The "communications integrator" is born

There is a critical decision that networking and communications vendors need to start addressing. By now everyone should comprehend the importance of knowing your customer. Regardless of whether vendors have crossed this hurdle or not, I don't think there is a vendor out there who isn't trying. Some of the vendors think that if you invest enough marketing dollars to mask the inadequacies of their portfolio of boxes, the general public can be convinced their products are the best choice. Other manufacturers take a more passive approach by waiting until they have all their products ready to go or have a complete offering developed entirely in-house before releasing anything. It is this writer's opinion that both approaches are wrong. There is a certain well-known road paved with good intentions, and either track above, along with the famous “it is definitely part of our strategy,” will only lay a few more feet of asphalt. So how does a vendor get out of the deep, black whirlpool of good intentions, rise through the smog of marketing, and safely navigate through extended delays of building everything themselves? Simple: It’s time to evolve. More and more, customers aren’t choosing “one vendor” environments. This is sometimes due to the fear of putting all the eggs in one basket. Another explanation is that no one vendor can keep up with manufacturing every best-in-class feature, custom product, and application required by customers. If a vendor can’t build everything for everyone, do they give up the business where they can’t play, or do they again bury this issue under marketing? Neither. The term “services” coming from a communications vendor has typically meant the box-attached installation and maintenance capabilities are either sold through a channel or delivered directly. Anything more advanced was always reserved for the behemoth Systems Integrators of the world. Something has happened in recent years that has started a push in the right direction: diversity. Every device in a building, regardless of the purpose of that building, is now capable of communicating via IP over Ethernet. The [s]ability[/s] need for communications vendors to start offering [i][b]integration[/b][/i] services is here. They need to create systems of their own technologies merged with the huge range of communication-enabled devices and applications that now exist. The question remains: how does a vendor do this? Partnership and joint development programs are by in large a “rubber stamp.” Pay a fee and get to use a logo on your website. Testing is limited to a current release, and compatibility issues when installing are pervasive. In response to this issue, a few vendors are building “Multi-vendor interoperability and integration” services. These are advanced teams and labs with the ability to re-create a customer’s environment. That same team can then oversee the entire configuration and testing of the software, applications, and boxes, and deploy and support the whole shebang. No need for pre-determined interop testing, no waiting for a vendor to build everything themselves, and most importantly, what’s advertised is what’s deliverable. This is how a communications vendor can transform into a communications integrator. How does this differ from a “Systems Integrator”? An SI, as the name implies, will focus on business processes and business systems integration – well beyond communications and into supply chain management, sales operations, manufacturing efficiency, and other processes. A communications integrator is focused on ensuring that all the elements of a truly unified communications environment (everything from building sensors to the CxO’s personal cell phones) is tightly assembled. Like SIs, they can also offer a single point of contact to maintain everything they consult on and install. In addition, a true communications integrator can create a hybrid offer. This can be technologies managed by and on behalf of the customer merged with hosted applications and services in order to cost-effectively reach branch offices and the customer’s and partners and clients. Vendors sell hot dogs and pretzels – integrators have the potential to deliver real value to Enterprises and carriers. It’s time to transform.

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