

"One call center installation that cost $175,000 has generated four times that in the last three years," says Todd Sharp, director of Engage, a Siemens partner in Atlanta.

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2. Personnel TrackingSecurity
Phone systems are commonly integrated with door locks, allowing attendants to buzz in visitors through intercoms. Integrating RFID technology with unified communications could open up new opportunities for solution providers. RFID-enabled ID cards can track employees. In some cases, the system will forward landline calls to cellphones or activate away messages automatically. Some businesses are using such features in place of time clocks.

From this point, you can extend it to a full physical access-control and video-surveillance system. The RFID cards can open doors and record access times automatically. Likewise, a power-over-Ethernet camera shows visitors or nonbadged employees before buzzing open the lock.

"IP and Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) make it so much cheaper," says David Pierce, president of Cross/Talk Communications in Dallas. "They just call the locksmith and me."

3. Running New Wires
Unified communications often requires hardware upgrades. This is a good opportunity not only to upsell equipment but also to pull new wires and cables into a customer's site.

"We tell [our customers], 'I don't want to sell you any white boxes, PCs or software applications, but you should consider me your source for switches, because you're going to use me to pull the wire in and put up a security camera," Pierce says.

4. Media-Rich Conferencing
Just as in-house audio conferencing eliminates expensive carrier services, the whole rich-media bag of IP voice, presentations, whiteboarding and shared applications can be brought in-house to let customers replace costly WebEx-type services. Many unified communications add-ons support media-rich conferencing or integrate with applications such as Microsoft's Live Meeting service for greater scale. For instance, Avaya's Meeting Express seamlessly integrates with Microsoft's Outlook e-mail client and IBM's Lotus Notes.

5. Enhanced Mobility
Enhanced mobility means being able to seamlessly switch from a cellphone to a landline and vice versa without dropping the call. The process is called twinning, where the call is transparently routed between two designated lines. For instance, Avaya's "Extend-a-Call" passes Caller ID, presence and contact information from the IP-PBX to cellphones; unanswered calls go to the mail office voicemail system.