Magazine Article | April 20, 2012

Telepresence Can Connect VARs To New Revenues

By Brian Albright, Business Solutions magazine

Easy-to-use, lower-cost solutions open up opportunities in the SMB market.

Telepresence technology is growing rapidly. According to research firm Infonetics, videoconferencing and telepresence spending is expected to reach $22 billion in the next five years. Sales for 2011 reached $2.99 billion, up 35%.

While these next-generation videoconferencing technologies — which usually include large, high-definition displays, cameras, and audio technology — are thought of as expensive, dedicated systems for large enterprises, innovations are expanding the market. “New, versatile presentation products and cloud videoconferencing service options are bringing ‘business class’-quality videoconferencing solutions to a new, larger customer base, including SMBs with a distributed workforce, K-12, higher education, healthcare, creative service firms, and financial services,” says Jim Reddy, VP, Americas sales at InFocus.

The technology also has improved and provides much more reliable performance, making it more appealing to a wider audience of potential customers. VARs who may have steered clear of telepresence should give it a second look, particularly as midsize customers search for ways to cut travel expenses and improve communications.

“Improvements in broadband services, coupled with better bandwidth utilization and optimization by the video solutions themselves, are driving this adoption,” says Brian Cuppett, VP of merchandising at ScanSource Communications. “Video used to be intimidating and challenging to use; now it is as easy as picking up the phone and dialing the other party.”

Part Of A Unified Communications (UC) Strategy
For customers looking to expand existing UC initiatives, telepresence provides a logical next step, Reddy says. “Large enterprise technology vendors are offering video conferencing as part of their UC suites. UC solutions are typically thought of as an integrated set of communication tools for individual knowledge workers,” he adds. “Telepresence is a shared resource that needs to be integrated with scheduling and Web conferencing tools.”

However, not every client needs a full-blown UC implementation. “If collaboration between many different devices within multiple locations is part of the desired solution, then a complete UC implementation might be needed,” Cuppett says. “A complex UC integration typically increases the cost of a project, so a clear assessment of the project requirements and budget is necessary. If a partner just needs to be able to have telepresence (i.e. video) between multiple sites, and budget is an issue, there are many great stand-alone solutions today that can satisfy their telepresence needs on a tight budget.”

Of course, how telepresence fits within a UC strategy depends on the customer. “You need to ask the correct questions to qualify how they hope to utilize telepresence video conferencing solutions within their current UC strategy,” says Bill Miller, senior manager of A/V solutions at Jenne. “Will the telepresence solution be implemented within their Microsoft Lync or their IP telephony environment? These questions need to be addressed because telepresence can be easily integrated into many UC environments.”

Maurizio Capuzzo, VP of global channel marketing and strategy at Polycom, stresses the need to fully understand the customer’s environment before moving forward with a telepresence installation. “You need to understand important details such as how the client’s employees communicate, the company’s sales cycle, customer- or industry- specific purchasing behavior, current infrastructure, legacy technology, and their customer’s technology landscape. VARs then can come to the table with comprehensive yet customized solutions,” he says.

Networking Experience, Open Systems Are Important
Telepresence solutions can range from simple setups to fairly immersive video systems, so the level of technical skill required on the part of the VAR can vary depending on the customer.

“A commitment to skills development, certifications, and specialization improves customer satisfaction,” Capuzzo says. “Stellar technical acumen ensures VARs are equipped to service the customer’s total business and service needs. Having a laser focus on serving the customer’s total needs is the best advice I could give to a VAR entering this market.”

According to Cuppett, ScanSource has seen VARs with a variety of backgrounds tackle telepresence. “Most telepresence manufacturers require certification classes and specific training classes before being able to sell and implement the solutions,” Cuppett says. “Because the solutions today are predominantly IP, having an extensive knowledge of data networks and networking can be an advantage for a VAR, but is not mandatory.”

There are some caveats. Getting back to the customer’s goals, VARs will need a clear idea of how conference calls will actually be made within the organization. “Are they attempting to make video calls within their organization or outside?” Miller says. “Do they want to utilize SIP [session initiation protocol] or H.323 IP transport? If these kinds of questions are not presented up front, it could cause incorrect product selection and an inability to conduct video calls.”

Seeing Is Believing With Telepresence
VARs should price systems based on the value to the customer’s business and provide financing options and service bundles that can help customers (particularly SMBs) invest in these solutions. “VARs should explain the benefits of the intangible assets of life-like interaction,” Miller says. “They should be prepared to present and explain the ROI associated with replacing in-person meetings with videoconferencing, the environmental impact videoconferencing offers, as well as the ability to integrate video technologies with UC applications.”

A menu of options can help draw in more business, including affordable options, open systems, and cloudbased solutions. Show customers how the solutions will work by making the technology part of the presentation. “In our experience, seeing is believing,” Reddy says. “Providing a high-quality, on-site, hands-on demonstration to multiple stakeholders is key to a successful sale.”

For VARs that are new to the market, Cuppett says that deploying the technology in-house can be of invaluable help to the sales team, while providing an easy way to demonstrate the technology to potential clients. He also suggests taking advantage of the demo programs the vendors have to offer to provide more visibility into the solutions.