Archive for the 'Communication' Category

Business benefits of a laser-sharp focus

October 21, 2019

At some point, whether consciously or unconsciously, every business must decide on the range of products and/or services they will provide to their customers and what type(s) of customers they target.

If the accessible target market of a business is small, then the business will likely need to offer a wider range of products and/or services in order to generate sufficient revenue from its relatively small customer base. Conversely, if the target market is large, then the business can afford to specialize and focus it’s products and/or services to a narrower band. Thereby they remove a lot of complexity from their operations, while offering greater expert value to their target customers.

I have found this correlation between market size and business focus is especially valid in the software industry, while it also applies to many other business categories.

My company, Datagate Innovation started its life in New Zealand as a SaaS billing and reporting solution for businesses that sell usage-based services, such as telecommunications, electricity, water, Software as a Service etc. Given the relatively small size of the New Zealand market, our initial approach was to apply our sales and marketing efforts across all the various industries for which our software could be used. I call this having a “wide focus”, which seemed logical at the time, to win as many customers from our small New Zealand market population as we could. In hindsight, it was a great opportunity to test and evaluate the various different industry opportunities within a small and accessible population.

The downside to a wide focus is complexity, and complexity generally makes it harder to scale-up a business.

Datagate found that there was plenty of demand and opportunity for our product in each of the industries we engaged with, but we soon realized that each was pulling us in a slightly different direction. Each direction involved a different learning curve, more costs, different marketing, different pricing, different language and slightly different functionality and integrations in our product.

We wanted to scale-up our Datagate business as quickly as possible, but the complexity of supporting multiple customer categories made this difficult, with extra costs and less repeat-ability and re-use of existing resources, the wider we went.

The answer to our scaling-at-speed challenge, was to narrow our industry focus, while at the same time increasing our geographic focus. So to do that, we picked one target industry, while expanding our target market beyond New Zealand, to other larger economies such as North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. The industry we chose was telecommunications and more specifically, we focused in on the fast-growing segment of MSPs (Managed Service Providers or IT Services Companies) who are now selling telecom/voice solutions, due to the convergence of computers and phones.

The widening of Datagate’s geographic focus did introduce “some” extra complexity to the business, with the slightly different language, tax and compliance requirements of each country, but the complexity was far less than that of targeting different industries.

As our software product matures, we continue to add functionality that is more specific to telecom billing and integrations to other software products, such as ConnectWise, QuickBooks and Xero, that are commonly used by our MSP target market. This gives us a high level of efficiency, where everything we do in product development and marketing is mostly relevant to our whole target audience. This would not be the case if we had a wider focus and were targeting multiple industries.

We have found that customers (and investors) in the larger economies, such as North America, generally expect software solution companies like Datagate to be very specialized in what we do.

There is less need to go wider in a larger economy, especially when it can be more efficient, lucrative and easier to go deeper instead.

Strategic partnerships as a high-growth strategy

June 26, 2019

One of the most common mistakes made by early-stage businesses, is going it alone and trying to do everything themselves.

Strategic partnerships can be a cost-effective and efficient way for a business to add channels to market, brand value, access & relevance to customers, localization and other strengths to their business proposition.

Partnerships will only work when both partners win from the partnership.

To identify potential partners, businesses should identify and understand what value the partner will add for them and in-turn, what value they will add for their partner. Sometimes it’s simply an exchange of margin and additional sales reach, other times it might be adding functionality to their product offering and opening new market opportunities together that the partners may not be able to address on their own.

Ideally, there should be a signed partnership agreement, to define the details of the agreement and hopefully prevent any misunderstandings later on.

To illustrate how strategic partnerships work, consider the example of my company Datagate.

Datagate is a SaaS billing solution for businesses who sell usage-based and subscription-based services, such as as telecom services, water, electricity, cloud services etc.

Datagate’s primary market is Managed Service Providers (MSPs) who sell telecom services. We recognized that a larger, more established software business called ConnectWise also targeted MSPs, has a compatible offering to Datagate that does many awesome things, but not what Datagate does (bill telecom services) and has regular conferences that we can sponsor and a partner program we can join.

We partnered with ConnectWise in 2017, signed up to their partner program, and built extensive integration functionality into the Datagate product to enable Datagate to share data and inter-operate with ConnectWise. Then we sponsored a booth at ConnectWise’s IT Nation conferences in 2017 and 2018 (we will be back in 2019) and this put us in front of thousands of potential MSP customers who use ConnectWise. There is no way we could have reached that size of specialized audience (who were genuinely interested in our product), without our ConnectWise partnership.

