The week of March 14 will be packed with travel for many VARs and managed services providers. Quite a few MSPmentor readers are heading to the Channel Partners conference in Las Vegas. But MSPmentor will also keep a close eye on the Intermedia Partner Summit in New York, where roughly 80 to 120 MSPs and channel partners will evaluate new cloud strategies -- including hosted PBX services. Here' what to expect.
In recent months, plenty of MSPs have been exploring unified communications opportunities. Some of the engagements involve on-premise SMB deployments. But many MSPmentor readers are trying to find reliable, cost-effective hosted PBX services that they can white label as their own.
Enter Intermedia. The company is best known as a major hosted Exchange provider, where pricing competition with Microsoft BPOS remains fierce. At last year's partner summit, Intermedia previewed hosted unified communications services for its channel partners. But some partners were nervous because the system leveraged home-grown software from Unison Communications, a fledgling company.
Intermedia listened to the constructive criticism and adjusted its hosted unified communications strategy quite a bit. Specifically, Intermedia repositioned the solution as a hosted PBX, and made sure the technology integrates with Exchange Server and Outlook -- giving partners and customers familiar user interfaces.
In a recent interview with MSPmentor, Intermedia Senior VP Bob Leibholz said partners asked for a solution that could be tied to Exchange and would help them avoid the cost and complexity of PBX systems. The hosted PBX service gives partners “a simple way to get into the VoIP game,” he said. Leibholz said partners can make margin on the company’s PBX offering and, more importantly, make margin from the consulting and ongoing support that goes along with the hosted service.
Reality CheckThe big question: How many MSPs are ready to promote white label hosted PBX services to their end-customers? During the recent Parallels Summit in Orlando, guest speakers said 7 percent of small businesses currently leverage hosted PBXs, with the market expected to quadruple over the next three to five years. With that potential growth in mind, most major PBX vendors are developing hosted PBX strategies.
Still, some MSPs remain wary of hosted PBXes. Some worry about the reliability of dial-tone services. Others aren't sure how to price and brand hosted PBX services. But ultimately: I think the vast majority of MSPs should be testing the hosted PBX waters. The trend toward hosted PBX services seems undeniable. And Parallels has stated that early hosted PBX partners are generating roughly 30 to 35 percent margins.
Side note: We're checking to see what ever happened to Unison. The company attempted to build a free, advertising-driven unified communications platform in 2008. But more recently, Unison's web site has shifted to a password protected destination, which suggests the company is reworking its business plan. We've been unable to reach Unison contacts in recent months.
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