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1:1 Tolga Sakman, VP Americas, Synergy SKY

February 7, 2014 | Telepresence Options


Story and images by Andrew W. Davis / Wainhouse

Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in. After stints at Tandberg, Cisco, and Glowpoint, Tolga Sakman finds he cannot turn a deaf ear to the siren song of visual communications.

WR: Welcome back to the funny farm. Synergy SKY is an unfamiliar name. In 30 seconds or less, who is Synergy SKY and what do they do?

TS: Synergy SKY is a group of mostly Tandberg alumni with a mission to make Video and UC as a Service (VaaS and UCaaS) platforms easy to architect, manage,and most importantly, monetize. We have offices in Norway, Sweden and the U.S. so far, with more geographic expansion coming in 2014. In a nutshell, we offer a software platform that enables existing service providers, or A/V resellers who would like to be service providers, to put together a service delivery platform that provides a soup-to-nuts solution. This runs from client provisioning, virtual room setup, remote monitoring and management, reporting and scheduling all the way up to billing. It is a multivendor solution that also supports mixed vendor deployments.

WR: So, you're selling a software product to enable someone to be a service provider?

TS: Exactly. Most channel partners recognize that hardware sales are a declining and thin-margin business. And reselling a third party's services has its own problems.

WR: What's the problem with reselling?

TS: Quite simply, the issue is the ownership of the customer relationship. There are no real obstacles for a customer to buy the same service from someone else, if it's just a matter of ending a contract with supplier A and signing a contract with supplier B. But if a customer is hosted on your own platform, the customer faces loss of both features and historical data, while facing downtime and incurring transaction costs when moving their services to a new service provider.

So you want to build your own service. Now what? One of the main issues any existing or potential service provider faces is the following: you have enterprise-grade, singletenant video infrastructure components like bridges, gateways and call control devices from a number of vendors out there, and you are on your own to build a carrier-grade, multi-tenant video service delivery platform around what you have. The solution, most of the time, is a fair amount of custom software development (read: cost) to duct-tape multiple components together, and throw people (read: manual work) at the problem whenever you can't solve it via computer logic. On the front end, you need a platform that offers a self-service trial and sign-up, coupled with a management platform with multiple layers of control. Then on the back end, you need call detail records,reporting and analysis, and of course the most important of all: billing. In my experience, most existing services out there are not able to track usage and bill accurately, leaving a ton of money on the table. Not to mention the cost of the bloated headcount to manage the complexity of this homegrown platform.

WR: In today's world of "all you can eat" pricing, are call detail records and billing systems really that important?

TS: Absolutely. Our experience is that end user customers want a variety of pricing models, and "all you can eat" plans are just a part of that. There are also cell phone type models (e.g. 5000 minutes included, additional minutes extra; 20 ports with unlimited usage, pay extra for overages, and so on). Customers also want flexibility around different pricing for internal vs. external calls, different currencies for different regions, so on and so forth. As it happens, billing is not as straightforward as you might think.

WR: So far you talked about Service Providers. What about the end users? How do you change the game for them, if at all?

TS: Well, the deployment model for video historically has been "everything-on-prem." And that will likely remain the case for large enterprises, whose IT departments in effect act as the internal service provider. All of the functionality that I mentioned so far, from mass provisioning of Lync or Jabber clients with two-way AD integration to monitoring and management of the entire multi-vendor deployment, scheduling of conferences, creation of virtual meeting rooms and generating detailed call records, are tools these internal service providersask for. Even the billing component is requested by our existing end user customers, as they do inter-departmental billing for video calls. To use more fashionable lexicon, Synergy SKY is a headache-relieving tool whether your video deployment is on your private cloud, on a public cloud, or is a hybrid of the two.

WR: What is your relationship to Pexip and Acano, those other Norwegian daughters of the Tandberg revolution (startups)?

TS: We like them both. And we wrok with both. As I stated earlier, we offer a multi-vendor solution, and work with all vendors out there. Let's face it; as much as any vendor would like his customer to rip out everything he has and replace it with new products - because they are cheaper, faster, more scalable, or what have you, it will not happen. You don't have to be a financial guru to realize that all assets have a depreciation schedule and they will be used at least throughout that life. So your infrastructure solution has to co-exist, and ideally fully integrate with the incumbents. The fact that our platform enables the customers to seamlessly add a new vendor's infrastructure to their existing platform makes us a friend to all vendors who would like to get into a competitive account.

WR: What about MS Lync? Where do you stand here?

TS: With Lync 2013, offering hosted and managed Lync deployments is now a possibility, and we are seeing tremendous interest in this area from both the traditional video world and the much larger Microsoft partner community of Application Service Providers. With Synergy SKY, it is possible to provision and manage extremely large Lync deployments -- we are talking tens of thousands of clients -- in a cost-effective way. What these guys can do with our solution that they cannot do on their own is to make the mass Lync deployment work seamlessly with the customers' existing video deployments. We believe this is the real big opportunity for us.

WR: So exactly what is your business model moving forward?

TS: I talked about two types of customers or prospects for us -- service providers and end users. We sell direct to the existing or potential service providers, and indirect (mostly through the SP customer/partners) to the end user organizations.

We license our software on a "per entity" basis, an entity being a room system or a user. That way we make money when our customers make money, sharing both the risk and the reward.

WR: So, as a startup, what is your biggest worry? What keeps you up at night -- competition, awareness, being squashed by the big guys, or something else?

TS: I would say awareness. As the industry is trying to move from box sales to monthly recurring service sales model, we need to reach the service providers and resellers before they try and take this challenge on their own. We have a unique and timely solution to a very common problem. So, sometimes I'm awake at night because I'm just excited about the growth potential ahead of us.

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