Datagate America’ s banner for ConnectWise IT Nation

The value to Datagate in this partnership is access to large volumes of relevant and interested sales prospects. The value to ConnectWise is that Datagate adds telecom billing functionality to their product offering, enabling sales for them that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. Datagate is also a regular sponsor and participant for their conferences.

Among Datagate’s many valuable partnerships, another is with Wolters Kluwer and their CCH SureTax offering. CCH SureTax is a powerful cloud-based tax calculation solution that calculates and adds all the various telecom taxes to telecom invoices generated by Datagate. This is challenging in the United States, because of all the tax jurisdictions (federal, states, counties and cities) that have taxes that must be applied to telecom invoices and remitted to the appropriate authorities.

The value to Datagate of the CCH SureTax partnership is that it enables us to service the US telecom billing market, safe in the knowledge that the complex telecom tax calculations are handled correctly. Through that partnership, we also gained partnerships with their tax & compliance partners who help us offer an easy and tax-compliant package to our respective customers. CCH SureTax and their partners gain access to more clients from Datagate’s sales and our ConnectWise partnership.

These are just some of the strategic partnerships that Datagate has formed to build its international sales. I believe that a strategic partnership strategy can be one of the best ways to scale a business and can it be applied to most industries.

Datagate well received at IT Nation 2018

November 26, 2018

Datagate was well received by ConnectWise MSPs at IT Nation 2018 in Orlando this month. Our booth was constantly busy and our breakout session “Strategies for Profitable, Integrated and Compliant Telco Billing” was well attended.

Datagate offers American MSPs a ConnectWise-integrated, telecom tax-compliant billing solution that enables them to bill VoIP and other telecommunications services on their own invoice, under their own brand.

Datagate is a SaaS solution that is bundled with CCH SureTax, which handles all the tax calculations of the various states, counties, cities and federal jurisdictions that their customers reside in.

Furthermore, Datagate has several partner companies that specialize in American telecommunications tax and compliance. Of these, Matt Lahood of GSA presented at Datagate’s breakout session, along with Ben Isbell of Wolters Kluwer and myself.

American MSPs have been waiting for a tax-compliant telecom billing solution that integrates with ConnectWise.  This is now available, from Datagate.

 

Telecommunications billing, tax and compliance in the USA

September 23, 2018

Managed Service Providers (MSPs) the world over are taking the business telecommunications market by storm.

Computers and phones have converged, voice services are now just an application on your computer or smartphone, so it’s only logical that businesses prefer the simplicity of sourcing their telecommunications solutions from their trusted MSPs.  It’s great recurring margin for the MSPs and better service for their customers, with a single point of supply and support for their ICT services.

In most countries, it’s easy for MSPs to sell and bill telecommunications; they just plug their PBX or upstream telco provider into a SaaS telephony billing system (like Datagate) – and plug that into their accounting system – and away they go!

In the USA however, there is more complexity to it for MSPs who want to sell telecommunications.  Every state, county and city jurisdiction has the ability to add taxes and surcharges to the telecommunications bill, depending on where the calls are made from. In addition to that, there are various registrations and other compliance requirements, some of which are also dependent of where their telecommunications customers are located.  In short, American MSPs need good expert help and advice, along with a billing system that can handle all the taxes to ensure they stay out of trouble and meet all of their compliance obligations.

At Datagate, we’ve made it easy for MSPs to bill telecommunications anywhere in America and still be able to sleep at night.  We’ve teamed up with the top authorities on tax, Wolters Kluwer to include CCH SureTax with every American implementation of our Datagate billing solution. We chose CCH SureTax, because when it comes to tax calculations, you have to get it right, no matter what the complexities.

L to R: Greg and Mark from Datagate, Ben, Evan and Mark from Wolters Kluwer

In addition to Wolters Kluwer, we partnered with two of the best telecommunications tax & compliance consultancies in America; GSA and Telecom Professionals Inc. These two specialist consultancies have the experience, skills and expertise to ensure that MSPs using Datagate and CCH SureTax get their taxes calculated optimally & correctly and are fully compliant in the jurisdictions within which they operate.  They can even help MSPs get out of trouble if they have been selling telecommunications in the past without being compliant.

American telecommunications tax and compliance doesn’t have to be a roadblock if you’re got the right partners with the right expertise on your team.  We’ve packaged that all together for our American customers of Datagate.

