M5 Launches Smart Business Phone System

Aimed first and foremost at sales and service operations, the new hosted PBX product automatically links phone activities to business applications.

By Adam Stone | Posted May 12, 2010
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After five years in development, New York-based M5 Networks has taken its Smart Business Phone System out of stealth mode.

The system collects reams of data based on an enterprise’s phone usage, and integrates that data into various business applications in order to drive business decision-making.

A 10-year veteran of providing hosted business VoIP telephone systems, M5 claims about 1,200 clients ranging up to 1,000 seats—with many in the small to mid-range market. CEO Dan Hoffman said the integration of phone data and business applications closes a fundamental gap in how businesses are run.

"People sit in front of CRM screens all the time, and the phone is constantly glued to their ear, but the two are rarely connected," he said. "If you think customer relationships are important enough to apply automation to, then phone calls to those customers have got to be important enough to automate, too. So CRM and phones really need to be connected."

M5 charges about $500 per month per customer location, along with $40 to $60 per month per handset. Small additional fees may apply as phone systems are connected to diverse business apps.

In practical terms, the newly released M5 system implements the integration of phone to business apps in a number of ways.

For example, the system offers the ability to single-click dial a number off any Firefox or Internet Explorer page, or out of a business application such as CRM. The system also allows business apps to recognize incoming callers and bring up pertinent information while the phone is still ringing.

Hoffman sees these tools as making work time considerably more efficient, especially for sales and service personnel.

A further feature is the system’s ability to measure. Who is making outbound calls? Whose calls last the longest? Who is being most productive? Are some accounts being overlooked?

While such metrics have been available to managers in the past, typically these have been created by manual processes. "People have to enter what happened. You have to wait for them to do it, hope they do, and then analyze," Hoffman said. "The world moves too fast for that now." Automated real-time reporting and analysis gives managers the ability to correct on the fly.

Some of this is not new. Call centers are fanatical about tracking their operations. Some companies have home-grown systems linking the phone system to business apps, but that’s a daunting and often unreliable process. "It’s been a huge, expensive, nasty project to connect your on-premise phone system to whatever business software you are using," Hoffman said.

Hoffman said the decision to develop a "smart business phone" product in-house grew from his observations of the complexities inherent in existing solutions. "PBXs have thousands of features no one uses. Call routing gets your underwear in a bunch. Someone puts in a find-me-follow-me rule that has a mistake in it and a sales call doesn’t get through," he said. "You need a manual to run these things today."

M5 spent five years developing its new solution, a process prolonged by Hoffman’s belief that, as a first order of business, the tools should work consistently. "Reliability, reliability, reliability," he said. "There is nothing more important than the reliability of the phones for our clients, so we had to take it very slowly."

Engineers ran tests on live customers’ systems with 1,000 users, then 3,000 and on up until they were satisfied of the product’s stability.

To demonstrate the system’s performance, M5 runs the product in house and posts ongoing, real-time metrics of its own experiences at Trust.m5net.com, where visitors can see for themselves whether the product delivers. "You can see every outage, every glitch, every time the Web portal didn’t work. We throw all that up there publicly," Hoffman said.

Besides providing reassurance to potential users, the public site also helps to keep M5 staff on their toes, knowing their output is constantly on display, Hoffman said.

In the long run, Hoffman predicted, the ability to simply and efficiently link phone data and business apps will change the way people view their VoIP. "It’s like the way MP3 players worked—until there was the iPod."

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