The connected future:

Satisfying the ICT needs of enterprise customers through digital ecosystem partnerships

By: Tony Sceales
March 2015

TONY SCEALES

HEAD – INDUSTRY (DIGITAL AND
COMMUNICATIONS SERVICES)
SUNTEC BUSINESS SOLUTIONS

 Tony is responsible for SunTec’s Digital and Communications Services Industry Practice. In this role he builds and maintains strategic connections to clients, partners, analysts and industry bodies across the globe. He also ensures a strong fit between the products and services and the client’s needs. As a member and Ambassador of the TM Forum Executive Committee, and a member of its Open Digital Economy Steering Group, he is well placed to identify the trends and opportunities SunTec’s clients face as convergence, digital services emergence and increasing pressures on revenues and margins impact their businesses.

It has never been easy for enterprises, small or medium, to keep up with technology, manage their core business and remain competitive. Their emphasis has always been on running their business efficiently and satisfying their customer’s need with good products and services delivered in a timely manner.

But the digital era is changing all that, and the pressure on enterprises to simply keep up is becoming overwhelming for some. Connectivity, not so long ago, simply meant having an account with a fixed-line telecoms operator that could provide phone, PABX and fax. Today it extends to mobile and broadband connectivity and all the devices and services to make best use of it, including core IT and even accounting functions.

The cloud is rapidly becoming the only sensible option for most enterprises because the cost of maintaining in-house IT expertise, hardware and software with constant upgrades, updates and associated maintenance costs has become inhibiting and often holds the business back.

The heavily promoted concept of buying a variety of cloud services including communications, platforms and software and the associated cost and resource savings is a no-brainer but just how easy is it for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to make the best of what is on offer?

Since all cloud services have the basic requirement to be connected at all times, and from any variety of devices, it is not surprising that the first port of call of the SME is often the communications service provider (CSP). And it is the CSP that most have had the longest supplier relationship with. It should be no surprise that in order to keep their SME customers, CSPs have been quick to build their own cloud services or form relationships with cloud service specialists in order to offer bundles of services targeting SMEs.

For the more adventurous, and for those that cannot find all their requirements being met by any one supplier, the best option may be to buy disparate services from multiple providers to get exactly what they want. This requires a certain amount of in-house skill to be successfully implemented and carries a significant risk—after all, it is not the company’s core business/strength.

They could employ the services of a specialist systems integration company (SI) to buy and bring this together—but generally the SI either wants to focus on very large, high-margin enterprises or offer very limited/standardised services they themselves have expertise in. Even if a helpful SI can be found and will offer the right services, the up-front investment and step-up/down barriers to growth or change will remain. Transparency in such a model is very rare—the SI relies on a lot of ‘carbon’ integration—people pushing paper and spreadsheets to make it come together, and thus the idea of a fully integrated solution remains a pipe dream.

Any IT implementation requires some level of integration, and there is always cost associated with that. But, more importantly, having to deal with multiple suppliers when something goes wrong, even pinpointing which system is at fault, is a daunting prospect. Even finding the best fit could require the services of an experienced cloud broker, yet another Link in the chain.

Yet, even with all the challenges highlighted above, the fact that minimal capital expenditure is required to access the best systems available, and the fact that hardware and software is maintained, upgraded and updated remotely is very appealing. Even the often quoted concerns about security and privacy are easily overcome when the core operating benefits are outlined. Another option that SMEs are finding attractive is to partner with an organization that can assess their requirements accurately, find the best match and take on the task of delivering the services needed to keep the business ticking. This may include the acquisition of existing systems and maybe even staff and provide a complete managed service for a monthly fee.

It may sound too good to be true but there are companies starting to specialize in this space and perhaps the leading benefit is that they take responsibility for the complete range of services and the SME has only one point of contact and one bill to pay each month based on their actual use, with costs allocated to the correct budget center.

This is an industry-changing approach which is only possible with willing partners prepared to collaborate in a trusted and openly integrated environment; and where the ecosystem is able to support partners adapting, joining and leaving without the overall service suffering. Identity, privacy, security, integrity, seamless on-boarding/maintenance, contracting, monetization are all key to delivering a compelling and longterm customer experience.