June 07, 2007, 11:38 AM — Services is where the money is and it's the key remaining area where you can differentiate yourself from the competition. A service offering in which you do little, but reap the benefit of a monthly check would seem even better. If you agree, read on.
We've all been reading about various Web services offerings, essentially where you configure for your customer an application from a third party that actually resides in some far away server farm. Good deal; you make a sale, the software is often private labeled with your systems integrator logo, and the customer need not invest in any hardware.
When it works (which it nearly always does), everyone benefits. The customer gets a sophisticated, usually highly configurable application that can be implemented in relatively short order. For you, administration, when necessary or scheduled, need not involve a trip out to the customer site. A key downside, of course, is if the application goes offline. Salesforce.com had to deal with this a while back at significant short-term cost to its reputation and raising larger questions about subscription-based services in general. It would seem we are largely past that.
It's fair in 2007 to recognize that hosted applications and Web services are here to stay, so why not get in on the action?
One area where little has been done in this regard is in commercial and corporate real estate, specifically landlords and management companies that bill tenants monthly for various provided services. These often include basic building services, such as HVAC, and may include various utilities as well. With the explosion in enterprise-class IP telephony, some commercial buildings (we're talking small to mid-size, not 80-story skyscrapers) are installing network backbones, leasing bandwidth, IP phone, video, and other services to tenants. As commercial buildings are remodeled with "going green" in mind, and as new buildings are erected, building managers are finding these services not only essential for retaining tenants, but as a revenue source, too.
The issue is billing tenants for these widely divergent services in some aggregate -- and accurate -- way. That's where solutions integrators come in.
Earlier this week, during the Realcomm 2007 conference in Boston (more about that later), I chatted with a vendor that has developed and is rolling out a hosted application for building managers who need to quantify the services delivered to clients and then issue one aggregate invoice that lays it all out. IRIS, developed NACT of Provo, Utah, (no, it's not a Novell or WordPerfect spin-off) may be the first true converged billing system for voice, video, data, and anything where usage can be sniffed out and quantified.