Panasonic upgrades management tool for its IP PBX systems.

Communications Assistant 3.0 lets users drag and drop contacts for instant teleconferences.

By Adam Stone | Posted Feb 2, 2011
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Panasonic says its just-released management tool Communications Assistant 3.0 (CA) will make it easier for users of the company’s IP PBX systems to manage their calls, and simpler for supervisors to administer whole systems.

Equally important, the desktop or laptop PC-based software application suite could help speed adoption of the company’s IP PBX systems. For those pondering the move to an IP telephony platform, CA’s visually based, drag-and-drop functionality may offer good reason to make the leap.

"For the average person, who doesn’t have an IT background, this really helps to make IP more intuitive," said marketing manager Bill Savino. "If they can visually see it and figure it out, if it looks like an interface they are familiar with, that starts to be something they are very comfortable with."

Launched in the fall of 2008, CA has gone through a steady series of enhancements to reach this latest iteration. Most notably, CA 3.0 adds a beefed up mobility component, along with a number of supervisor-level tools intended to help higher-ups direct end user traffic.

Most notably, Panasonic is touting a new teleconference feature that allows users to drag and drop contacts from Outlook to initiate meetings on the fly. That’s a big step up from the conventional dial-in bridge, "where very few people actually know the sequence of buttons they need to hit on their phone," Savino said.

The ability to initiate a conference speaks directly to the needs of CA’s target audience, small- to mid-size businesses with 20 to 40 extensions. That’s about the size at which a business is likely to have salespeople and other mobile workers starting to go out into the field, Savino said. It’s also the point at which mobility in a phone solution becomes especially necessary.

"If you think ‘small business,’ you are thinking cash flow," Savino said. "Now suppose you are in the supplier’s office, you have a problem with supplies and you want to get three people on the phone right now to work out a solution. If you can do that on the fly, you greatly improve your productivity."

As much as SMBs need mobility, they also need management tools.

In CA 3.0 users can visually manage a range of functions including instant messaging and chat, visual voice messaging, Outlook integration, and call history.

Management functionality goes a step further, with a robust component designed to allow supervisors to track and manage calling activity throughout an organization. A supervisor can redirect a call that has been parked for too long, for example, or manage the queue for maximum efficiency. While these tools may be a boon to existing users of Panasonic IP PBXs, the introduction of CA 3.0 also could help to serve a larger purpose for the company. The new capabilities could encourage fence-sitters to convert from their older PBX platforms onto newer IP-based systems.

"A lot of people have older systems and they are looking at migrating to something new," Savino said. "Business has been hearing about IP telephony for 10 years and they are asking: ‘Okay, but what’s in it for me?’

"For an SMB, if they are going from an older technology to a newer one, they want to save money, they don’t want to get stuck with something that is no longer supported -- but first they want to know what they are actually getting."

What they are getting with CA 3.0, he said, is the promise of enhanced productivity and improved management tools. Those straightforward benefits may help cut through the tech-speak that many have heard so far.

The search for benefits among SMBs remains Panasonic’s biggest hurdle in pitching IP phone. Users want to know there is some tangible benefit, enough to offset their concerns about reliability. To meet that challenge, Panasonic relies on a careful screening process among its channel partners.

"A lot of this has to do with training of the dealer network, starting with selecting dealers that are IT oriented and not just phone guys," Savino said. "If you are out there with IP, they have to comfortable with software, with security, with data. This type of dealer has to be of a higher quality, someone who can debug a system, and not just fix a phone."

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