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Unified communications gives VARs 30% productivity boost

Unified communications lets value added reseller (VAR) decrease internal costs while passing on its advantages-through-collaboration to its customer base.

Value-added reseller Engage recently discovered a great way to sell its services: Lead by example.

Headquartered in Atlanta, Engage provides its 5.5 million customers -- mostly small and midsized businesses -- with a variety of services, including software development, application integration, managed services, business continuity/disaster recovery, business process consulting and hosted communication services.

Engage learned its expertise the hard way. The company wanted a way to complete projects in a timely fashion, even though its employees were scattered among dispersed locations.

"We started looking at VoIP to decrease our costs and increase our efficiencies to keep in touch," Engage director Todd Sharp said.

We have shaved 30% off of our development and deployment cycle. I can prove that in the labor log ... I can look at an engineer and tell on average he is completing his work in 30% less time.
Todd Sharp

Senior executives at Engage knew that the company had to differentiate its solutions from those of competitors in the marketplace and also had to leverage these solutions internally to drive innovation, decrease expense and expand its ability to serve its customer base.

Unified communications has helped the company to do just that. "We have shaved 30% off of our development and deployment cycle. I can prove that in the labor log," Sharp said. "Looking at the time we have available for discrete tasks, I can look at an engineer and tell on average he is completing his work in 30% less time."

Engage began evaluating products in the unified communications marketplace with a plan to use the communications capabilities internally, and later to offer them as a hosted service to customers.

Engage fell for Siemens' OpenScape presence-aware, real-time communications software suite when the product presented Engage with an immediate solution to the task at hand: find the right unified communications platform in the least amount of time. The Siemens sales pitch was delivered in real time, using OpenScape to track down the right people with the relevant information, no matter where in the world they were located. If one engineer with the right knowledge to answer a particular technical question wasn't available, an alternative, available engineer was quickly sourced.

Siemens witnessed first hand what it hoped to eventually achieve. All of the company's due diligence technical questions were answered in real time from a satellite office from which key Siemens engineers were easily tracked down; they were able to provide documentation in a few seconds.

"Seeing [unified communications] live really made all the difference in the world," Sharp said. "We flew to one vendor to see the lab and kicked the tires. It was a great experience, but it was very different when we were sitting out in the field and Siemens was using real-time communications to shorten the sales cycle. That spoke volumes."

Where some vendors were taking weeks and even months to give feedback to the eager Engage team, the entire Siemens sales cycle was completed in just over two weeks.

"If it [had] been a week later, we would have gone with somebody else," Sharp said. "We saw enough promise out of the box by watching Siemens use it themselves and reach the right people to shorten [our] sales cycle."

OpenScape provides a view of all users and their methods of contact (voice, instant messaging, email or video), so any user can know instantly the best way to reach a colleague in real time across any network.

OpenScape supports hosted IP communications and offers a Microsoft-compatible Live Communication Server (LCS) real-time collaboration solution. Engage is a Microsoft Certified Partner, and most of its customers use Microsoft Outlook and Exchange. Engage also purchased the OpenScape Web Services Tool Suite, a Software Development Kit with open APIs, enabling the integration of OpenScape functionality within Engage's line-of-business applications and offerings. With the development kit, Engage's software development team can integrate OpenScape presence and collaborative features into nearly any application or user interface.

OpenScape has allowed Engage to improve its own communications. Employees in different locations taking part in development meetings can now more easily and cost effectively share documents while collaborating on new product designs and other projects. It has dramatically cut down on the number of voicemails exchanged, Sharp said, and increased business velocity because users are aware of co-workers' availability.

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