Telecom Agents Seek Managed Services Opportunities

A quarter century ago, there were computer VARs and telecom consultants and they existed mainly on parallel tracks. Telecom convergence slowly began to change that situation. Launching in the 1980s, the Integrated Services Digital Network pointed the way toward a voice/data future. IP telephony, unified communications and multimedia networking have done more to get computer and voice people working together. The voice and data businesses have something else in common: margin pressure. Eroding hardware profits helped push VARs into the MSP space. Similarly, voice specialists are encountering shrinking margins in carriers’ voice/data services.

Justin Chugg, marketing manager at Telarus Inc., a telecom master agent based in Draper, Utah, suggested that pricing pressure is transforming telecom agents. Telarus works with 30 carrier service providers and 250 independent telecom sales agents across the country, according to the company. “One major trend is the price compression, which has lead to a new type of agent,” Chugg noted. “The price crunchers are beginning to disappear and are being replaced by more technically advanced agents.”

Those agents, he noted, now find it necessary to move upstream to products with better margins. They tend to sell more colocation and hosted solutions, for example.

Here They Come

Essentially, telecom agents have begun adding managed services to their offerings. Master agents and MSPs are helping them along.

Telarus’ product matrix includes colo, managed firewall services, and hosted Microsoft Exchange. Bandwave Systems, a bandwidth services VAR, offers a cloud-based backup and data recovery solution to its telecom agents. And recently, Outreach Technology began offering managed services from CharTec to its telecom agents.

A recent CompTIA/Channel Partners study indicates that alliances among telecom agents and IT solutions providers are on the upswing. The study, released in April, shows that half of both telecom agents and solution providers maintain one to five active partnerships. CompTIA and Channel Partners surveyed 200 telecom agents and solution providers on their partnering activities.

Seventy-two percent of the telecom agents interviewed reported plans to increase business with existing partners over the next 12 months; 69 percent plan to sign additional partners. Among solution providers, 62 percent said they will increase business with their current agent partners, with more than a third aiming to add partners.

And so the MSP ecosystem continues to expand -- master MSPs may well discover a growing source of business in telecom agents.

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