PC resellers are now gaining experience selling real computert everyone using it? telephony integration (CTI) systems with some pleasant surprises.
CTI is the seamless linking of PCs and telephones. It helps small companies compete on equal terms with larger rivals through improving customer service, reducing costs and providing better management information.
So why isn't everyone using CTI?
Two factors have held back the widespread adoption of CTI in the UK. First, the lack of affordable, ready to plug-in-and-run products.
Second, the lack of a channel that is capable of selling and implementing a complete CTI system.
CTI products are not being driven by the traditional suppliers of office phone systems (PBXs). They are reluctant to enhance their products to provide open CTI interfaces because they fear loss of control and erosion of margins as the black art of telecoms is made more accessible. In addition, what's the point of developing a product for which they have no channel to market?
The majority of PBX telecoms resellers do not have sufficient PC and networking skills to provide reliable CTI systems.
Traditional PBX suppliers have realised that CTI is 80 per cent computer, 20 per cent telephony and that PBX products do not fit the computer reseller channel. Therefore, it has been left to new entrants, with a mixture of telecoms and PC design resources - and no historic channel baggage - to create a CTI PBX product that is suitable for the PC channel. Enter the PC-based PBX.
The first such products are the Nexus Call Server from Nexus Telecom and the Mediapath from Mitel. The term PC-based PBX, while useful in communicating the general principle, does not convey an accurate picture.
Don't get the idea that these are Mickey Mouse solutions in desktop PCs - the term communications server is more appropriate.
So what attracts a Var to CTI, and what is needed to successfully sell it? First, CTI products command 30 per cent reseller margins on sales of between #4,000 and #25,000 for a 40 extension system. Add in the service elements like integrating a customer database with caller ID for automatic record look-up and the PC and network enhancements - CTI is often the catalyst to move to 95 and to upgrade the IT infrastructure - and it is not unusual for a PC-based PBX solution to open the door to a #50,000+ sale.
So what do Vars need to invest to get into CTI? Do not be lulled into thinking you won't see competition for the PBX part of the sale from traditional PBX resellers that are able to provide good, non-CTI solutions. A PC reseller has to be able to meet a telecoms Var head-on and then win the deal with the CTI, which the majority of telecoms Vars are not able to offer.
The message that comes through is that PC Vars are best placed for providing CTI systems. CTI products and suppliers tailored to support PC Vars are now in place and margins are strong.
Research firm Datamonitor predicts that by 2002 small to medium enterprises in the UK will have purchased 700,000 CTI seats - if you want a share of this, now is the time to start investing.
John Burton is managing director of Oxford-based Nexus Telecom.
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