The growing demand for voice/data integration poses a challenge for resellers working in what were previously two separate markets.
The increasing convergence of voice and data prompted Nortel Networks to invite its telephony resellers to the recent Velocity conference in Coolangatta, Queensland. Nortel previously hosted separate conferences for its voice and data channel partners.
Gary Starr, Nortel's director of channels, told a packed room at the voice/data workshop on day two of the conference that telephony and data resellers alike would have to decide how best to face the reality that the two markets were rapidly converging.
"At the moment most customers are engaging two separate companies for data and telephony, but that's changing," Starr said. "Resellers need to ask themselves: do I want to sell both? Should I invest now or wait? If I partner up am I putting the business at risk - will they try to take the account over?"According to Starr, resellers need to decide whether to invest in acquiring the skills to do both voice and data in-house, partner with another reseller, integrator or service provider with complementary skills or merge with a company with existing skills.
For data resellers there is the added option of partnering directly with Nortel for the telephony applications. Nortel still sells direct in this market, although the company is rapidly winding back its direct sales force in favour of a full channel model. Nortel does not sell direct for its data applications.
Different resellers are taking different paths. Sydney-based VoIP is a merged entity created in February when data reseller Northbridge and telephony reseller QCC decided to join forces. An exclusive Nortel dealer on the PABX telephony side, the company sells a range of data solutions, including Nortel and Cisco.
"Northbridge knew data very well, but products are becoming commoditised and margins are shrinking," said VoIP's CEO Michael Harte. "We could see that convergence and unified solutions is where the market's going. We knew we didn't have the experience to do it ourselves and we already had a good relationship with QCC."According to Harte, the merger has made it easier to win the confidence and respect of clients.
"It's going great. Having the skills in both voice and data means that we can go to the customer and legitimately talk about voice/data integration," Harte said. "There will always be space for the voice channel and there will always be space for the data channel, but in certain environments a complete channel solution may be appropriate, and that's where we come in."On the other hand, Telecommun-ications Resources, a Melbourne-based Nortel telephony partner, is considering partnering up with a data reseller to deliver integrated solutions.
"I think it's harder for data resellers to get into voice than vice versa," said Dave Park, director of Telecommuni-cations Resources. "I don't mind selling data, but do I really want to install it? Probably not. We need to partner, at least until we find our feet. It doesn't cost us anything to explore opportunities and I don't have a great fear of losing to other suppliers. There's plenty of work, plenty of customers and plenty of things to sell."Voice/data convergence is also providing increased opportunity for Nortel's distribution partner, Express Data, which until now has only distributed Nortel's data range.
"It's an exciting opportunity to move into voice and bring together two channels," said Jo-Anne Niemann, Nortel Networks product manager at Express Data. "It seems Nortel is looking after the future. It's a strategic partnership because we've always tried to be cutting edge and offer more pre-sales support than other distributors."Caitlin Fitzsimmons attended the Velocity Conference in Coolangatta as a guest of Nortel Networks