The Appeal of Usage-based Billing

May 30, 2018

One of the strongest drivers of customer satisfaction is a customer’s perception of value for money.  Value for money is judged by how much a customer pays in return for what value they receive as a product or service.

Environmental and Ambient Data

Applying this logic to service billing models, we can deduce the following patterns;

Fixed Recurring Charges

With fixed recurring charges, the customer will perceive good value for money when their service usage is high in relation to the fixed service charge, but will perceive bad value for money when their service usage is low in relation to the fixed service charge.

In this model, the service supplier wins if service usage is low and the customer’s value for money perception is low, the service supplier loses if the service usage is high.

It can also be said that the supplier wins when the customer loses and the supplier loses when the customer wins.

The pricing of fixed recurring charges tends to be limited by what the customers with low service usage will be prepared to pay, within their perception of value for money.

Usage-Based Charges

With usage-based charges, customers should perceive a consistent level of value for money, regardless of the amount of service usage.  The overall cost of the service will be proportional to the level of service usage. In theory, the value for money perception should be similar regardless of whether customers are high or low service users.

The pricing of usage-based services should therefore not be restricted by a value perception of a subset of customers, but rather the value perception of all customers.

With a usage-based charging model, the supplier and customer can both win at the same time.

Overall Revenue can be Higher for Usage-based Billing

My experience through working with Datagate’s clients, is that when a service supplier replaces a fixed price model with a usage-based pricing model, they can generally increase their overall revenue significantly.

This was demonstrated most recently in a case study for Texas-based Ranch Hill Water Supply Corporation, who achieved a 26% revenue increase after implementing a usage-based charging model, using Kamstrup measurement systems, Datagate billing and Xero accounting software.

 

Why “owning” the customer relationship is so important for service re-sellers

November 15, 2017

Sales and billing models have been top of mind for me recently, particularly as Datagate is in the process of expanding into the North American market and getting an understanding the dynamics of the service re-sellers and vendors who operate there.

Relationship_1

In the ICT industry – in particular, business computing and communications – we have seen a huge shift towards the “as-a-Service” model and a shift away from the earlier model of selling hardware and desktop software solutions.  This has brought about what we refer to as the age of the service re-seller.  Service re-sellers are everywhere at this time – you just need to know how to recognize them.

Service Re-sellers

Within the ICT industry, service re-sellers are businesses that sell on-line services that are built, owned and supplied by another another party – a service vendor.  Typically in the ICT Industry,  service re-seller are Managed Service Providers (MSPs), Business Solution Providers, Value-Added Re-sellers (VARs) and Telecommunications specialists.

Often, service re-sellers have the advantage of being able to offer a closer, more personalized service than what the large service vendors can offer. MSPs can often position themselves as a single point of contact for all ICT services to their end-customers. Service re-sellers will often combine and bundle services together from different vendors to create unique value offerings – which are more difficult for competitors to displace.

With any online service sold by re-sellers, such as cloud solutions, telecommunication and data services there are a number of different marketing, sales, billing and support models that are possible.  Each is model is significant as to who “owns” the customer relationship.

Who “owns” the customer relationship?

Any relationship has at least two parties and obviously the customer owns one side of the relationship.  But on the the other side, the ongoing supplier relationship; who “owns” it will depend on who controls it and who is more visible to and engaged with the customer.  Most important is the flow of money; who bills the customer and under what brand?

If the re-seller sells, bills and supports the service under the re-seller’s brand and also holds the supply agreement with the customer, then clearly the re-seller fronts and owns the supplier side of the customer relationship.  If the re-seller allows the service vendor to perform any of these functions under the vendor’s brand (particularly billing and the flow of money), then it cannot be said that the re-seller owns the relationship.  If the service vendor performs all or nearly all of these functions under their brand, then the service vendor owns the relationship.

Why is owning the customer relationship so important?

The “owner” ultimately gets the most business value from customer relationship, in terms of control of the service and also the boost in valuation of their own business.

If the re-seller is the relationship owner, then the re-seller has more power in negotiations with service vendors and is often able to change or re-negotiate service contracts or change vendors in the background to the customer relationship.

Business valuations are most often calculated on multiples of revenue.  Locked-in monthly recurring revenue  (MRR), such as what you have with contracted on-line services, is valued significantly higher than other types of revenue.  This is because MRR is the best quality revenue – in that it is regular, ongoing and largely predictable – a solid cash platform for building valuable businesses on.

