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Emerging Services Spotlight
March/April 2001

 

Collaborative Business Tools: Building Value For Service Providers

BY CHRIS SERUGA


In this age of information overload, service providers' business customers increasingly require more flexibility in how their messages and critical documents are accessed. After all, a service provider's main business is to provide his or her customers with the essential solutions they need to communicate.

Collaborative computing and conferencing tools can provide these business customers with a competitive edge, allowing them, among many functions, to keep their employees in touch. That is why turning to collaborative computing solutions could prove to be a tremendous business advantage to service providers who offer it.

Industry pundits declare that collaborative computing is the single most important trend driving ASPs, business-to business exchanges, dot-coms, and e-businesses today. IDC estimates that ASP revenue derived from collaborative applications will swell from $160 million in 2000 to an estimated $2 billion in 2004. Undoubtedly, collaborative computing is the new force behind a fundamental change in computing and the way businesses interact externally and internally.

As most members of the workforce become increasingly untethered from their desks and need an easy way to share critical files and information at any time, from any place, or from any device, the need to have a collaborative computing communication solution in place becomes crucial. Once a service provider has decided to offer a collaborative computing solution to their business customers, choosing a solution and an ASP that meet their needs can be a challenge.

THE HOSTED ADVANTAGE
Choosing a leading supplier of collaborative software that provides businesses with the services and programs that will allow them to speed deployment and success for their hosted application efforts is key. For the service provider, the advantage of choosing an ASP hosted service to meet these needs is that it provides an immediate, easy to administer, low-cost, low-risk, alternative that serves their business customers' collaborative computing and conferencing needs. By partnering with a company on an outsourced basis, service providers minimize the financial, IT, and other resource commitments typically associated with a major new service offering.

One service model offers a hosted environment for its unified communications solution, whereby the company hosts and operates the service for its customers until certain subscriber and revenue milestones have been achieved. At that point, the service provider integrates a fully operational and profitable service, retaining control of its most valuable asset -- the customer. A hosted option not only enables service providers to rapidly deploy a value-added service to strengthen their competitive position, but it also represents an attractive business model with a strong value proposition. These hosted services are usually offered with a full suite of support services, including project implementation, hardware configuration and implementation, installation and maintenance services, custom development and training, and marketing and co-op advertising.

But not all ASPs are alike. Therefore, when choosing the right collaborative communications product and ASP hosted service, there are a number of things service providers should keep in mind. They must attempt to partner with suppliers who commit to delivering a full range of technologies and programs that are flexible enough to support the wide range of ASP business models. Among the issues to consider is whether or not the product is scalable. It's also important to have a solution in place that will meet the needs of an increasing customer base, among other factors.

COLLABORATIVE COMPUTING/UNIFIED COMMUNICATIONS
Looking at the features of the collaborative communications solution is key as well. Is the solution able to support additional communications needs like unified communications, for example? ASPs, their customers, and their delivery partners have an enormous opportunity to generate revenue by offering unified communications.

Service providers are looking to deploy value-added services such as unified communications as quickly as possible, but to do so, they must be convinced that the platform they choose is robust enough to handle huge growth. Unified communications can provide a competitive edge by increasing customer loyalty. Today's price-sensitive customers demand outstanding service packages, and unified communications services provide a compelling drive to reduce customer churn. The need to constantly develop new service offerings is also crucial. For this reason, turning to a unified communications solution that adds immediate value and distinction to an ASP service offering can be an important consideration.

Unified communications have much to offer ASPs, who can leverage this technology to provide enterprise-wide communication services with superior reliability, ease of system administration, and reduced overhead. Today's truly effective unified communications solutions integrate telephony-grade reliability with e-mail's feature-rich functionality and capabilities on a single centralized server. They enable the convergence of digital communications and information exchange and leverage each technology's strength to overcome the weakness of the other. This not only makes sense, it opens a world of possibilities limited only by the imagination.

A prime example is collaborative work environments where team-based projects typically incorporate a diversity of working styles and multi-function teams. With a centralized collaborative server that digitally stores all messages, one team member, for instance, can convert a voice message into an e-mail message and disseminate it to a community of users.

Service providers' business customers require not only the tools to simplify the management of information but also the collaborative functionality to enable their staffs to work together in an online environment toward shared goals. Those service providers who recognize and are prepared to offer broader solutions that will serve these customers' needs will be the ones who will succeed in today's competitive market conditions.

Chris Seruga is vice president, client services for Centrinity, Inc. Serving over six million users in more than 8,000 organizations in 55 countries, Centrinity is a high growth software company with technological leadership in the burgeoning global market for unified communications solutions and related network-based collaboration tools. Visit Centrinity's Web site, www.centrinity.com, for more information.

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