Aastra’s Tony Warhurst has been managing director of the unified communications company’s A/NZ operations for just over a year, but has already overseen the company resurgent in the Channel. Boosted by the launch of a several key products, he sat down to discuss the company, his mission and the trends emerging in the UC market.
Allan Swann (AS): Growing up did you have much of an interest in IT? Did you imagine you’d end up here?
Tony Warhurst (TW): Honestly, no. But after school in 1983 I decided to join the army as an electronics engineering apprentice, which brought me into the IT sector. Since then, my entire career path has been based around technology. That electronics engineering degree is definitely the thing that led me down this path.
AS: So how did you make the move from the Army to the private sector?
TW: I started out selling test and measurement equipment, multimeters, oscilloscopes. Then I worked for Tekelec, who did telecommunications test equipment, and that piqued my interest in telecommunications. With Zultys in 2002/2003, that was the first time I had ever discussed PABX’s and voice as an end solution, and it’s been a part of my career ever since, I’m very passionate about it. I am passionate about everything I do – with partners, resellers. I’m trying to make a difference with our customers, to help our resellers to make money.
AS: You were Zultys’ Australia manager before you moved to your SE Asia MD role at Shoretel. What were some of the lessons learned there?
TW: In its time Zultys was way ahead of the curve, but they unfortunately ended up in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US in 2006. That UC focus, combined with my work at Shortel really forced me to look at other channels and avenues to try and bring products to the marketplace.
AS: So how did you end up in Aastra?
TW: I first joined Aastra as a Business Development Manager to develop a channel outside of Telstra, because Telstra being ex-Ericsson and its biggest partner. Then there were some internal changes, and I managed to rise through Aastra. I’m at my three anniversary with the company, there were corporate changes made from the top down.
AS: So what makes Aastra stand out in the Australian market?
TW: We’re based on open standards, and so we give our customers a lot of choice when it comes to integrating and implementing their own third party products. Whereas most of our competitors work with their own proprietary standards, end to end. When I started at Zultys it was an open product. Then at Shortel it was closed, and now I’m back working with an open product, and that makes me a lot happier. I have some experience there.
AS: So what makes open standards preferable to what your competition does?
TW: The biggest mistake most people make, still today, is that they don’t listen to the customer. They don’t listen to what they want, what they need and how they want to achieve it. [Customers] get told what they should do. Other companies are now trying to do what we do now, but we’re better at it.
AS: What are some of the key change you’ve made to help Aastra adapt to the modern marketplace?
TW: The biggest change we’ve had has been inside Aastra itself, we’ve employed more people, and we’ve had more direct contact with our channel partners and tried to support them better. It fell off for a long time.
There was a decline [at Aastra], when this region was neglected we took a bit of a dip. It took a rebirth of Aastra to get our partners motivated and on board to sell our products again. According to one of our major customers, a carrier, we’ve moved from the bottom of the pile simply through the new Aastra 400. It’s top quality. It’s impressing on its own.
AS: Was it hard to get the Channel on board for this ‘relaunch’ of the brand?
TW: Since then we’ve delivered. Go and ask our partners and our resellers… We haven’t missed any of our targets – yet. We had to bring the Channel back, because it was struggling for a while. We’ve fixed it and we’re growing. The company internationally has had 62 consecutive quarters of profitability.
We’re doing roadmap presentations, just showing them what Aastra can deliver today, with our UC, presence, live video, and all that type of functionality, and we we’re getting a great reaction. [Customers] already have most of the installed investment, and for a small amount more they can actually get everything from us they thought they’d have to rip out and replace. That has been a key point of difference for us.
AS: So you feel Aastra is disrupting the market somewhat with this model?
TW: I think so. The idea that you have to rip and replace every two years I don’t think is sustainable. We’ve still got customers that are running phone systems that are 15+ years old. We’re actually giving them a choice about how they want to move to our new product, to add more features and functionality to existing systems, before looking at going to cloud based UC. It’s never a ‘you HAVE to do this’ proposition. And if it suits they company, and they want to make the choice to move to that new technology, we give them that option.
AS: Are a lot of companies oversold when it comes to UC?
TW: Unified Communications can actually mean very different things to different companies. It might just be voicemail to email, or it might be presence or live video feeds. UC can run quite wide across a business, or it can be very simple and short. In a lot of cases, yes, I think customers are very much oversold on what they really need for their business.
AS: What are some of the trends emerging in the market?
TW: We’re seeing a lot more awareness of unified communications, definitely. It’s more about use cases. We have customers approaching us and asking ‘Can I have my PA, who’s just had a new child, work from home 3-4 days a week and can she still be my personal assistant and intercept all my calls?’ Mobility, one phone number, these are also areas that small to medium enterprises now want.
AS: What about the threat for software only options, such as Skype, or other VOIP options?
TW: Well we like to learn from any competitors, and Skype was good in the early days at presence, VOIP. But it’s not secure. Anyone can sniff the packets off your computer, there’s no privacy. Security is one of the things I’m starting to see from enterprise, on mobility and remote users, and remote devices – they need to know their solution is secure. You need to be able to deliver that.
AS: So what’s a good reason for someone new to do business with you, rather than one of your rivals?
TW: Because we’re the best. But we also have less resellers. If there’s somebody looking for a product, with us you don’t have five people selling the same product. We have a smaller reseller channel. That adds to margin. If 10 people are all selling the same thing, everyone loses.
Aastra also bought a German company called Compdasys, their mobility product, and we’re making it work better with Aastra. Our mobility products and other products, such as Bluestar, it’s all about the application layer. The core controller layer – I think that part of the market is saturated. It’s the apps and what you can deliver, and how you can make business more profitable; functional is what we are focusing on globally, as well as in Australia.
AS: What personal attitudes or beliefs do you try to bring to the role?
TW: Honesty and loyalty is what actually works in the channel. If you can deliver the product –and yes, there needs to be a dollar value attached to that – but if you can do that with integrity, you don’t ever have to look backwards.
That’s what it’s all about. When we presented at some of our Telstra aggregators events, our competitors spoke, and they just went on about the amount of resellers and how big they were. I turned around and said it’s not about the number; it’s about the quality of service.
It’s about working with the people you have, so everybody makes money. No matter what you do in business, from vendor through to distributor and on to the reseller, whatever way it works, as long as everyone is making money – business is good.