JR Cook, SVP Partner Sales, West Region at Intelisys sits with Vonage’s Aqeel Shahid, VP National Strategic Partners, to discuss how Vonage supports Partners by providing unique UCaaS, CCaaS, and other solutions.
JR Cook: Welcome to our partner community. We appreciate you joining us on another episode of Go Remote. Very honored today to have a special guest with us from one of our favorite suppliers, Vonage. We got Aqeel Shahid joining us. He’s the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships with Vonage, 20 plus years in the industry and 13 years with Vonage. Aqeel, thanks for joining us today. We really appreciate it.
Aqeel Shahid: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
JR Cook: It’s an honor to be here. Listen, I wanted to start with some questions. I mean, it’s on everyone’s mind. Want to start with, one, we are in unprecedented times. We’d all agree with that. What is Vonage doing for its partners and customers in terms of their customer needs and how have these needs changed with everything going on?
Aqeel Shahid: Great question. Obviously tons going on in the world at this time. I mean, I say at Vonage we are the world’s most flexible communications platform. Because of that flexibility, we were able to quickly pivot and create and offer solutions for our customers that were very timely for the situation we’re in and allow them to transition to the remote work environment.
We’ve developed a lot of free applications and free solutions for businesses to transition effectively, especially those in the front line, during this pandemic, such as healthcare, education, non-profit industries. As the business world continues to open slowly, it’s important that we focus on how remote solutions can empower companies to not only open safely, but also do it without compromising productivity. That’s kind of what we’re seeing.
Again, when you look at the partner community right now–and I’m sure you’re seeing this–but there’s a ton of demand right now on working from anywhere, having a virtual environment, being able to be connected to not only employees but also their customers, and make sure that they’re able to provide a solution that allows them to continue to operate as usual, without–again, like I said–compromising any of the reliability and the flexibility that they had when they were working in the offices.
JR Cook: I appreciate that. I appreciate you’re focusing on verticals, because it is different based upon what vertical that customer falls at, as far as the messaging. Our audience are partners that have built successful businesses over the years, but this is a new environment. What changes should partners adopt in terms of uncovering and addressing customers’ needs when it comes to UCaaS and CCaaS where you guys play?
Aqeel Shahid: A great question. I mean, when we look at this remote workforce environment, I mean, as you know, we have been evangelizing this remote work environment for some time. Some companies were quick to adopt, others that we’re slowly getting there. And obviously with this current environment, I think everything has gotten super accelerated. They had to get there. Overnight they had to shift to a complete work-from-home environment.
I kind of see what we’re going through right now–and I’m sure the partners are seeing this–as three different challenges that customers are having to deal with. One is obviously your office environment, taking workers that were normally working in the office and now moving them remotely. Having them work from home, providing them the tools, the resources, and the capabilities to accomplish their tasks at home.
Second big thing we saw was in the Contact Center space. A lot of agents that are now having to normally–from service support, sales organizations–now work remotely as well. So making sure that you’re empowering them, providing them the tools to be able to accomplish those tasks.
The last thing that we’re seeing a lot of demand around is critical services. Critical services–meaning healthcare; we talked about education, we talked about non-profit organizations that have had to now completely change the way in how they’re doing business and how they’re servicing their customer.
Because of those elements, really, I think what it’s come down to is when partners or when providers like us sit down with the underlying customers and speak with them about their overall strategy. I think now it is far more beyond just the immediate solution from a UC or context or perspective. It’s really bringing all those different elements that they’re normally having to interact with at the office, at home. Being able to provide those capabilities, but also doing it securely. Being able to provide it in a single pane of glass, so it’s easy for them to consume, so it’s not too cumbersome, so they’re not having to go through five different panes of glass.
I think that’s the element, that’s the level of discussion that it needs to happen, that I see happen more now than ever before, to really kind of understand that overall trajectory that the organization’s on.
Then business continuity has become a big portion. As businesses come back to work, I’m sure that’s what one of the things that companies are going to look at is make sure that they have a business continuity plan in place so that they’re prepared in the event a situation like this ever happens again in the future.
JR Cook: That’s one of the areas that Vonage is really unique is the fact that you guys have your own UCaaS and CCaaS platform. Because like you said, if you think about it–businesses overnight became CCaaS customers, because employees just literally overnight became Agents, because they’re now working from home. Can you provide a few specific examples, maybe some use cases to illustrate how Vonage is quickly and powerfully enabled remote teams over the past few months?
Aqeel Shahid: Absolutely. To kind of build upon what you mentioned earlier, Jeremy, Vonage is one of the only players in the space that actually owns the entire stack. Our own Unified Communication stack, our own Contact Center stack, and our own API stack. The power of having that is that it allows us to really innovate quickly and react to the market needs fast.
