On April 21, 2020, an exciting global partnership between NEC and Intermedia was announced, breaking the tedious cadence of bad, worse and even worse COVID-19 news we have been focusing on for months. The two partners have joint forces to launch a suite of NEC-branded cloud solutions based on Intermedia technologies, placing NEC in charge of the go-to-market strategy. Arriving just as the first fruits of the Avaya-RingCentral partnership came to market, the NEC-Intermedia partner agreement is yet another industry-defining event with the potential to reshape the UCaaS and CCaaS markets in the coming years.
Although it typically receives less attention compared to other leading UC vendors such as Avaya, Cisco and Microsoft, NEC stands tall with approximately 80 million installed business communications seats globally, leading share of line shipments in the SMB customer segment, an extensive dealer network and consistent innovation throughout the years. Unlike most premises-based solution vendors, NEC continued to report telephony systems sales growth until last year despite the industry’s steady move to the cloud. NEC is also at the forefront of innovation in various advanced technologies such as software-defined networking, IoT, and biometric authentication, where the vendor brings leading technology and experience to address a wide range of customer requirements and vertical solutions.
However, similar to other premises-based UC platform vendors, NEC struggled to develop a modern UCaaS solution that actually helped its customers and prospects migrate their communications and collaboration capabilities to the cloud. As businesses increasingly evaluate and adopt UCaaS, NEC needs a feature-rich, yet flexible and cost-effective service to offer its customers and dealers. A home-grown multi-instance solution proved ineffective in preventing customers from choosing competitor alternatives. To accelerate its time to market with a compelling UCaaS offering NEC evaluated several partnership options with regard to a number of criteria, including:
- completeness of portfolio
- reseller models (private-label vs simple resale vs agent model) and overall partnership flexibility
- financial viability
NEC chose Intermedia for its comprehensive UCaaS stack, including an integrated meeting solution; omnichannel CCaaS and excellent services quality and customer support. Intermedia also earned NEC’s trust with its solid financial performance; partner-centric go-to-market approach and robust partner programs and support systems.
Intermedia’s Value Proposition
Intermedia brings the much-needed piece of the puzzle to NEC and its reseller channel.
Over the years, Intermedia has assembled a rich portfolio of proprietary cloud services including an integrated UCaaS and CCaaS suite. Intermedia Unite™, the provider’s flagship cloud solution for SMBs, is a comprehensive UCaaS offering comprising: cloud PBX; audio, web and video conferencing; chat/instant messaging (IM) and presence; desktop and mobile soft clients; voicemail and voicemail transcription; online fax and traditional fax machine support; and file backup and share. While Unite’s communications and conferencing feature set is on par with most leading competitor UCaaS offerings, SecuriSync®, Intermedia’s cloud backup and file sharing service, differentiates the solution and enhances its value to SMBs looking for a one-stop-shop for both communications and content management services. SecuriSync enables secure file backup and restoration; file collaboration and co-editing; and administrative control—a combination of functionalities typically provided by two distinct sets of competitive solutions: traditional backup services and file-sharing services. Additionally, SecuriSync helps protect files and documents from advanced cyber threats, including ransomware, through features such as integration with Bitdefender anti-malware and the ability to restore previous versions of documents.
For customer convenience, Intermedia Unite service bundles also include local and long-distance calling (domestic, Canada and Puerto Rico). Each user can connect up to five endpoints (e.g., desktop phones, mobile devices, soft clients) to the service, which allows them to select the best device or interface based on their location (e.g., in the office or on-the-go), personal preferences or other factors. To provide customers with brand and model choices, Intermedia supports devices from key vendors such as Polycom and Yealink and NEC (available shortly after launch).
Intermedia provides services globally; however, its voice solutions are presently available in the US and Canada only. It supports the remote users of US-based clients in 90 countries, whereby Intermedia services are used for intra-company calling. The NEC partnership provides immediate access to more than 160 countries where NEC does business and sets the new NEC-branded offerings for immediate global expansion.
Through its recent acquisition of Canada-based Telax, Intermedia added an omnichannel CCaaS solution to its portfolio. Many businesses appreciate an integrated UCaaS+CCaaS suite as it enables a better agent experience and a smoother end-to-end customer journey.
Intermedia’s broader services portfolio also includes business email and productivity services (based on Microsoft Exchange or Office 365), email archiving, email security and encryption, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking, identity and access management, and standalone video conferencing and webinar services.
Strong Focus on the Customer Experience
Intermedia prides itself on its “worry-free experience” founded on five pillars—security, reliability, onboarding, support and regulatory compliance. Compelling SLAs and high actual service availability boost customer satisfaction and loyalty and enable Intermedia to maintain high growth rates. Intermedia also protects customer data in a highly secure cloud and undergoes an annual SOC 2 audit. The provider additionally helps ensure compliance with various industry regulatory requirements including those stipulated by FINRA, SEC, NASD, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley ACT and Sarbanes-Oxley.
