September 17, 2009

4 Min Read
Agents Plug Into UC Power PAK

By Khali Henderson

Four companies have come together to make selling and implementing unified communications easier for agents and dealers. Gearmaker Cisco Systems Inc., global service provider MASERGY Communications Inc., Cisco VAR Global Technology Resources Inc. (GTRI) and master agency X4 Communications Inc., have joined forces to create the UC Power PAK, a bundled solution including gear, connectivity, installation, maintenance and managed services for one monthly recurring charge, and coordinated through one channel program.

The idea originated with Rob Shelby, director — global partner program for MASERGY, and his Cisco service provider channel manager Barry Adams, who were discussing gaps in the market for unified communications — namely in the 100 to 500 seat market. Shelby explained that the larger VARs don’t have the feet on the street to call on those companies and the small partners often don’t have the certifications to sell Cisco Unified Communications Manager, the nationwide field force for implementation, or access to a national service provider for a hosted product serving that target.

Together, the foursome conceived of a way to enable smaller dealers to sell Cisco’s UC solution into this market without requiring the upfront investments in training, certification and field force. To realize this goal, they recruited GTRI, a Cisco Gold Partner, a Cisco Managed Services Partner and a Cisco UC Master Partner, to handle the installation, maintenance and managed services component. GTRI also takes care of the billing for the bundle on behalf of all the partners.

Lu Unger, director of managed services for GTRI, said her company is accustomed to assembling a best-of-breed solution for customers, but this is the first time it’s delivering a bundled offer, and the first time its leveraging its expertise through an indirect sales channel that will complement its direct sales team of more than 50.

While GTRI will manage the customer relationships; X4 was brought in to manage the channel partner relationships, including onboarding agents, sales training and commission payments.

MASERGY provides the MPLS backbone complete with SLAs and works with Smoothstone IP Communications to deliver SIP trunking and local phone numbers.

Cisco is supplying the gear, and its service provider channel organization is supporting the program with market development funding, which will be used to recruit partners and generate leads.

The parties have been working on the UC Power PAK plan since February and rolled it out in Denver to a small group of X4’s existing partners in mid-August. The national launch will take place at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo, Sept. 23-25.

“To my knowledge this is the first time a manufacturer, a service provider, a VAR and a master agent have collaborated to build a product,” said Shelby, noting that this type of bundling is quite common in other tech sectors and might be a downfall in communications. “We rely on partners to sell network, but not solutions.”

X4 President Curt Allen said he expects the offer to appeal to many subagents. “We certainly expect the offering to draw new IP-centric subs to the overall X4 program, but also see this as a great consolidated offer for our consultant base and as a secondary or alternative offer for many of our equipment vendor/interconnect agents,” he said.

Shelby explained that some interconnects might find this solution attractive as a way to add Cisco to their portfolio without having to invest and ramp up to sell and support another vendor. Telephony agents, he said, also don’t have to acquire the skill sets to sell and support Cisco UC Manager. In all cases, coordinating the components is handled automatically for the partner by the UC Power PAK team.

GTRI’s field force of about 50 strong is charged with the installation. Unger said GTRI techs are dispatched to the customer locations as needed and subcontractors are not used. GTRI can host the gear in its data center or place it on the customer’s premises, she added, noting either way, the service is managed 24/7, including remote monitoring, unlimited tech support, MACDs and fault remediation.

Unger said every effort has been made to make the offer “comprehensive but easy” for the end user and sales partners.

UC Power PAK is sold in basic and premium packages — the latter including more calling features and a higher monthly per-seat price. For example, the basic package is $50 per seat for 100 seats, $44 for 500. The premium package is $10 more per seat per month. Customers also have the option to pay for the hardware upfront or on a leasing plan through GTRI’s leasing program, Unger said.

Partners will earn commissions on the bundle ranging from 15 to 20 percent on standard deals. “In ICB situations, commissions will be negotiated,” Allen said.

Unger said as of early September proposals were out to prospects for the first UC Power PAK implementations.

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