8×8 Expands into Unified Communications

Business communications solutions provider 8×8, Inc. recently announced a broad range of enhancements to its offering, bringing the company’s Virtual Office hosted PBX solution fully into the realm of unified communications. New features include an online portal, Internet faxing, call recording, and a mobile VoIP application.

The process began, according to company director of corporation communications Joan Citelli, with the launch of 8×8’s Virtual Meeting audio and video conferencing solution in September of 2009. “That was our first foray into the broader unified communications arena,” she says.

Last week, 8×8 stepped more fully into that arena with the launch of Virtual Office Pro, a complete solution that builds upon the company’s Virtual Office hosted PBX system with the addition of the Virtual Meeting service as well as Internet faxing, call recording, and a complete online portal, for $49.99 per month with unlimited extensions. Existing Virtual Office users can upgrade to Virtual Office Pro for an additional $20 per extension per month.

The online portal, Virtual Office Online, provides a Web-based dashboard for control of all of Virtual Office Pro’s features, from call forwarding to voicemail access. “I can see all my voicemails, I can see all my incoming faxes, I can see all my meetings, I can see my recordings, and I can invite people from my contact files,” says company CMO Debbie Jo Severin.

And the portal, Severin says, is now offered to all 8×8 users. “All our Virtual Office customers now get Virtual Office Online,” she says. “They just don’t get the Virtual Meeting, the Internet fax, the call recording capabilities—those are grayed out—but for managing phone calls, even taking a call from a computer or placing a call from a computer, they can do that with Virtual Office Online.”

At the same time, the company also released Virtual Office Mobile, an application that treats an iPhone or iPod Touch as an extension of the Virtual Office service, allowing users to redirect incoming calls to the device and to redirect outgoing iPhone calls through Virtual Office. The application is included with Virtual Office Pro, and is available to Virtual Office users for $4.99.

Finally, 8×8 also introduced 8×8 Connect for Facebook, a free Facebook application that enables users to place a clickable “Call Me” button on their Facebook page. Clicking on the button allows others Facebook users to call that person at a pre-selected number, though the phone number itself is never revealed to the caller.

Company president Dan Weirich says the Facebook app was simply designed to make as many people as possible aware of this kind of functionality. “Many Facebook users are small business owners or employees in larger enterprises who will use this application in their personal and business lives and will hopefully look to 8×8 when seeking business communications solutions in the future,” he says.

Overall, Citelli says the company as a whole is transitioning from offering an advanced phone service to offering a broader range of advanced communication services. “We have always wanted to be considered a very innovative communication services provider—and not only that, but providing services at a cost that small businesses can afford,” she says.

At the recent ITEXPO East 2010 conference in Miami, Fla., Virtual Office Pro received a Best of Show award in the small to medium size business category—but Citelli says it’s important to note that the offering also targets large companies. “We are seeing interest from larger enterprise type customers, particularly those that are in distributed environments,” she says.

The point is that the same strengths—lower cost, improved functionality, and freedom from having to maintain and manage the system on-site—are attractive to customers of all sizes. “We are seeing quite a bit of interest from large companies that are looking to hosted services like these… to replace the legacy PBXes that they’ve traditionally had on premise,” Citelli says.

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