Some recent situations where customers had to quickly enable their workforce, by leveraging these stacks, we were able to really provide them a very unique solution. For example, there’s a company called Maven, which is a large digital clinic for women. We were able to empower that organization to really allow for women to go and schedule their appointments with their practitioners and their medical providers virtually. They could schedule it in the app itself exactly when they wanted to sit down and see a practitioner. They could see the practitioner now leveraging our video APIs, where they’re able to now virtually connect with the doctor and the patient through a secure connection, secure video connection, so it’s not going out over the public internet. It’s not going out in an unencrypted fashion. It’s 100% encrypted.
They were able to reduce the time that it would normally take for a patient to kind of call and get an appointment scheduled and also allow for that patient to sit securely at their home and be able to communicate with the provider. That’s one example.
Then this other organization like this company called You First that we basically helped, but what we helped with them was kind of leveraging our API technology, where they could hold their place in queue. Think of it as if you’re going into a grocery store or if you wanted to go purchase a product. Rather than standing in lines and having to essentially hang out with everyone else, you actually now can virtually hold your place in queue. The system would actually send you a text message letting you know, “Hey, you’re coming up so you better start heading to the grocery store, start heading to the bank or start heading to whatever area you’re basically holding in queue.” It allows you to socially distance. You get there and you’re able to consume the services that way.
Then the last but not least is a company called Trevor Project, which is, it’s a suicide prevention and crisis prevention organization focused more on the LGBTQ community. We were able to kind of take their entire organization from a contact center services and make it virtual because they were, obviously, they saw a huge spike in the number of calls that they were receiving, especially during the COVID situation. We were able to not only give them the volume capability and the capacity to take those additional calls, but also take their entire agent community and move it at home so they could basically now take the calls virtually and do it all in a secure fashion so they’re not having to give up any of that security aspect. That’s some examples of what we were able to do quickly.
JR Cook: Aqeel, you mentioned the word security quite a few times in that last comment. With so many working remotely now, security absolutely is a concern. What should a business be looking for to ensure secure collaboration?
Aqeel Shahid: Great question. Like I said, security obviously is critical right now. It always has been important. I feel now it’s even more important than it’s ever been because we have folks working from home. You don’t have the same level of security aspects that you normally would in an office. You don’t know if the WiFi connections are secure or what’s happening.
We take security very, very seriously to the point to where all our voice transmission is all encrypted, so all the traffic is 100% encrypted.
Also, leveraging our video APIs and API technology allow for organizations really embedding those elements within their application. They can now embed video or voice or SMS or whatever aspect within their applications to ensure that information is, one, encrypted. And second, that unauthorized users are not entering into a meeting, for example, or bombing a meeting that they shouldn’t be in.
It really allows us to make sure that we can keep security in place for folks that are collaborating, trying to communicate with one another, and be able to leverage the technologies that we’re providing them.
JR Cook: All the partners are asking themselves, and we know this is just kind of your opinion, but what do you think the future of work looks like?
Aqeel Shahid: That’s a great question. I feel like where the future is going is a lot of folks are now had a taste of working remotely. I feel like you’ll see a big chunk of folks that are likely going to continue working remotely.
I read an article where they said about 25% to 30% of the workforce will just continue to work from home. They’re never going to really come back. Actually there was always a debate around remote workforce. Does it allow for employees to be productive? Is it feasible? Does it actually work? I feel like this entire COVID situation has been more of an experiment around that aspect, where it has proven that, yes, that employees can be productive. Employees actually in fact, are working harder when they’re working remote. It’s definitely proven that aspect.
Then the technologies are now in place. I feel like through this entire last four months of this COVID situation, everything got extremely turbocharged. What normally for a business that would be from a technology perspective, four or five years from now, is now available today and is being used today. That has really enabled organizations to allow for this remote workforce.
I feel like in the future, where things are going to go is, you’re going to have that remote workforce and remote working environments continue. And organizations need to have the ability to have tools and infrastructure in place to allow for that teaming. Allow for that interaction to continue to take place between employees, so employees don’t feel like they’re isolated on an island. That allows for them to really collaborate and communicate and interact with one another and continue to build that relationship and continue to build that overall culture.
But you will start seeing a ton of that happening. Obviously, and because of that, because a lot of companies having exposure to that, I think the top talent is going to expect that. By having the technologies in place and having the right infrastructure in place, you can attract that talent–to be able to now get talent from anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world–and not have to be limited to just your geographical area.
I feel like that’s kind of where the trends are going to continue. And then all of these, the API element examples I gave earlier, are really going to help augment that overall experience and really make it seamless and make it simple and easy for the end users, as well as the customers.
JR Cook: It’s funny, every time you answer a question, you make me think of another question. This is where, in one of our team member’s calls, where we asked suppliers, what’s your super power. You mentioned globally, so we know we certainly have your guys’ US presence, but how is Vonage uniquely positioned to empower partners and customers alike in the US and globally?
Aqeel Shahid: I mean, the good part about where we are positioned in the space is by having this entire portfolio–Unified Communications, Contact Center, and APIs. We’re really able to provide unique solutions for our customers. Again, security, we talked about that; having resiliency, having the flexibility, have scalability. All of these are critical aspects that are going to be needed in order to be able to provide that environment for organizations to grow. And Vonage brings all of those to the table.
