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Portals – A Window on Business

Business portals have become a must-have feature for any Software as a Service provider worth its salt. They can be a real differentiator for suppliers and, if well featured with a flexible, customisable interface, offer big benefits to resellers too

Supplier portals have been around for some years but not all have been well thought out. Too many companies with diverse product portfolios have tried to get by with a separate portal for each product grouping, e.g. hosted telephony, connectivity and mobile solutions. As resellers well know, end user customers tend not to work that way. They want a more holistic solution, where one portal carries out most of their provisioning.

In a world increasingly driven by AI, bots and machine learning, a supplier portal needs to be the go-to pane of glass to cease, supply and bill any service.

The advantages of having a ‘one screen does all’ portal have been clearly evident during the Covid-19 crisis, when the ability to remotely provision multiple services has been a huge benefit. VanillaIP Managing Director David Dadds, for example, reports a 400% increase in services provision in the month of March alone.

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Portal benefits
Dadds believes successful supplier portals should help resellers grow their business and contribute towards the retention of customers by supporting a broad choice of solutions.

“VanillaIP is a services-based supplier capable of providing applications such as hosted telephony, contact centres, all forms of connectivity and much more – all on demand. Our portal is API-driven, which means our resellers can provision, say, broadband from a number of network services companies and collaboration and analytics applications from other vendors. All in an integrated end user solution and all provided on a single bill,” he said.

Dadds concedes that the products and services on VanillaIP’s portal won’t represent the entire portfolio that a typical reseller with pre-existing relationships and ‘favoured’ products would want to offer its users, but argues that this need not be a problem.

“In such instances, we can use our API to build these products and services into our portal, so they are included in the overall solution for reseller simplicity, with a single set of keystrokes and, again, just the one user bill. If they prefer, resellers can choose to keep their favoured services separate. But in either case the reseller has full control of the entire process, including pricing.”

He added: “The second key question resellers should ask about any portal is who is sitting behind it? If the reseller wants any changes, how do they get those changes done? It could be that the supplier has to go through a whole chain of third party companies just to get on the change list, whereas at VanillaIP we have over 100 software engineers working full time on our portal. That is a significant development resource for our reseller partners.”

Helping you to grow
Emily Nerland, Channel Director for EMEA at software designed networking company Masergy, says there are three principal ways for resellers to grow their business – to cross sell, to up-sell or to find new customers – and that portals can help with all three.

“Portals can provide resellers with a lot of data and visibility of user estate. For example, are lines going hot and at what times of the day are circuits getting near their maximum loads? For resellers, this is a clear opportunity to sell their users more bandwidth. Any vendor should be able to provide this kind of data,” she said.

“Portals can also provide applications visibility for resellers: what apps are being used and at what times, and can you provide those applications instead of a competitor? Running all this data through an analytics package will provide greater insight into how your customers are working. Resellers can package up all that data and present it to their users or even make it freely available to them.”

Nerland added: “Users value supplier transparency and giving customers the freedom to use that data is a sure-fire sales tool.”

Billing built-in
Another key attribute of successful portals is integrated billing – an essential requirement in an age when use of the cloud has become the norm and the ability to change customers’ configurations and services has reached the micro level.

To understand why, just consider how hosted telephony solutions have evolved. Billing was easy when all you had to do was bill the cost of each dial tone licence, say 50 users at £6.00 per month each. However, that basic dial tone charge was quickly augmented by a charge for all users who wanted voicemail. That’s another £1.00 per user. Then, let’s not forget the call recording option and so on, to the point where a hosted telephony application could have 50 or more chargeable add-on features.

Such is the flexibility of these solutions that a customer can specify for 10 users, say, to have three of these features for two weeks and another 10 users to have two other features for three weeks. Automated billing systems ensure customers are billed for all the services they use, including ad hoc charges, landline and mobile minutes and services.

In the case of a ‘one pane of glass’ portal like VanillaIP Uboss, where billing is integrated with provisioning (and not all portals have this dual functionality), resellers only have to enter contract details once, rather than separately for provisioning and billing, saving time and reducing the risk of error. If the user wants to self-provision – and most do – the same applies, with any provision triggering a commensurate billing action.

In a very crowded and competitive market, portals can be used and leveraged by resellers as a differentiator to grow their business and retain valuable customers. Not all portals are the same, so when choosing a supplier, make sure you pick one with a portal that can work for you.

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2018