UCaaS potential unleashed by lockdown crisis

UCaaS has been the subject of much runaway industry hype in the past, but now we can justifiably leverage the heightened narratives of an unprecedented opportunity.

That's according to delegates at last month’s Channel Insight Session hosted by Comms Dealer in association with 8x8.

The stark reality is that UK plc has abandoned its addiction to office spaces following the introduction of lockdown measures, and the need for remote working technology and UCaaS will not diminish over the coming years. Business leaders seeking a pathway through the many UCaaS options at hand may find some sense of steerage from ICT providers that were well prepared for the impact of Covid-19. Their message now makes as much sense to cloud sceptics as cloud evangelists. So much so that Covid-19 has dramatically reversed intransigence to cloud migration, prompting stick-in-the-mud organisations to double-down on UCaaS as the model that will serve them best over the long-term.

“We’ve seen huge adoption and usage of our virtual office desktop and mobile apps, and reached 20-plus million video meetings monthly active users worldwide,” stated John Delozier, SVP & Global Channel Chief at 8x8 (pictured). “Now, the first consideration for users is a communications system – I’ve never seen anything like it. With many providers in the marketplace now, partners have the opportunity to remove complexity and guide their customers.”

Now, the first consideration for users is a communications system – I’ve never seen anything like it

In the current climate of confusion over the number of UCaaS offerings in the market, not being able to give customers clear direction is a distinct disadvantage as organisations seek to make their next moves. “Our customers are thinking a lot differently now and we are having to think differently ourselves to adapt,” added Alex Larcombe, Sales Director, AdEPT. “What’s Phase Two going to look like? We have a big contact centre customer asking how to make the remote model permanent. This conversation would not have taken place three months ago. Customers are thinking differently. We also have to deliver services a lot quicker. We were able to respond fast through various ‘Covid-19’resources’, but that has set a precedent for customers who now think they can get a 70 day lead time circuit in 25 days. It’s about adapting, being flexible and keeping expectations real.”

The UK is passing through a moment of extraordinary social and industrial change, and it is notable that what has been accepted as a new reality first surfaced only months ago. “We have seen a reaction from customers which has not necessarily played into the most optimum engagement,” commented Ross Pedder, Head of Cloud Services Sales, CDW. “Some organisations have not had a workplace or comms strategy and are taking more short-term tactical services. Phase Two will be interesting in how we convert those more tactical audio and video conferencing solutions into something strategic which links into more valuable parts of their organisation.”

Heads of IT will not be clear on what the future holds for some time – but that should be no bar to extending the current tactical solutions into an immediate opportunity, agrees Phil Race, CEO, AdEPT Technologies. “Executives faced the challenge of shifting to a home working environment, which brought our topic into the boardroom,” he added. “Business leaders don’t want to get caught out again, they want to adapt how they work. Sales people need to have that conversation at board level and talk about solutions not commodities. This is a real opportunity to solve some problems for customers.”

AdEPT conducted a survey which showed 71 per cent of companies implemented digital transformation projects in weeks rather than months during the Covid-19 lockdown. “These statistics point to a raft of tactical implementations across our entire customer base,” said Race. “They have put their finger in the leaky dike, stopped the immediate crisis, but there is a lot of strategic work still to be done.

“In response, we created AdEPT Consulting which brings together point experts from across the business. Customers want to solve more joined up problems than point issues, so we are taking the customer on a journey rather than simply selling a point solution. That will be the big difference for us in the coming months and years.”

As ever, the channel is far from being in lockdown mode when it comes to meeting an opportunity, but after servicing the jolt to home working, it is time to drive a more considered conversation, albeit in the fast lane. “The acceleration of digital transformation has been phenomenal following the immediate rush to remote working,” commented Jude Mott, Product Director, Agile Workspace, Six Degrees. “Now, people are understanding the limitations of those moves and suddenly we have their ear, and the IT manager has more attention from their business leaders. So we’ve taken a more consultative approach to talk about the cloud journey and how a seamless user experience is key to adoption.”

In his approach to clients and their tentative move to UCaaS, Mark Stephens, UCaaS Sales Director at Charterhouse Voice & Data, prioritises the message that not all UC solutions are the same, and he believes that ‘hand holding’ is necessary from the outset. “We’re talking to all of our customers about UC and how one size does not fit all,” he stated. “Some customers told us for years they are not ready to migrate. We understand that they have a critical need today, and do not try to sell them the whole solution from day one.

“UC will be where everybody goes, but many customers are fearful of jumping into something too quickly. So we are a listening sympathetic ear as we steer customers on the journey.”

Clearly, the comms sector is experiencing a remarkable phenomenon… a surge in demand for services in the middle of an economic meltdown. This craving has seen delegates witness soaring business, with UC the catalyst for sales and Microsoft Teams gaining greater popularity. “Business with any cloud-based solution is increasing, and all of us providing technology in that environment should see opportunities,” noted Richard Betts, Chief Revenue Officer, Charterhouse Voice & Data. “As a group we are over target against the budget we set pre-Covid-19. We are recruiting more sales people, doubling down on marketing efforts and pursuing acquisitions. We want to forge ahead as quickly as possible.”

Even as the British economy faces ever more contraction, UCaaS and collaboration technology makes more sense than ever and demand will continue to boom -– yet meeting this demand involves sales people selling in a new and perhaps more engaging way. “We’ve focused on sales teams and how they engage with customers online, how they manage a sales cycle online, do a demonstration and not call in specialists,” commented Betts.

“If we can engage early and well, and show the solution to the right audience, we will continue to see calls that start with two or three interested people, then draw in other participants and before you know it you’re demonstrating to the CEO of the business because he has 15 minutes to spare.

