The difference may seem subtle, but executives at Teo say their approach to unified communications (UC) could have a profound impact on the user experience when it comes to meshing voice, fax, e-mail, and other functions in a single application.
Unlike existing technologies that can interface between UC functions and the Microsoft platform, the company’s just-announced Teo Unified Communications System actually integrates UC features into Microsoft Exchange, for robust but seamless functionality.
“We’re all about the elegant solution, a highly reliable solution that is easy to use and is free of extraneous encumbrances, all the whiz-bang features that just get in the way,” said Thomas Beck, Teo (formerly Tone Commander)’s business strategy executive.
Founded in 1972, the Mukilteo, Wash. company employees about 50 people. It boasts a client roster that includes many government heavies, such as Homeland Security, Department of Defense, CIA, National Guard—as well as other large institutions, like Harvard University. Executives say that pedigree gives them the credibility to claim a secure UC solution that can deliver in the toughest big-organization environments.
“It’s no small thing to make an IP phone with advanced calling features and the ability to integrate. We also have a more hardened media server with more levels of redundancy and higher levels of up time, because of our client base. Basically, software needs to run on hardware, and our hardware is more robust,” Beck said.
The software in question comes from AltiGen, Teo’s partner in the new project. Based on AltiGen’s existing PC-based voice system (PBX), the new UC product integrates UC functionality into Teo’s servers, gateway and phones.
“Integration” here refers to Teo’s strategy of building on the Microsoft platform, a course it has pursued since 1997. Where others have approached a Microsoft interface later in the game, “we natively integrate, as opposed to have a brother-sister relationship through various connection points. There is no translation necessary like there is with the Avaya protocol or other [proprietary] protocols. We are already in the protocol, which allows us to be more natively integrated.”
Once installed, the UC system should allow a system administrator to connect directly to the premise-based switch, giving the administrator full call control at the desk phone: Transfer, conference, visual voice-mail, record, store, establish favorites, track call history.
All these can in turn be accessed on a cell phone, presenting an outward face that mirrors the desk phone. A worker at home appears to others to be seated at an office desk.
This in turn opens up a big business opportunity in the federal space, Beck said. Government agencies are working under congressional mandate to move a significant percentage of their workers into remote positions by 2012, “so they have a big motivation to have that [remote] capability. So that is one of the criteria they will use when they are evaluating a system.”
Security will be another criterion, and Beck is confident that Teo will have an edge there as its IP Phone 7810 is the first SIP phone to hold the IP TSG6 security certification.
Perhaps most significantly, this UC system’s native integration with Microsoft gives users a new, more elegant means with which to interface with various UC functions. Many products claim the ability to “interface” with Outlook, for instance, where interface typically means the ability to draw information from, and push information into, Outlook from some external application.
Beck explains that Teo’s UC system will reside entirely within Outlook, allowing the user to send e-mail, record calls, and make calls all from inside the Outlook interface, without having to switch applications or flip to an alternate page. “I’ve got one user interface for all my voice and e-mail communications, and it’s a solution that is already in use by 85 percent of users,” Beck said. “Outlook now becomes your de facto software phone.”
Finally, though perhaps not trivially, Teo makes rather a big thing out of its claim to be the only such product made in the United States. This is more than just a matter of patriotic pride, Beck said.
Per the 2009 stimulus bill, “the government wants to upgrade their technology package; they want to become more efficient and save the taxpayer money. So part of the act spells out that if an agency is upgrading their technology package, they should use American-manufactured goods whenever possible, as a means of supporting the U.S. economy,” Beck said.
With its claim to be the only U.S. manufacturer in the space, Teo is betting its patriotic play with give it yet another leg up as it goes to market with a solution it says will change the way UC gets done. It plans to release the UC systme in late 2009.