“The world has changed.”
As chief sales officer for unified communications solution provider Alteva, Louis Hayner has no problem making big statements. He’s pretty sure we stand on the cusp of a telecom upheaval.
The driving force here is Alteva’s newly announced ability to deliver what it calls true unified communications. The solution interconnects Alteva’s hosted voice and messaging services with Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, and Office Communications Server (OCS) for small business and enterprise customers.
On the one hand, the ability to bring together VoIP and Microsoft communications products opens up a considerable range of functionalities to end users. Hayner described the road warrior running late to a meeting. With converged VoIP and Outlook, it’s possible to notify others that the meeting will be delayed, without having to tap away at a BlackBerry.
More than this, convergence here could change the business landscape for service providers looking to sell in the fullest possible range of products.
“It opens up the marketplace for you to pitch a Microsoft product and also go after VoIP, or to go after VoIP and also pitch Microsoft,” Hayner said. “It opens up the door for your channel because it allows them to expand their marketplace vertically, to talk to all sorts of other people.”
Those people can span a broad range of end users. Hayner said service providers have seen instances in which business from 10 to 25,000 seats have been attracted to the convergence capability since it hit the market in January.
Companies already on the Microsoft platform and interested in VoIP have seen this as a way to further leverage their existing technology investment. Those with IP telephony already in place see an opportunity to enhance that with a hosted Exchange offering.
Founded in 2003, Alteva serves about 40,000 seats deployed among 700 customers. The company partnered closely with Microsoft to bring its interconnect solution to market, Hayner said. Microsoft dedicated seven people to the development effort, which cost about $500,000 and took 14 months. VoIP communications service provider BroadSoft also played an integral role in the process.
“Microsoft is good at making software and so is BroadSoft. They just needed someone to take each piece of that software and make them talk together,” Hayner said.
To a large degree, the involvement of Microsoft is what makes this a game-changer, Hayner said. “From a sales and marketing perspective everybody knows who Microsoft is and everybody is using Microsoft products,” he said. Up to now Cisco has been the dominant voice in telecom, “and now Microsoft comes into play, and to me Microsoft trumps Cisco seven times over.”
On the user side, that gives hosted voice and messaging a big boost, drawing people’s attention and bringing an instant level of credibility, Hayner said. More to the point, the possibility of a voice interface with Outlook and other Microsoft applications should give the industry a general public-relations lift. “I really think this type of innovation will reinvigorate IT people. It will make the industry cool again and fun again and sexy again. This is Star Trek.”
The cost of Star Trek these days? Alteva gets $15 per month per seat for voice-enabled hosted Exchange and $25 for the Voice over IP component, plus another $11 for video conferencing and collaboration for those who want it.
The pitch includes a promise of significant return on investment. Microsoft predicts a 20 percent gain in efficiencies when VoIP and the Microsoft Communication Services product suite come together, Hayner said.
While the numbers look promising, Hayner said uptake of the new model likely won’t take place overnight, since most people have VoIP and Microsoft pretty rigidly divided in their minds. “I didn’t really get it first. I was raised in telecom, so I could only understand it to be separate systems,” he said, adding that it will take some amount of education to make people comfortable with the idea of a converged paradigm.
Alteva also is launching a new website in conjunction with the new UC offerings. The revised site at www.altevatel.com will offer product information, a store, training videos, and other collateral when it goes live later this month.