Major voice and data network vendors have been touting convergence for a decade now but the market took a long time to accept the technology. Now that it is hitting the straps at the top of the market, the logical progression for vendors is to push it further down the ladder and dramatically swell the number of potential users.
But is the SMB market ready for converged networks? ARN brought together a select band of resellers at a round table lunch earlier this month, some with a voice background and others that have traditionally concentrated on data networks, in an attempt to find out.
One of the most obvious problems that emerged during the conversation is that resellers believe vendors are trying to push a square peg into a round hole.
While the vendor community talks enthusiastically about getting into the SMB market, our panel of resellers argued that taking a horizontal approach is doomed to failure. Instead, there needs to be a vertical approach because there are only certain industries that have any need for the advanced features that converged networks have to offer.
Vendors will argue developing vertical specialisation is not their job - they make the platforms and it is the reseller or integrator that should be adding value to address specific customer needs. That is a fair point at face value but not all together true if vendors are going to follow through on their promises of building meaningful partnerships.
As the technology market continues to mature, platforms will continue to become more generic and applications will increasingly be developed to address the needs of specific industries. We are already seeing that happen. Even generic applications will eventually be tweaked specifically to suit healthcare, education or manufacturing companies and different resellers will build customer bases increasingly within a small number of those industries.
One of the biggest roadblocks in this market development is that resellers and developers do not have enough contact with each other. Multinational vendors work with both camps, which are made up largely of small businesses. The job of marketing your abilities to potential partners is just as difficult for a reseller or developer (if not more so) than conveying that message to potential customers.
Vendors must do a better job of matchmaking if they are to drive this vertical focus into the market to the benefit of everybody involved. But resellers must also take a more proactive approach to investigating these opportunities.
At the end of the day, the biggest challenge for resellers plying their trade in the SMB market is differentiating from the thousands of other businesses doing the same thing. Targeting your business more closely to a particular type of customer strikes me as an excellent way of standing out from the crowd.
It isn't going to be easy, and there are going to be some teething troubles along the way, but it will be a genuine market advantage for those resellers that make it work - especially for those operating in metropolitan areas where there are tens of competitors trying to develop relationships with the same customers.