A month ago I wrote about what\u00a0service providers can do to get in tune with IP telephony , including developing compelling ROI stories, emphasizing managed service and delivering integrated mobile solutions.A few service providers have written to remind me politely that they already do some of these things."Equant uniquely addresses each of these areas of concern through a life-cycle approach, ROI assistance, a fully managed service (LAN\/WAN), and customer transition management," writes Michael Burrell, a product manager in Equant's Convergence Solutions group. Qwest also stresses its ability to deliver full life-cycle solutions and managed services.Unfortunately, the message isn't getting through to customers. Only about 14% of IT executives my firm surveyed report relying on service providers for their IP telephony solutions, and most report that they find the carriers' value proposition less than compelling.We've already talked about what service providers can do to address this. Time to take a look at the "hidden gold" that IT executives might uncover from their service providers: voice and data integration talent, particularly for deployments.Here's the issue. More than half of IT executives who have deployed IP telephony say they have used value-added resellers (VAR) or integrators during the deployment phase. Very often, however, these VARs and integrators are woefully under-skilled. Implementing IP telephony requires expertise in both voice and data technologies, as well as an understanding of the organization's overall business requirements. Few VARs can deliver on all counts, and even extensive research might not reveal weaknesses."We really checked out our VAR," one IT executive told us. "We checked references. They'd been around for years and had a really good reputation. But in the middle of the rollout it became clear that they didn't have any real IP telephony experience."My recommendations for evaluating VARs:Get the biographies of the individuals who will be assigned to the project (and ensure that the VAR doesn't pull a bait-and-switch by substituting other consultants).In those biographies, look for five to 10 years of hard-core voice experience, plus recent certifications from a data vendor (Cisco's IP telephony certifications are among the most rigorous).Finally, check references to be sure the company previously actually has implemented IP telephony.Service providers are among the companies most likely to meet these criteria. Keep in mind that many service providers' IP telephony rollouts are several years old (For example, Qwest offered one of the first public IP telephony services in the mid-'90s), which means that service providers have considerable experience with the technology.Moreover, these providers often "eat their own dog food" and rely on IP telephony for internal use (Equant does this, for example). Finally, service providers are among the most likely to have people skilled in voice arcana.The upshot? Look to the service providers for deployment assistance. Of course, the catch lies in ensuring that the individuals with this expertise actually work on your project. But it doesn't hurt to ask. You might be pleasantly surprised by the answer.