At our Partner Event held in Cannes and virtually in November 2021, we organised a roundtable with four of our service providers, representing Canada, France, South Africa and the UK. During the session, the panel looked back on the challenges of 2021 and how they see the UCaaS market moving forward this year. This was a frank discussion behind closed doors, so for the panellists’ privacy, their comments are reported anonymously.
One panellist shared that while they were in a position to bring many new customers on board quickly to cloud-based UC, the impact of the pandemic meant that a lot of businesses also had to restructure and adjust budgets, which affected some deployment timescales. Also, “In the context of softphones and video-collaboration, some businesses are not prepared to pay the same amount of money for software compared to hardware, even if this may sound a bit of an outdated attitude”.
Client expectations were an issue for several service providers who were also switching from proactive to reactive mode to cope with additional customer demand. One contributor said, “We are a very lean team, so it was a challenge, despite everyone being as hands-on as possible.” However, on a more positive note, they worked closely with customers to educate them about cloud-based UC and make them realise that a copper broadband line is just not sufficient. “It’s been a journey, but we have worked hard to address customer expectations and build a lot of trust.”
Another panellist had a similar experience, with a massive volume of customers demanding UCaaS, yet “Like many others, we were dealing with limited manpower at the time and not everything was automated”. Another speaker found, “Customer expectations were quite low at the beginning of the pandemic as the priority was just to find some urgent solutions, but now that they want more than just a quick fix, it is essential to be fully transparent about whether it fits well the customer needs and how fast it can be provided.”
Experiences with vendors varied considerably, ranging from those who “seriously let us down” to those who “bent over backwards for us.” As expected, the panel experienced difficulties obtaining smartphones and other hardware with difficulties in the supply chain.
Moving forward, while the panel saw some emerging challenges, they were all optimistic about the future and could see some specific trends and opportunities. For instance, there is the realisation that everyone is not going to go back to the office and that there is an acceptance of hybrid working. There is a role here for service providers can help customers find solutions for the long term.
Similarly, “Businesses are going to sit back and review the systems they have got in place and do things properly. They are going to realise that the systems they bought under time-pressure are not fit for purpose or future-proof, and that is a huge opportunity for us”. This thought was echoed by another service provider: “As people pick themselves up and dust themselves off, they are going to ask themselves what they really need for their digital transformation.”
Cloud is obviously a rapidly growing market area. Within that, one speaker mentioned the need to move beyond focusing on office knowledge-workers and other areas, such as factories, healthcare, and retail. Linked to this is that the diversifying ecosystem will include new vertical players, so it will be essential to find ways to co-operate and integrate with them to turn the competitive risk into new business potential.
The ability to differentiate is seen as key to drive success. One panellist said, “We are going to see a decrease in the momentum of big providers with a package deal and more demand for integrations and specialisms than we experience today.” To achieve this, the team cited the need to be able to roll out new technologies quickly and work with suppliers who support differentiation.
FMC is going to start coming to fruition. Productivity is another growth area, with more business apps being added to phones, with UC integrating with IT business processes. “It may be more complex and requires more integration, but there is a lot of value in this market, and there are some big opportunities out there.”
Another area of change is how service providers will need to work with their customers, including finding ways to deploy enterprise-grade services that are reliable, sustainable and measurable. Self-care solutions are “important so that customers can quickly and dynamically configure users, ring groups, the IVR and so on. This will help them carry on working, even if government rules change quickly.”
Finally, the panel all agreed on the need to communicate closely and directly with customers, address expectations, and demonstrate the value in UCaaS. “Go deep and go broad with conversations with customers, recognise that we are all in this together. Be thought leaders that help customers through this time.”