John MacDonald, now president of enterprise solutions for MTS Allstream, recalls walking into a customer’s office (when he worked for another company, of course) and telling him, “My objective is to exceed your expectations.”

The customer’s reply? “You could exceed them by meeting them.”

MacDonald was speaking as part of a panel on the enterprise market at the Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto last week, where reps of telcos servicing business agreed on at least one thing: The enterprise market is undergoing massive change, and their product and service offerings are going to have to change with it.

Some of that change has been the regulatory environment, some it the technological environment, MacDonald said, but more significantly, it’s been a change in the demands a globally competitive environment puts on the enterprise itself – pressure to reduce costs and improve the customer experience. That in turn demands that service providers come up with different approaches.

“(It) forces the service providers to move just from the hewers of wood and carriers of water up the food chain in terms of managed services, in terms of professional services, in terms of security, so they can actually take a customer’s application and make it sing over a high-performance network,” MacDonald said.

Joe Natale, president of business solutions for Telus, called the enterprise space “the most fiercely competitive” in the telecom sector. “The customer is very demanding,” he said, and they’ve forced providers to “really up our game.”

“It’s very difficult for us to rely on our historical contribution of infrastructure being what we do for enterprise customers,” Natale said. Customers are demanding more innovation, better applications and ideas to help them serve their customers better. “That’s changed the very nature of what our role is,” he said.

Bell Canada’s enterprise president, Stephane Boisvert, said that legacy infrastructure has to be viewed as a starting point. “Just having the platform in place is for us a way to add building blocks, to add on new applications,” Boisvert said. “Then we get into what I call an application- aware environment, where you have a voice-over-IP environment, an MPLS environment, and what you can build on to optimize your relationship with your customer.”

Whether it’s wireless or wireline technology is irrelevant. It’s the solution that matters, said Tony Ciceretto, vice-president of corporate markets for Rogers Communications Inc. In the past, Rogers’ wireless salespeople pitched customers wireless solutions, and wireline salespeople pitched wired solutions. Rogers has now combined the sales forces as the line between wireless and wireline blurs.

“(Enterprises) want us to understand their business,” he said, so Rogers is focusing on verticals in which they know they can add value.

Another major change has been where the demand for innovation has been coming from.

“When I started in the industry 30 years ago, most of the advanced technology started up in the enterprise space,” MacDonald said. “It was the large business customers who basically deployed all the latest generation technology. It gradually would trickle down to the midsized market, the small business market and ultimately to the consumer.”

Now, it’s just as often the consumer driving the technology, so it’s not about telling businesses to switch to IP phones so they can save money on MACs. “The value propositions have to be a lot different,” MacDonald said. “You have to be talking about an improved customer experience, and quite frankly, companies are not going to be able to attract and retain the best and the brightest unless they have a new set of tools within their enterprise.”

Natale said innovation is coming from all directions today. “It was more typically linear in the past, with enterprise customers driving down to midmarket and to small business customers,” he said. “But what’s happening in the middle market is they’re saying, ‘I want what some of the large companies have. So, you, Mr. Telco, you find a way that you can actually make money bringing that to me in a much more simplistic and scalable fashion.’”

Smaller companies are a great opportunity – “if you’re not an incumbent, the great opportunity,” said MacDonald – but it’s not an easy market to serve. The two major issues are developing channels to reach SMBs effectively and efficiently, and coming up with an offering that’s repeatable with obvious value.

“You can disappoint that market easily,” MacDonald said.

“(It’s) probably the most frustrated market,” Natale said. They’re dying for a simple approach that takes the hassle away from them.”

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