Like I mentioned earlier, we own the entire Unified Communication stack. We built it from the ground up. It is a global platform that people, that organizations and customers can use in the enterprise space to really provide a unique solution. But then, not only having Unified Communications is important, but having a seamless experience for the end user. We’re able to provide our users with, it’s just a single interface for them to interact with their customers from a Contact Center perspective. To be able to take advantage of the Unified Communications stack and to take advantage of AI as well, which is now obviously becoming more and more predominant.
So, a lot of the tasks that normally you would have a person do, can now be taken care of by a bot. Where you could have self-service IVR options that are basically allowing people to interact with, having a conversation with the system where it’s providing you simple things like, “Hey, what’s the status of my order? I need to change my password. I basically have a quick question I need an answer to.” Those things that would normally take up a user’s time can now all be done leveraging these technologies.
I feel like because we own that entire stack, we can continue to innovate, we can continue to provide a very unique solution for our customers that no other provider can. Again, you can take stuff off the shelf that’s already prepackaged, or you can go build your own. That’s a unique value proposition that Vonage has to offer.
JR Cook: It’s interesting how you turned a negative into a positive. We used to be limited on the talent pool based upon where you were located. Now with remote workforce and the technology that you guys provide, you can go after the best talent and provide them CX, the best experience for their customers, which are their employees, and then ultimately their end users. Love it.
How is the usage of the Vonage platform overall and Vonage video and collaboration changed over the past few months? What’s new and exciting?
Aqeel Shahid: Again, because everyone having to now, unfortunately, go work from home and having to now use technology to interact, we’ve seen a 2000% increase in our video and collaboration. Which is a huge increase. A ton of companies are now leveraging the video solution, video APIs, obviously to stay in touch with friends, family members, employees, customers, and doing it all as securely in an embedded fashion so they are able to take that technology and use it.
We’re seeing a ton of big demand around our API solutions as well. Where now people are embedding that in different technologies like SMS, to factor authentication, voice embedded applications.
Then if you look at where we are today, with services that we consume, like, “Hey, I want to go pick up my groceries,” or, “I want to basically do a curbside pick up.” All those are examples of technologies that Vonage provides. Where now we’re able to enable those users to do things differently from a digital transformation perspective that wasn’t possible. We’re seeing a huge, huge influx happening from that perspective. Where you can communicate with your teller through a video. You can now order services. You can use geofencing technology to identify exactly when and where you are and when food should be ready for you to go pick up.
Those are the kinds of things we’re seeing. And again, that’s where we’re seeing a huge increase in the video and collaboration; just like in the Vonage meetings application that we’re using right now for this video. You can see how it really allows for people to interact with one another and have that facial expression and be able to see each other as opposed to emailing and chatting and stuff like that.
JR Cook: The problem, Aqeel, is you have no passion about technology. That’s the issue.
Aqeel Shahid: Not at all. I got to work on it. That’s definitely some area of improvement.
JR Cook: And last, why is the provider partner relationship more important, more impactful, and as we hopefully are coming out of this global crisis, how can we work together to meet our customers’ needs?
Aqeel Shahid: Great question. I feel like the relationship between Intelisys and Vonage has always been strong and I feel like it’s extremely important. We kind of are in this, I almost feel like a symbiotic relationship that’s dependent upon the downstream customer. If our customer success is successful, obviously Intelisys is successful, and so are we. I feel like now in this environment that we’re in, having a trusted partner, a trusted advisor– like what Intelisys is for partners and downstream customers–is extremely important. Because customers are looking now to these trusted advisors to really help them, guide them through the process; help them not only deal with the situation they’re currently in, but also set them up for future success. So when they grow and expand, or when they come back to work, having the disaster recovery aspects in place, having the right infrastructure in place, having the right technologies in place that they can scale with is extremely important.
Again, no one likes to be sold to. They like somebody to help them provide a solution for their organizations. I think that’s really where the partner relationship is so critical because again, as partners, the Intelisys team can go in there and is really going to help. And again, we want to enable our partners with providing them all the appropriate tools and all the appropriate resources so that they can go be that trusted advisor for their downstream customers. And be able to provide the solutions that will not only help them today, but set them up for the future as well.
JR Cook: Wow. Hey, I can keep asking you questions, but then again, I want to leave something for the partners to have to reach out to you and ask you some more questions. First of all, thank you to Vonage. You guys have been amazing Supplier Partners of Intelisys for years, part of the Cloud Services University. We look forward to hopefully soon being able to do some events with you out in the regions, out with our partners. Thank you, Aqeel, for taking the time with meeting us, and we certainly appreciate you sharing your insight in these very unique and critical times.
For our partner community, please don’t hesitate to reach out to anyone on the Vonage team; reach out to your Intelisys team. We can make sure we get you guys connected. Or of course, go to our Go Remote hub on intelisys.com. Thanks, everyone.
Aqeel Shahid: Thank you.