Founded in 2004, telephony provider Fonality made the leap into cloud-based VoIP last summer with the launch of Connect, a product that combines VoIP services, IP phones and unlimited local and long-distance U.S. and Canadian calling.
With its latest release, the company takes its hosted model one step further. Its Heads Up Display (HUD) dashboard, which offers a range of unified communications capabilities (and which has been an option with Fonality’s premise-based VoIP solutions since 2006), is now available in the cloud.
Cloud has proved a winner for Fonality. The company’s customer base more than doubled from Q4 2009 to Q4 2010 and now stands at over 13,000 customers. Cloud implementations have been driving the acceleration, growing significantly faster than the company’s other product lines.
In bringing out HUD for businesses in the 20- to 250-employee range, Fonality was thinking less about the market’s awareness of UC than about SMBs’ need for enhanced functionality. “There are these customers that generally don’t know about unified communications. They just want something that will solve their problems,” said chief marketing officer Wes Durow.
The company saw in this desire a market opportunity for the kind of functionality UC can bring.
What HUD brings to the VoIP party is a set of advanced communications features including presence and activity monitoring, visual voicemail, voicemail-to-text, secure chat, audio conferencing, and call recording.
By bringing HUD to Connect, executives say they are beefing up the feature set on the cloud side. This would seem a sound business strategy, given the enthusiastic response to Connect so far. In pitching a cloud solution – Connect, which starts at $30 per seat per month – Fonality is closing 40 percent of its small-business deals on the first call, Durow said, adding that people are taking the plunge as the next logical step in the evolution of their VoIP implementations.
“So far the transition to voice over IP has been readily accepted, but it hasn’t really had a dramatic impact in terms of the economics,” he said. Too often a small business still will face hardware implementation costs and fluctuating monthly expenses in the move to VoIP. The cloud offers a bigger payoff.
“If you can give them all these capabilities without them having to put down $10,000 or $15,000 up front, and you can give them a fixed monthly expense, That is a huge proposition,” Durow said.
While SMBs may see the virtues of cloud, it still takes a bit of finesse to address the different audiences, even within a small organization. While the owner and the CFO for example need to see the use case – how will this boost productivity? – they also need to feel the benefit in their gut. “Technology decisions are very personal. Any potential disruption to working capital is felt directly,” Durow said.
For the IT team, it’s all about pragmatism, the hard facts that will drive a transition. “They are typically one- or two-person shops, so they are all about speed of deployment. And they want to have a technical roadmap that they can be moving toward,” Durow said.
While already amply provisioned, HUD will be seeing enhancements in the near future. “Video is not there yet, current adoption is very low, but that is something that is going to be on our roadmap for the next five years. There will also be new document-sharing features,” Durow said. “There is no doubt that we will be adding features the next release.”
In the big picture, looking across the industry, Durow said Fonality is at the crest of a rising wave. He describes the coming of cloud as a game-changer in the world of IP telephony, akin to other fundamental changes that have swept through IT in recent years.
“Nobody talked to small businesses about [customer relationship management] solutions seven or eight years ago, because of the cost and complexity. They couldn’t afford Siebel, SAP or Oracle solutions,” he said. Few could have foreseen Salesforce.com’s meteoric transformation of the sector.
“We see the exact same opportunity when people talk about cloud telephony. Nobody has done it in this segment of the market,” Durow said.