Unify's CEO: A 'Channel Advocate' in the Boss' Chair

Jon Pritchard previously was Unify’s executive vice president of channels, responsible for all indirect channel activities.

Edward Gately, Senior News Editor

June 24, 2016

10 Min Read
Unify's CEO: A 'Channel Advocate' in the Boss' Chair

Edward GatelyWith Atos, Unify – the former Siemens Enterprise Communications – has found a home that’s financially stable, aggressive in terms of growth, and a good fit for its partners’ and customers’ strategies.

That’s according to Jon Pritchard, who was appointed Unify’s CEO in February. Atos, an international provider of digital services, completed its purchase of Unify from Gores Group and Siemens in January. Unify will operate as a separate division of Atos.

Pritchard previously was Unify’s executive vice president of channels, responsible for all indirect-channel activities. In the past year, the company’s partner base has more than doubled to more than 2,000 partners in more than 50 countries, along with 13 new distributors.

Prior to joining Unify, Pritchard was president of Comstor Worldwide, a $2.5 billion channel IT business operating across 40 countries.

Unify's Jon PritchardIn a Q&A with Channel Partners, Pritchard talks about challenges facing the enterprise voice market, new channel opportunities created by the Atos acquisition and how he’s relieved that Unify’s “For Sale” sign finally has come down.

Channel Partners: What’s the latest on Atos’ acquisition of Unify?

Jon Pritchard: The acquisition actually happened really quickly, so we did it all to time and to schedule, and we are pretty much through the end of the transition that we will make in terms of how we align our two organizations. It’s been interesting because, obviously, Atos is maybe not sort of the typical home where you would look for a company such as ours, but what we found is that they’re very pragmatic. Actually we fit into their portfolio very well. They obviously have the bullion (servers) business and Bull products, and while people see them as a systems integrator, that’s not all that they do, and they see some real synergies in our offerings to them, both to their customers and their service offering back to our customers. So there [are] a lot of positive things from both sides.{ad}

It’s good that we found a home and it gives us a place in an organization that’s obviously financially very stable, and also a company [that] is very aggressive in terms of [its] growth track. They’re listed in the French stock exchange, so they’re obviously driven by growth. They’re very pragmatic and it’s a very different culture than what we’ve seen before. That’s great for our go-to-market, both in terms of our partners and our direct customers.

CP: Can you talk about your vision for Unify and your commitment to being a channel-first organization?

JP: One of the really interesting things that Atos as a company didn’t have in their existing business was a channel business, even though they have a very large group Bull and bullion business, and a security business with video and software, and things like that. So they see that as a real asset in the acquisition. What we’re seeing already is them …


… getting to understand how the channel can be leveraged, and how the channel can give them scale and reach, and get them into customers in places that they’re not today — at the same time recognizing that channel partners need to have differentiation. So a lot of the things that Atos brings to the table in terms of Canopy, which is their cloud offering, or whether it’s in terms of their security suite, there [are] a lot of offerings which you’ll see we take to market to the channel. And it won’t necessarily be our existing channels. Some of the products will, but there will be some other products whereby it will be very clear that we’ll need to work with Atos, and actually go and recruit a completely different set of channel partners.

In terms of our go-to-market, Atos completely affirms and commits to the strategy that we stated two years ago, which is to become more partner-centric.

CP: So through the acquisition, Atos will become a channel organization, creating new opportunities for existing and new partners?

JP: Absolutely. The great thing about Atos is, from a direct-sales competition point of view with our channel, Atos is nearly a 12 billion euro organization. Over 70 percent of their revenue comes from 200 customers, so they’re very, very focused on very large enterprise customers. So as we come down the pyramid of end-customer size, our partners should not feel that they would be in competition with Atos (and) we have clear … rules of engagement about where we’ll play. We’ve actually teamed up with an integrator who day to day competes with Atos, and we’ve teamed up and partnered with them because we felt that they gave us the best opportunity to actually go and secure the end-user business. And the Atos leadership team that I obviously work with [is] fully committed to that. At the end of the day, they want the best outcome and what gives us as part of the Atos family the best chance of actually winning the customer opportunity. It’s worked very well and a lot of our partners we’ve had these engagements with, initially they were a bit skeptical about the competition, but now they actually see that it’s very open book – honest – and people understand where we are.{ad}

CP: What are the biggest issues facing Unify in 2016?

