Radio-over-IP, or RoIP, systems are becoming a hot topic of discussion among our customers, and more and more of them are deploying such systems. Because they are Internet based, RoIP systems provide capabilities and flexibility to customers not offered by conventional land mobile radio systems.

For example, operators can control a RoIP system from other locations via an IP conversion. Or they can link various base stations through an IP switch. In addition, such systems foster interoperability and disaster recovery, both of which are top of mind for most system operators today. This is a hot technology, and we're seeing new applications for it every day.

However, we're really not selling software applications; rather, we're selling solutions-based applications. That's an important distinction. Our customers have a specific need, we evaluate the need and then we propose a solution that makes sense for the customer and is within the scope of what we're able to provide. Once there is agreement on what must be done, we then work with the customer's IT department for any solution that we're building out. Sometimes we have to deploy dedicated servers. For example, we're putting in a good-sized wireless network that will be used to provide video surveillance for harbor security. It's a stand-alone system with its own server, but it can link directly to the customer's local area network.

Much of the opportunities regarding IP-based systems are coming from our sales professionals who are in the field calling on accounts. It's important to be out there. Often my product specialist is calling on an account that my two-way radio salesperson is calling on at the same time, but they're calling on different people in different departments. Many times they jointly call on the same department. While it might seem they would get in each other's way, it works because they're talking about a variety of things.

Blending LMR and IP-based technologies, however, is a challenge for any radio dealer. But if you can do it, there's money to be made. We're finding that the technology is pretty smart — so smart that interference really is a non-issue. But you have to be equally smart in terms of how you deploy RoIP. There's a learning curve, as IP technologies are not right for every customer and every application. You have to make some intelligent decisions based on the customer's environment. For instance, what we would do for one community may not be what we'd do in another community based on geography.

Training is an important tool in this regard, and we've done a lot of it. It is an ongoing and relatively constant process, and there are various levels. There's a lot of product information and specifications to be absorbed. One of the keys to success is to drill down and determine how deep you want to get into those solutions. Much of the training we do focuses on simply understanding the products, which lets us develop more applications for them.

Another strategy we've employed is to convert one of our more technical salespeople into a product specialist. That person has since developed a greater expertise in IP-based solutions, as well as wireless video and data devices, and currently assists our sales efforts in these arenas. In addition, we've created a product administrator position. That person oversees system deployments and is responsible for contract management for jobs involving large systems.

These people not only have IT backgrounds but also expertise in cable management, cable infrastructure deployment and Category 5 cable installations. Interestingly, they're not as experienced on the wireless side, so we're spending time training them in that area.

Although we currently have a nice diversity in our engineering staff — they're not only embracing IP-based solutions but also are helping us design them — we wonder where we will get the people resources we're going to need in the future as the IP migration continues. Certainly we're going to continue tapping into IT organizations, where we already have siphoned some resources — and not just on the product management side.

It's difficult to fill these positions — there's no question about it. You don't find many people who have the capabilities to do it all. So you need to invest in training people who embrace the challenge of learning something new.

The migration to IP systems also has required us to make some adjustments on the service side of our business. IP radio systems require enhanced computer capability — specifically more memory, more capacity and more processing power to be able to program, deploy, test and manage these networks. This, in turn, is forcing us to put some effort behind learning how to maintain both hardware and software.

We're fortunate that we have several strategic alliances that aid this effort, including one with Motorola, whose technical and sales support has been great. As a dealer, you must embrace, respect and manage such relationships, because you need them. Outside expertise is critical in terms of understanding these technologies and how they fit into the market. How well one fosters such relationships will determine the ultimate success one achieves.

Of course, understanding these technologies is crucial because our philosophy is to service what we sell. Customers want good service, and they want a single point of contact. In our neck of the woods, there are a lot of quality dealers around with their own service organizations. There's a lot of competition, and service is a differentiator. So, we're going to train on these systems, we're going install them and we're going to service them.

We're also going to be choosy about our alliances. There are many manufacturers out there, and they all have these technologies. You have to be picky about who you hitch your wagon to. While fostering relationships are important, you also have to make them work to your advantage. Any dealers heading down the IP path need to make sure they get the necessary support from their manufacturers and their reps. Failing to do so will make the IP migration longer and more difficult than it needs to be.
— As told to Doug Mohney


Myron Polulak is vice president and CEO of New England Communications Systems. Prior to joining NECS in 1995. Polulak served in various sales and account manager positions at Motorola.

NECS

Headquarters: Middletown, Conn.

Years in business: 10 years

Number of employees: 45

Annual sales: $10 million

Major vendors: Motorola, ICOM, Microwave Data Systems

Web address: www.necommsys.com