For Small-Business VoIP, Ease of Use Is Paramount

Toronto startup Jazinga offers a turnkey IP phone system anyone can install and maintain.

By Adam Stone | Posted Sep 26, 2008
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Small businesses looking to upgrade their telecom situation are sometimes apprehensive. Solutions are often complex and typically require some degree of technical expertise to deploy. If you don’t already have it in house—and most with fewer than 20 employees do not—that expertise is going to cost you.

"You look at the market and it is pretty scary," said Randy Busch.

As CEO of Toronto-based Jazinga, Busch says he can take fear out of the equation. Jazinga recently released a combined hardware/software solution that wraps together many features of high-end, corporate voice systems along with wireless networking, fax and e-mail. It’s UC for the masses.

Small businesses are understandably apt to shy away from the prospect of hiring pricey tech support to install and maintain complex phone systems. Compounding the situation are the VARs, who typically have been reluctant to devote their attention to small-business deployments that might take a week and yet yield relatively little return. Why spend days with a 10-person company when that same time could be devoted a 100- or 1,000-person firm, with commensurately higher fees?

Busch says the solution lies in ease of use—at every stage of the life cycle—and that was the concept around which he and his team went to work. If they were going to deliver rich functionality, it would have to be not only affordable (Jazinga sells for about $1,100) but also extremely user friendly.

This begins with the promise of DIY installation. "From the installation menus we have made it all plain-language, business kinds of questions: Who are your users? What’s the script for your auto attendant?"

Care and feeding is likewise simplified, with auto-detect features designed to make it easy to add new phones to the system. Rather than configure network elements to ensure quality of service and reliability, users can simply plug in and let Jazinga do the rest.

"We can detect when a phone is plugged in and we can go out and auto-provision the phone for that user," Busch said. This is made possible thanks to a hardware configuration in which the Jazinga appliance incorporates not just the IP PBX but also a router and Wi-Fi functionality.

While getting those components into a single box may not have been to technically challenging, developing the software needed to control it all was a little trickier. "There was a lot of testing to make sure the integration all worked properly," Busch said.

Despite the hurdles, Jazinga’s 12 employees were able to bring a product to market in only about a year and a half. Busch said it helped that Jazinga is built upon the open source Asterisk platform, which contained some of the needed components ready-built.

Jazinga takes more than just a mechanical approach to the small business market. This is not just about functionality but rather about philosophy, a way of thinking that in turn shapes the tools one may deliver.

Busch defines this by what Jazinga is not. It is not a scaled-down version of an enterprise solution. "When you are working with these large enterprise solutions you get all this complexity, the separate networks, the need for technical expertise. It’s part of their DNA," and it lingers even when these packages are reduced in size and scope, he said.

Jazinga on the other hand was built from the ground up with small-business users in mind, as a way to introduce those users to a new level of functionality. "Now they are looking at the ability to address their growing data capabilities and to combine those with voice, without needing all this outside expertise."

That’s all very well if one is willing to turn a blind eye to the 800-pound gorilla in the room: Microsoft’s Response Point, which promises to do essentially the same thing as Jazinga, bringing voice and data to small users at an affordable price.

"We view them as a competitor, but we are quite happy to see them there. High tides float all boats," Busch said. With its marketing muscle, Microsoft can spread word of VoIP to the small business community faster than Jazinga every could.

Busch does claim some capabilities that outshine Response Point, strengths in such areas as multilevel auto attendants and powerful team capabilities. Jazinga also supports any analog or SIP phone, while Response Point limits users to a select group of vendors.

At the end of the day, though, it is Jazinga’s ease of use that Busch believes will carry the day. "We wan to lower the bar on the technical requirements, on the limits of who can do this."

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