Do you need a systems integrator or a services integrator… or both?

So you've moved to the cloud and didn't even notice – the question is, do you now need a communications systems integrator or a services integrator?

I recently wrote a blog asking if we were moving from MS1.0 to MS2.0, its premise being that in the role of today’s managed services provider, it’s a case of ‘all change and no change’.

In the ‘all change’ camp, technology that was once delivered in separate boxes of hardware and software, installed and integrated on-premise using physical connectors or APIs is now largely software-based and integrated by industry standard plug-and-play APIs. This means that the ‘virtual boxes of software’ that need to be integrated can be located anywhere in the world. It’s integration Jim, but not as we (used to) know it, to paraphrase a sadly departed Vulcan!

You see this shift illustrated particularly well at any showcase events when ICT and ICT technology-based services are demonstrated – and even without trying we demonstrate just how much those changes have taken root. Once upon a time, setting up a demo stand would have involved lugging that technology to the venue and effectively building, testing and commissioning it. Even recently, when those systems would be housed on semi-standard servers and hidden out of sight, they’d still be there under the stand.

But now? Well, for a demonstration of almost everything – from leading fixed and mobile UC platforms and omnichannel contact centre solutions through to sophisticated monitoring and performance management services, you won’t see a server in sight – not even to control the Wi-Fi. Instead there are just terminals, many of which will be ‘pads’ of one form or other with large screens to aid the demonstrations. Every product, every service and every bit of integration can be delivered from the cloud. Not one cloud of course – many in fact – but cloud nonetheless.

Ubiquitous connectivity, fixed, mobile or both, is what has enabled the cloud revolution – or rather the ability to site virtual servers in highly resilient and physically secure centres whilst making them (and the services they provide) appear as if on the desk or tablet in front of you. Moreover, this connectivity is relatively inexpensive, certainly in relation to the flexibility of working that it enables in terms of when, where and how.

Meanwhile the role of the communications systems integrator has morphed. The terminal device of old now takes the form of a laptop, tablet or smartphone. It delivers and displays in multiple modes and multiple forms everything we need in our always-connected business and consumer life. The services delivered to that device almost exclusively come from or at least via ‘the cloud’. Whether it’s from the fixed or mobile operators in terms of voice, video or SMS services or, using these same networks as bearers, the services become email, ERP portals, dashboards, CRM, Office 365 and so forth.

So where is the communications systems integrator? It’s doing the same – but differently!

In truth there is still significant traditional SI work, particularly around advanced contact centres. But today integration is not necessarily in one comms room-cum-data centre location – it’s typically dispersed with the components supplied and managed by Integrators like Maintel in data centres, and instead of the Integrator’s connector cables being measured in metres, they are measured in (hundreds of) miles.

And where is the customer? Hopefully enjoying the operational and financial freedom that the cloud provides, which relieves them of the day-to-day running and management of infrastructure with 24 /7 secure access to whatever services their business requires!

So do you need a systems integrator or a services integrator? The answer is yes, you still need both – the trick is to find an integrator that is both.