How to own customer relationships in the service re-selling model

For a service re-seller to “own” a service relationship (such as telecoms, Cloud software & services etc), those services must be named, billed and supported under the re-seller’s name and/or brand.

This typically requires a white-label service-billing solution, such as Datagate that can plug into usage data supplied by service vendors, apply pricing plans created by the re-seller and the automatically create & distribute re-seller-branded bills to the end-customers.  Datagate also provides re-seller branded portals where the end-customer can view invoices, reports and analysis of their service consumption.

Datagate’s mission is to enable service re-sellers (who are typically MSPs in the ICT industry) to maximize the value of their business and “own” their customer relationships in the areas of telephony and other on-line utility services.

We are also committed to helping service vendors maximize their sales channel growth through service re-sellers.

 

 

Paradox of the Telecom Sector

August 20, 2017

The telecom sector is facing a paradoxical mix of circumstances. On one hand it provides the mission-critical technology platform for innovation, growth and disruption across nearly every industry; whilst on the other hand, it faces enormous changes and disruptions to its own traditional business model and revenue streams, more so than perhaps any other sector.

Furthermore, the average revenue per user, across the entire global telecom industry, is falling every year.

Telco_1

The telecom sector provides the platform for innovation and disruption across nearly every industry, yet faces the challenge of innovation and disruption itself, perhaps more so than any other sector.

Incumbent telecom providers need not be the victims of disruption and reducing revenues in their own industry; they can be the agents of change and disruption, by recognizing (or even creating) shifts in the market, differentiation and moving faster than their competitors to meet the new market dynamics.

Recognition of new trends, agility and speed of execution are critical factors. Reinventing business models, bringing new offerings and services to market must be done in quick time.  A major factor, once new offerings are selected, is how quickly billing systems can be adapted to facilitate new offerings, bundles with new services and pricing plans. Billing is so often the Achilles heel in the telecom world.

Differentiation between Telecom providers can be achieved by bundling complementary or value-adding services or offerings with standard telecom services. This can often be achieved through partnerships with service providers outside the traditional telecom sector.

A significant disruption (or opportunity) for the telecoms sector is its convergence with other on-line service providers.  Telecom services are now being successfully integrated and sold by the I.T. industry, managed service providers (MSPs) and other service sales businesses. Electricity companies are bundling telecom services such as broadband with their offerings. Cloud software businesses are also selling and bundling telecom services.  Phones and computers are now one and the same.

Billing is so often the Achilles heal in the telecom world.

Bundling different yet complementary service types under a single pricing plan, on a single invoice makes it more difficult for competitors to undercut pricing with only a single service type. Service bundling is said to make telecom customers more “sticky” and provide differentiation.

Rather than competing with and resisting new convergent players in the sector, some telecom providers are actively embracing and pro-actively driving this convergence. A prime example in New Zealand, is Spark Wholesale that offers a range of telecom services to its clients, to enable them to sell telecom services under their own branding, giving Spark access to more customers and markets that it might not otherwise be able to reach.

Wholesale telecom providers enable service businesses, such as Managed Service Providers (MSPs) – who have trusted adviser status with their customers, to market and sell telecom services such as broadband, SIP, VoIP and mobile offerings to predominantly business customers.

Telecom resellers require specialized automated usage-billing solutions. Datagate is an agile, white-label, cloud-based billing solution which partners with Wholesale Telcos to get new telecom re-sellers up and running quickly, with billing functionality that integrates with the Telco’s usage data to rate, produce and distribute invoices to their end customers. Datagate can connect to and bill most usage-based services and make it easy for convergent bundling of service types, where multiple service types are combined on a single invoice.

Embracing new business models, new offerings, partnerships, agility and speed to market are the key requirements for success in the telecom sector of this new disruptive, paradoxical world.

Building Business Networks

July 19, 2017

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is a well known statement that I partly agree with. It implies that powerful business networks are all that matters, but I would argue that you also need a good reputation and a strong value proposition to go with it.

Can you imagine how hard it would be to be successful in business with a strong network but a bad reputation?  The strong network would certainly ensure that nobody would do business with you.

Building your business network and building your reputation go hand in hand.  You must invest in both throughout your career. Doing this will make your business career easier and more rewarding as time goes on.

I am very fortunate to have worked for the last 30 years within the same closely connected industry sectors and have built up networks throughout New Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada and other countries.  I consider my participation and membership of these networks to be a major asset, that I would argue is worth millions of dollars – certainly that would be the cost of rebuilding networks of that size and reach.