JP: The issues are the same issues that I think many of our peers in the enterprise voice market are seeing. It’s a market which is not growing hugely; there’s lots of competition out there so you really have to have a differentiated offering. So that’s really what we’re playing to with our partners and with our end customers. It’s about differentiation, but also driving them to value propositions as opposed to just point solutions. And we’re seeing that already. So if you look at our … growth in the number of lines on OpenScape Voice, which is our IP-based solution, we’ve seen 27 percent growth by lines just in this quarter alone. So we’re beginning to see some real traction in terms of that differentiation.

We’re seeing volumes in UC stabilizing; they were sort of slowing down a bit. We’re also seeing great growth in areas like contact center … and vertical market offerings are really what people are buying … all based on our core technology. And that’s one thing that we’re very committed to, is to …


… continue to invest and develop in our core platforms. So we’ve made a lot of noise over the past couple of years in the market about Circuit, and we’ve seen great traction with Circuit, but our business is not just about Circuit. Our business is very much about our core platforms because enabling Circuit to be integrated into those solutions is really key for us, not just as a standalone product. So we have to have a core platform and we have to have the traction with the end users and through the partners who actually go out and make those implementations for us.

CP: Are you going to be making changes in response to marketplace trends/changes?

JP: I don’t think we’re making changes on the back of that. We constantly look at what we do, especially in the channels. We started this journey to become more partner-centric just over two years ago. We’ve had really, really strong results, but we really had to sort of cut back to move forward. So we sort of really cleaned things up. We’ve got a great partner program; we’ve got a very good set of partners and we need more partners, but we need the right type of partners.{ad}

So we just have to keep listening to our customers, and keep reacting and changing. We’re very focused on becoming easier to deal with, more customer facing, and more – not simplified offerings in the solutions – but actually simplified product portfolios. We’ve traditionally had 90 different SKUs for a handset, and we’re just about to launch our new range of handsets which, at launch, is just three models. You get three models which should cover most of the range. We’ll have a bit of a carry into the old models for awhile, but that’s really the mode we’re going into. We should be simple for sells, simple to stock, simple to offer and quality products straight out of the box.

CP: What sort of feedback have you received since becoming CEO? Are you still in direct contact with partners?

JP: Obviously, the first thing that a lot of the partners say to me is … we have an advocate of channels who understands channels and who understands how to leverage channels running the business. I accept that and that’s great. I have to make sure that I do the right thing for the business, so my call out back to the partners is we’ll push stuff to you, but you’ll have to give back to us in the same way in terms of commitment.

In terms of what they’re saying to me about the Atos acquisition, they think it’s really very positive, they think it’s positive from a financial point of view, and they think it’s positive from an “it’s not disruptive (perspective).” If we had maybe been bought by a manufacturer, then in 12 months time, would we and our product portfolio still be around? Maybe not, because we’ve seen that happen with many acquisitions previously.

And they also see me as somebody who understands the challenges that the channel has, and sometimes we do things that make it difficult for …


… a partner, and also I’m available to them. My phone is always available to the partners, and I’ll happily speak to them and listen to them. And if they’re wrong, I’ll also tell them that they’re wrong. It’s a very open and honest dialogue, which I’ve always had with our partners. It hasn’t changed.              

CP: With you as CEO, what can we expect to see in three to five years regarding Unify’s overall market strategy and channel strategy?

JP: Our channel strategy is well defined. In terms of our product strategy, obviously Circuit is very important, but where we (can) make Circuit and OpenScape more engaged together, we think the two are better together. We’ve just done a tranche of major releases already this year and you can expect to see us continue to innovate in our products, and that’s very important to us.{ad}

Also, more importantly, it’s about continuing what we set out to do, which is consistent, because the one thing I understand from the partners is they make an investment in a manufacturer based on a mid- to long-term view, so they need it to be consistent, they need us to be true to our word.

CP: What do you most want partners and the channel to know about Unify going forward?

JP: I want them to understand that under the Atos acquisition, within a couple of months from now, our transformation will be over. We will have right-sized our business, we will absolutely be back at a rock steady-level position whereby they can understand stability is there, and we can commit and move forward.

But I want them to remember that this is a two-way street. The same way that we will give them the commitment, we need to have that commitment back. And we are doing significant volumes globally through the channel today; over 50 percent of our product revenue is done through the channel around the world, and that’s a huge chunk of opportunity that we want to continue to grow. And we need good partners to do that.

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About the Author(s)

Edward Gately

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

As news editor, Edward Gately covers cybersecurity, new channel programs and program changes, M&A and other IT channel trends. Prior to Informa, he spent 26 years as a newspaper journalist in Texas, Louisiana and Arizona.

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