Are Hosted PBX Services Really Ready for MSPs?

Are Hosted PBX Services Really Ready for MSPs?

An interesting debate has emerged at Cisco Partner Summit. On the one hand, some large managed services providers here are preparing to launch their own hosted PBX services. But on the other hand, some MSPs attending the summit say they haven't white labeled hosted PBX services yet because current services don't offer the right mix of features, price and performance. The debate emerges as companies like Intermedia and Parallels prepare to more aggressively promote hosted PBX services to MSPs and other channel partners.

During a Cisco Partner Summit panel discussion this morning, Mont Phelps, CEO of MWN Corp., said his company is developing its own hosted PBX service for mid-market customers. MWN is a fast-growing MSP and Cisco partner in Waltham, Mass. The PBX service will be built atop Cisco technology, Phelps added. Phelps also described how MWN is looking to partner with VCE -- the joint venture launched by VMware, Cisco and EMC -- on cloud and data center integration projects. (Side note: It sounds like VCE and Vblock are starting to catch on with MSPs.)

Meanwhile, some MSPs at Cisco Partner Summit openly question whether today's hosted PBX services -- particularly white label services -- are truly ready for MSPs to resell. The topic popped up during a panel discussion about Cisco's new on-premise unified communication systems for SMBs. Jason Waldrop, CEO of  Connected WorkPlace Solutions — a managed services provider in the Washington, D.C., area — said he hasn't seen a hosted PBX service that offers the right mix of performance, features and price for his customers. Waldrop remains open minded about the hosted PBX market, but he is focusing near-term efforts around on-premise unified communication systems and a range of managed services.

More Options Coming

Meanwhile, more hosted PBX solutions are starting to reach the market. At Cisco Partner Summit, Cisco quietly discussed some partnerships it's developing to promote more third-party Hosted PBX providers. I'm still gathering details.

Meanwhile, Intermedia this week officially launched a hosted PBX service that partners can white label and resell as their own. Intermedia describes the offering as a business-grade VoIP telephone service that can be linked to its hosted Exchange service. MSPs can provide Intermedia’s hosted PBX under their own brand as part of the company’s Private Label Partner Program. Intermedia said its PBX service is designed for small and mid-sized businesses.

Bob Leibholz, senior vice president of sales and business development at Intermedia, 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.

“Professional services are important to our partners, both for the revenues they generate and the close customer relationships they enable,” he said.

A number of providers offer hosted PBX with recent entrants including Parallels.  Leibholz cited Intermedia’s integration with Exchange and Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) as a point of differentiation. He said the PBX service expands into unified communications when customers add hosted OCS and the OCS Calling feature.

“UC features are particularly relevant to small businesses with more than one office or remote employees,” Leibholz said. “An example feature is ‘click to call’ from Outlook address books or the OCS instant messenger.”

Intermedia offers partners onboarding support to help their customers migrate to hosted PBX.

“If the customer is looking for new phone numbers, there is little migration involved,” Leibholz explained. “The partner sets up the service in our portal, configures  the phones – a billable professional service for the partner, by the way – and the client is ready to go. If they’re moving over current numbers, we assist with the porting and the process generally takes two weeks. While they’re waiting for their phone numbers to be ported, customers can continue to use their current phone system.”

New customers will need to establish new account settings such as greetings and auto attendant menu options. Partners can handle that task via Intermedia’s portal or customers can do the configuration on their own. Partners can reconfigure customers’ existing IP phones or set up new IP phones.

Leibholz also noted that Intermedia provides a suite of selling tools and training to support the PBX service launch. The idea: help partners sell hosted PBX effectively and “map out how to build high-margin service engagements around it,” he said.

Additional reporting by John Moore. Sign up for MSPmentor’s Weekly Enewsletter, Webcasts and Resource Center. Follow us via RSS, Facebook, Identi.ca and Twitter. Check out more MSP voices at www.MSPtweet.com. Read our editorial disclosure here.
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