Portals that open doors

If anyone still needs convincing that the old world order in comms is finished, they need look no further than the scale and scope of portal developments.

If any lesson can be drawn from the rate of portal development, it is that old ways of doing things are defunct. Since launching into the UK market in April 2014, plan.com has developed three versions of its portal and according to co-founder Keith Curran (pictured) version four will ‘totally change the way partners do business'. "The portal powers everything we do so our investment from both a financial and time standpoint is huge," he said. "Rather than assuming we know what our partners need, we let them tell us. The more easily they can access and manipulate their business information with technology, the more efficient and profitable they become."

Portals have become a must-have and their evolution will bring about a polarisation in the market as portals developed by technologists in collaboration with their partners become poles apart from those that fail to give users a competitive edge, believes Curran. "Portals are about replacing outdated ways of doing business rather than simply reproducing them online," he said. "And the advanced intelligent portals of the future will use a combination of clever technology and algorithms to react with speed, detail and precision, giving partners a valuable advantage. An intelligent portal that can monitor and report the status of every SIM in real-time and automatically calculate the best position for partners and customers would take the whole experience to a new level. These will be the successful portals of the future."

With new products and features constantly coming into the market, there's little time for developers to sit on their hands. Voiceflex's team of techies are busy developing tools to automate as many of the firm's processes as possible. The majority of business it conducts is now done through its portal. "In the rapidly changing communications environment often it's the products that are the easiest to provision and configure that have the largest market penetration," said Sales and Marketing Director Paul Taylor.

Full automation of the provisioning processes, including real-time number and SIP trunk provisioning, have proved popular. "With our fraud protection application this makes for a self-service portal with true value add," noted Taylor. "And the simplicity of the portal reduces the need for extensive administration and training, allowing for a faster time to market for resellers who have ‘get up and go'."

The API market will only go one way - up. "During the evaluation of new suppliers we always look for available APIs and integration opportunities. Automation is now a must, and this is reflected in how our customers wish to deal with us," added Taylor.

Jola has developed software to help partners differentiate their propositions. "Using our dealer portal a partner can be with a customer and build an online quote on their laptop or mobile that automatically checks the availability of Internet connectivity, sets up new numbers and arranges porting," explained Managing Director Andrew Dickinson. "The system then emails a dealer-branded proposal to the customer. Jola partners can also get a range of the connectivity options from every UK carrier in three minutes. The first supplier to meet and quote the prospect usually wins the business."

Jola wasted no time in applying its development experience to the mobile space. "Mobile Manager was only fully launched late in 2016 and already manages around 15,000 mobile data SIMs worldwide," added Dickinson. "Mobile Manager fully automates the SIM-only process and gives resellers management control over their mobile data estate. They can monitor individual usage, activate, pause and bar SIMs."

Marston's Telecoms developed its own mobile app last year, a move that enabled partners to manage services more efficiently by functioning as a self-service tool that can be accessed anywhere, at any time. "The app has greatly improved the nature of our reseller engagement," stated Rob Derbyshire, Head of Telecoms. "Through our main portal and mobile portal app resellers have access to everything they need, from ordering and provisioning through to booking engineers and billing, all in one place. This removes the need for calling multiple teams and waiting to speak to the right person. Everything can be done quickly, efficiently and from any location, which has made the lives of our resellers much easier."

As more hosted providers differentiate their services via portals the ‘must-have' appeal of these tools will only grow stronger, noted Robin Hayman, Director of Marketing and Product Management, SpliceCom. "We matured our original IP PBX Management Portal to include Manager Assist, a set of wizards and tools for cloud, on-premises or hybrid deployments that include many features requested by our channel's technical specialists," he said. "These include bulk programming, simple wizards for larger solutions and complex deployments, and advanced diagnostic tools.

"Continuing our focus on portals, last month saw the launch of our new Administration Portal, allowing simple browser access to everyday programming features alongside those frequently used, but often slightly more complex tasks, such as Time of Day, Auto Attendant and Queue Messages etc. All aimed at making system administration simple."

A portal is no longer just a provisioning tool, it is an access point for multiple departments into a business, noted TelcoSwitch Sales Director Paul Gibbs. "Our portal is an interface between multiple departments from provisioning, to finance, to sales through to marketing," he said. "Future portals will have to adapt to how businesses report as well as how they sell."