Also important, Intermedia has been recognized by J.D. Power for its outstanding customer service and support 4 years in a row—the only cloud business solutions provider who can claim this (according to Intermedia). Intermedia leverages its Cloud Concierge™—a team of onboarding experts—to help ensure cloud migration is conducted expediently and in a non-disruptive manner. The Cloud Concierge team is available for ongoing customer support 24×7, and 365 days per year. For strategic customers, Intermedia’s Strategic Client Services Manager (SCSM) program offers even greater support. At the foundation of the SCSM program is Intermedia’s Center of Excellence, which focuses on leadership, best practices, support, voice of the customer, training and research.
Intermedia leverages a large reseller channel to extend its cloud solutions to businesses around the world. It reports having more than 6,600 channel partners, including VARs, MSPs, distributors and telco carriers. Reseller white-label and co-branding programs, as well as an advisor model, are available to provide the best fit for partners based on their skill sets and solutions portfolios. Intermedia offers a full library of branded and customizable marketing and sales materials. Intermedia University, extensive training, and tailored certifications ensure that partners are knowledgeable about Intermedia’s portfolio. An advanced partner portal and partner systems integration via ConnectWise provide partners with the support they need to effectively promote Unite and its benefits to customers. Intermedia removes the communications tax burden by handling all telephony taxes on behalf of partners. Reseller invoices include the cost of the UCaaS service, as well as the appropriate taxes for each user location. Via mandatory certification partners gain faster access to product experts within Intermedia for assistance with matters related to product, billing or customer concerns. Considerable discounts and MDF programs offered by Intermedia to partners ensure that partners generate robust margins and have an incentive to more eagerly promote Unite to businesses.
The New Partnership
The partnership will enable NEC to develop an NEC-branded offering leveraging Intermedia’s UCaaS, CCaaS, meetings and file sync, share and backup solutions. NEC will be offering this solution to all its SMB and enterprise customers globally with phased timelines.
NEC intends to create its own client and user experience, as well as leverage Intermedia’s flexible APIs to build new capabilities and enable hybrid deployments for existing NEC premises-based solution customers.
The following services will be available:
- UCaaS: NEC UNIVERGE BLUE CONNECT
- CCaaS: NEC UNIVERGE BLUE ENGAGE
- HD video conferencing and collaboration: NEC UNIVERGE BLUE MEET
- File sync, share and backup: NEC UNIVERGE BLUE SHARE
NEC will take charge of the following:
- Marketing, sales and go-to-market strategy
- Customer and partner training
- Channel management and development
- Channel programs and promotions
- L1 and L2 technical support
- Billing of partners and customers
In addition to providing the actual cloud services, Intermedia will be in charge of:
- Network and carrier relations
- Support for billing and taxation
- L3 support for NEC
In the US, NEC will offer the UCaaS and CCaaS solutions through its extensive channel. Internationally, NEC will become Intermedia’s primary reseller since Intermedia currently lacks international presence. In the US, as well as internationally, Intermedia integrates with multiple global Tier 1 carriers to deliver a full suite of services including local numbers, national numbers, toll-free phone numbers, number porting, emergency services, and so on. Thus, NEC will have a turnkey offer in all target geographies.
Over time, the hosted offerings will support various generations of NEC’s phones, but at launch, the choices will be more limited. A device-as-a-service (rental) option will also be available for NEC customers.
A major part of the NEC-Intermedia engagement is the ability to offer flexibility to channel partners. NEC-branded programs will include the following:
- UNIVERGE BLUE CUSTOMER OWNERSHIP
- UNIVERGE BLUE REVENUE SHARE
- UNIVERGE BLUE AGENCY
As the partner program names suggest, partners will be able to choose the degree of customer ownership and related selling, billing and support responsibilities. The CUSTOMER OWNERSHIP model will provide partners with the highest degree of flexibility and business value (e.g., revenue potential), but will also require a high degree of partner involvement. The agency model, on the other hand, is the typical commission-based model whereby NEC will support and bill the customer and handle all taxation issues. Intermedia’s robust partner tools and programs will enable NEC and Intermedia to effectively support partners as they launch and manage the new cloud services.
The Last Word
This partnership has tremendous upside potential for both NEC and Intermedia. NEC has the opportunity to accelerate the conversion of its vast and entrenched customer base to cloud services such as UCaaS, CCaaS, meetings, and file sync and share. The partnership will also greatly improve NEC’s and its dealers’ competitive positions as they will be able to capitalize on the ongoing customer migrations to cloud services. This will result in new revenue opportunities, more predictable revenue streams and stickier customer relationships for NEC and its channel partners. With NEC as a key partner, Intermedia is also likely to see accelerated growth as it will now have a better route to NEC’s customer base both domestically in the US and internationally, where it previously had little presence.