“Enabling our teams to work better online and to manage a relationship and sales cycle through an online environment professionally has been the challenge. Much effort has gone into training our 65 sales staff to adapt to this different way of working. I don’t think it’s going to change. The process is efficient, as sales people can do five appointments a day.”

If we can do without going to offices now, why go back, especially when you consider that the old CPE versus cloud argument has been settled for good? “This compelling event has dissolved the inertia among people who were previously frightened to experiment with hosted solutions,” observed Graham Kedzlie, Business Development Director, 8x8. “Phase Two will be CIOs and CTOs looking at the overall estate and asking who they are going to partner with. The lockdown has speeded up digital transformation discussions. Our combined UCaaS and CCaaS solutions have increased by 45 per cent, which was unheard of historically. It was previously about buying point solutions, but the move is towards one single open platform that can deliver both. There is a trend towards buying from one provider.”

Thus, the trickle of UCaaS uptake has become a flood, as has the number of UCaaS providers which continue to multiply, making it difficult for users to discern their future technology path. “UCaas will be ubiquitous, but you have to differentiate your services,” commented Damon Crawford, Director Agile Workspace Practice, Six Degrees. “As well as just selling UCaaS we’re looking at change management to help people adapt to different ways of working. We are bundling together ranges of services that are appropriate to each of our verticals, and placing these services into the context of their industry and at the particular stage they occupy in their recovery. That really shows value for people starting to think about where to go next.

“No one knows what the future is going to look like so there also needs to be contractual flexibility. Oganisations will undergo cultural change, so part of the service we need to offer is to allow them to cater for that cultural shift in terms of how they work. On security, the footprint of attack has expanded and organisations are concerned about what they may have been exposed to by switching their operational model.”

We have been quick to label home working as the ‘new normal’, but the pathway towards the sunny uplands of a UCaaS centric world still requires much navigation. “It is now about working with customers to put those more stable solutions in place,” noted Paul Wiltshire, Director of Specialist Sales, Virgin Media Business. “It’s not just about technology, it’s about the physical environment people operate in. There is also a tremendous opportunity to access a new workforce – people who can only work flexible hours, for example. This could give the industry good skill sets that physically could not get to the office, and were locked out of the workforce.”

Resellers will only continue to bring peace of mind to organisations by leveraging information as reassurance, and by taking a helicopter view of the bigger picture, which means a rethink of how clients are approached. “Stop leading with technology,” urged Pedder. “Otherwise you end up with a narrow sell and unable to position yourself as a value partner. Lead with the outcome and the challenge.

“We are focused on transforming the conversation away from product and technology to something more holistic and more expansive, which includes solutions that sit around the periphery and drive additional value.”

As we have emphatically seen the coronavirus crisis has exposed the strength of ICT partners able to talk about what matters most to end users right now – their cloud-based and digital future. On this point Rob Merhej, Channel Sales Director at Avant, noted: “We are not leading with a product, but talking about plans around digital transformation, and delivering a message that covers many of the challenges customers are going to face. Start with UCaaS, then think about security, WAN, SD-WAN, optimisation, content delivery, everything that will accelerate users. Having this all-encompassing ability is where you will get clients.”

A ‘live’ business is about interaction, and it seems organisations now have the potential to display more communication, collaboration, tightness and productivity as dispersed entities. But to achieve this happy state, monitoring the user experience is paramount (which could count as a post-lockdown Phase Three operation), according to Larcombe.

“We all have conversations with customers around ‘as a service’, decreasing TCO, RoI, flexibility and efficiency,” he stated. “But, with any deployment you are only ever as good as end user adoption. If users are not using the functionality, the business is not getting the most out of the solution. It is important to go back to check that everything promised has come to fruition. That way we see real customer value and long-term stable relationships.”

More Session Insights...

We have more customer facing time through video, with directors being a little less busy not having to travel.
Alex Larcombe, Sales Director AdEPT

What was the role of one IT person is now being discussed at board level. That drives forward the move towards a cloud-based and more agile capability.
Wynand Botes, Head of Voice Services, Virgin Media Business

Many customers will now be reflecting on remote working and asking whether what they moved with is fit for purpose for the next two years.
Keith Jackson, EMEA Channel Sales Director 8x8

We’ve seen teams that we thought couldn’t work at home become more effective and more productive. I don’t think we'll see those teams coming back to the office in a permanent environment.
Paul Wiltshire, Director of Specialist Sales, Virgin Media Business

There is much happening in the macro environment: Looking ahead to 2025 and the voice switch off, people need to move to something else and transform quickly.
Alex Larcombe, Sales Director AdEPT

Educate your sales force to become more technically astute and not reliant on pre-sales. From the outset, you have to understand what the customer wants and have the ability to demonstrate online at that particular point.
Mark Stephens, UCaaS Sales Director, Charterhouse Voice & Data

The partners that grow significantly now are the ones which can adapt and respond to this opportunity, as the UC market becomes more fragmented and complex.
Keith Jackson, EMEA Channel Sales Director 8x8

There is a lot of opportunity in turning tactical solutions into strategic ones.
Phil Race, CEO, AdEPT

The drive to digital and cloud has to be the priority. It needs business and IT infrastructure agility.
Paul Wiltshire, Director of Specialist Sales, Virgin Media Business

Challenge your customers. If they think they know what they want, ask them why.
Rob Merhej, Channel Sales Director, Avant

Consultative selling is more important now, and getting to understand problems means having the patience to sit down with customers.
Graham Kedzlie, Business Development Director, 8x8

There are so many providers talking about UCaaS it has created confusion in the market. So helping customers navigate the market and the pace of change is where most partners will also see success.”
Rob Merhej, Channel Sales Director, Avant


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