By staying within the same industry sectors throughout my career, the networks that I have built up over time are now shared with and valuable to my company and employer, Datagate Innovation.

To maintain any asset, you must continue to invest in it. Datagate and I continue to invest in our networks through participation in industry events, conferences, newsletters, Social Media and industry networking groups.

Ryan01

Ryan Ashton, AFQY

This month, Datagate signed up with a New Zealand ICT networking group called AFQY (A Few Quiet Yarns). It’s leader, Ryan Ashton is a prolific networker and LinkedIn guru. AFQY has strict rules, such as “no selling allowed” and “meet as many people as you can” in place for the networking events, that are held in bars at strategic locations around the countryside.   The events are great opportunities to invite people from the respective regions around New Zealand to come in, have a drink and get to meet and talk with new industry contacts.

My advice to people at all stages of their career, is to keep investing in your networks and reputation.  Make sure all your business deals are a winner for all parties where possible, whether the deal is with an employer, colleague, customer, investor, supplier, partner or acquirer of your business – that way you are building a positive network, not a negative one.  Get out and meet new people on a regular basis – join networking groups and associations. Keep investing…

 

Dimension Data successfully brings telco services to NZ clients, with Datagate

May 10, 2017

DimensionData_CoreLogo_Landscape

This week at Datagate, we published a case study detailing our successful partnership with Dimension Data New Zealand and Spark Wholesale, in bringing a full telco service offering to Dimension Data’s clients.

Dimension Data New Zealand is part of  the wider Dimension Data group, which has revenues of over US$7.5 billion, staff of over 31,000, offices in 58 countries and is a member of the NTT Group.  Dimension Data’s clients include some of the largest organisations in New Zealand, with typically hundreds or thousands of staff.

From Datagate’s perspective, it’s great to see that larger customers, like those of Dimension Data’s, are showing a preference for sourcing their IT and telephony from the same trusted supplier.  We have also seen this trend in the SME market, so we can now say that business customers of all sizes are receptive to having a single trusted supplier for all their ICT services.  It stands to reason, as phones and computers have converged and it is clearly preferable for one supplier take sole responsibility for the performance of the complete picture.

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“Businesses prefer to deal with one supplier across all services, which are becoming more intertwined and harder to differentiate” says Dimension Data’s Shaun Bell.

Enabling IT companies, or Managed Service Providers (MSPs) of all sizes to become re-sellers of telephony services, by using our Cloud-based billing and reporting platform, is a big part of what we do at Datagate.  It’s great to be a part of Dimension Data’s success story and we look forward to continuing to work and innovate with Dimension Data New Zealand.

DSQ – Enprise acquisition, cloud & growth strategy approved

September 24, 2012

Last week, on Friday 21st September at DSQ Holdings Ltd’s Annual General Meeting, shareholders voted to approve the acquisition of Enprise. This is the beginning of a major new chapter in the evolution of both Enprise and DSQ (formerly Datasquirt), which will now become one and the same.

The new combined business will be named Enprise Group Limited, which will be a public New Zealand company, listed in Australia with over 350 shareholders.

This is a very positive development for all stakeholders (customers, partners, staff and shareholders) of both Enprise and DSQ.

The new Enprise Group will retain its focus on all aspects of delivering high-quality business software, solutions and services to small and medium sized enterprises. It will have offices throughout New Zealand and Australia (Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne, Wellington and Hamilton) in addition to its international channel of around 100 reseller partners throughout the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Enprise is a stable and profitable platform for growth, with three business units; Enprise Solutions NZ, Enprise Solutions AU, Enprise Software plus the joint venture, 2Cloud.biz.

Enprise Software is an SAP Gold Software Solution Partner that develops solutions for SAP Business One which is sold through an international partner channel.

Enprise Solutions is a top MYOB Platinum Partner in both New Zealand and Australia, which sells and supports the market leading MYOB EXO suite of business software.

2Cloud.biz is a joint venture, offering Cloud delivery of popular ERP solutions through established reseller channels. Presently, the business is focused exclusively on Cloud delivery of MYOB EXO and associated solutions to the Australasian market.

The new Enprise Group will exploit a range of growth-driving opportunities for its customers and for itself; including the shift to Cloud Computing, Mobile Solutions, Regional Expansion and new “Big Data” processing technologies.

I will be discussing various aspects of the new Enprise Group and its growth opportunities on this blog, over the coming weeks.