Convergence: a cultural reality for the sector

The impending arrival of convergence has been a central theme that has dominated the industry for some time, the Holy Grail of the market and synonymous with progression. Tanny Price thinks its time has now come …

Many use ‘convergence’ as a buzzword, an essential part of everyday conversation that must be used if you want to be perceived as having your finger on the pulse of what is happening in the industry. But it is not a new concept; the technologies are already in existence. The key to its success is education, co-operation, and most important making it relevant for business.

All the ingredients for successful convergence have been available for the last five years. But at last they are now being brought together in the form of devices that are robust, feature rich, networked, have the ability to carry high-speed data, and can link to IT software platforms and network systems.

Rather than wiping each other out, as initially predicted, each technology is acting as a complementary link in the chain of convergence. At last, voice, mobile and data are providing businesses with the ability and the choice to communicate and access information anywhere and at any time. The infrastructure is even in place; WiFi costs are coming down; there are now 25,000 – 30,000 available ‘hotspots’ making mobile access and online connectivity a reality, and it’s growing at more than 100% every quarter.

According to Gartner Group, the UK data market is estimated to be worth £1 billion by 2009; over 15 million consumers a month are accessing data services via mobile phones; the Office of National Statistics revealed that 80% of internet connections in the UK are accessed via broadband.

So if this is the case, why do we still talk about convergence as the future, rather than the present? Why do we think that businesses are not seizing the potential?

The answer is based on a lack of knowledge and understanding in the wider business world of what is possible and achievable. An O2 survey stated that 54% of SMEs in Ireland are unaware of 3G data cards; 10% of those surveyed were company directors. It is a stark statistic.

Adoption is obviously happening; the BlackBerry for example is now viewed as a standard business tool. But companies are not aware of how to integrate convergence. They do not fully understand how to place it at the heart of their organisations and make it central to the way that they actually conduct business.

“It is ironic that communication is the one thing that is potentially limiting the progression and mass uptake of convergence …”

Businesses understand the general theme of convergence, but they are not being educated on the value and return on investment that can be generated, the competitive advantage, the efficiencies and the cost savings. They have concerns over the security implications of convergence technologies but they are unaware of encryption and other security-based software that are available. This is because not enough of the conversations on convergence are happening in the boardroom; with MDs where it is relevant to their strategy for conducting business, or with procurement directors where it is relevant to their cost reduction programme.

Dealers are key to changing this position and encouraging their clients to start thinking differently to drive the development and uptake of convergence forward. They must be confident in selling mobile data solutions that clearly demonstrate a return on investment, and tangible benefits to business. It is about understanding the customer’s business first and then recommending the most appropriate end-to-end business solution; in essence it is a consultative-based relationship, and a shift that moves from selling volume, to selling value.

Distributors are central to providing this knowledge. They must take it upon themselves to work with dealers in providing this level of information; the lynchpin to unlocking growth opportunities within converged services.
 
Distributors are well positioned to be the conduit between the networks, resellers, manufacturers and technology providers within the mobile, and for some distributors like Avenir, the IT market as well. Distributors must show and share the knowledge and insight that they have on the market, demonstrating where additional revenue streams can be generated through converged solutions, and utilising multi-network relationships to provide dealers with a solid foundation to work from and a good choice of options.

It is ironic that in an industry that is responsible for changing the way that we communicate, communication is the one thing that is potentially limiting the progression and mass uptake of convergence. Co-operation, co-ordination and cross-industry collaboration are central to further development. Sharing knowledge and understanding, combined with the right consultative selling mentality that showcases the benefits, and makes technology relevant to business is where everyone concerned with the industry must focus. By doing this, convergence will move from being an industry buzz word and part of ‘future-gazing’ presentations, to a cultural reality that is simply used as part of the common vernacular.

Tanny Price is Managing Director, Avenir Telecom UK