News

Response Point Deserves Better

Disconcerting News

It’s only a few months after Microsoft finally put its Response Point (RP) System in the spotlight with the release of SP2 and John Frederiksen’s keynote speech at ITEXPO East in February 2009, and the wings of the entrepreneurial RP team seem to have been cut. It is clear that the latest wave of Microsoft lay-offs has impacted the RP team and some cryptic statements on the official Response Point Team Blog indicate that Microsoft wishes “to take a good look at the next version of Response Point and ensure it addresses the needs of Small Businesses.”

I contacted John Frederiksen, General Manager for Response Point at Microsoft, and he responded to my concerns with the following somewhat re-assuring comments:

  • The company will continue to support Response Point version 1.0.
  • We will continue to support our current OEMs, Service Providers and resellers that are selling Response Point version 1.0. Customers will continue to be supported through their OEMs.
  • We will also continue to promote the product online and spotlight compatible 3rd party services and add-on products.
  • The team is evaluating the strategy for the next version of the product and will continue to investigate the opportunity in the small business market.
  • The Response Point team has not been moved to another division.

Two years ago, when RP was still in beta trials, I thought it offered some interesting features and capabilities and I believed Microsoft was going to leverage this innovative solution to aggressively pursue the SMB customer segment as another entry point (vis-à-vis OCS) into the telephony market in general (see my article here). I did wonder if there was going to be some conflict of interest between OCS and RP and the respective teams, but ruled out that possibility assuming Microsoft had sufficient resources to support both lines of business as they seem to serve fairly distinct market segments. Today, the economic recession seems to be forcing Microsoft, not unlike other IT and communication vendors, to make tough choices. I am still unsure if the decision was made on the basis of comparing the respective potentials of OCS and RP, but RP has definitely fallen prey to Microsoft’s efforts to cut down expenses where short-term revenue and profit prospects are less certain.

Response Point Value and Market Positioning

In a more recent article discussing the release of SP2, I stated my belief that Response Point is uniquely positioned because of it features including the speech recognition capability and the Magic Blue Button (voice-controlled auto attendant and dialing), but mostly because of its ease of installation, use and management. It is as close as it gets to an affordable,  plug-and-play telephony solution for small businesses, and thus in a category of its own, since most other small-business systems are neither as simple to use nor as inexpensive. Generally, it is hard to find an IP telephony platform that can provide a cost-effective communication solution for a business of less than 20 users, or a larger business with geographically dispersed sites of that size. SP2 offered some valuable enhancements such as analog phone support, intercom, VPN and multi-subnet support, an after-hours receptionist setting and more robust audio. The anticipated release of version 2.0 is supposed to make it an even more robust business-class solution that competes head-to-head with platforms offered by traditional telephony vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, Nortel and Siemens.

However, what I believed was going to be Microsoft’s (not so) secret weapon in the battle for the small-business space was its extensive channel of VARs, resellers, specialists, etc. The traditional vendors use channels that have mastered the skill of marketing, implementing and managing more complex solution for medium and large businesses. Very much like the vendors themselves, these channel partners have a vested interest in pursuing larger implementations that produce greater margins and help them scale and grow more rapidly. Response Point, on the other hand, is well positioned to enable multiple Microsoft specialists and consultants to add a new revenue stream to their business and offer a more complete portfolio of business solutions to their small business customers. Response Point customers have indicated that they appreciate the features and lower cost of the solution, but their trust in Microsoft’s continued support and extensive channels represents a major factor in their decision to select Response Point versus open-source or some other less mainstream solutions. Yet Microsoft is currently failing to re-assure its channel by sharing a clear vision for the future of the Response Point system.

I talked to several RP resellers about three months ago and I was really impressed by the positive feedback. They seemed to believe that the features, though not on par with those offered by traditional vendors, were sufficient for most of their clients. A phrase that frequently came up in partners’ comments was: “This time they got it right from the start. It just works.” Also, partners appreciated the continued interaction with Microsoft allowing them to contribute to the development and addition of new capabilities that would further enhance the value of the RP system for small businesses. They were eagerly awaiting release 2.0 as the more compelling solution that would indeed enable them to compete successfully in their target market. My conversations with resellers as well as the blog entries I have read on various web sites dedicated to Response Point and Microsoft’s eco-system of partners indicate a very strong confidence in Microsoft’s ability to deliver and its commitment to this product line.

The Channel Awaits Microsoft’s Official Statement

As the rumors spread about the fate of the RP team and Microsoft delays making an official statement on the future of this products, disappointment and doubt are beginning to creep in among the partner ranks. For some of these small outfits RP had just opened up opportunities that now seem to be closing without proper notice. Not only the income, but also the reputation of these specialists and consultants is on the line since they have promised their customers a certain roadmap of product viability and evolution.

Further, partners are now having second thoughts about the quality of the Response Point system. They see more clearly some of its disadvantages in light of Microsoft’s hesitation to continue investing in further product development. Most of them continue to believe that, given continued development, this product is right for them and for their customers. Yet others are quickly beginning to look for competitive products to add to their portfolio in order to be able to sustain their competitive position in the small business communication space.

Finally, partners are now questioning the nature of their relationship with Microsoft – is Microsoft really committed to supporting its partner network or are they after quick and guaranteed profits only?

Speculations Abound at Times of Uncertainty

I saw speculations about the possibility of Microsoft integrating RP with OCS. I don’t see why they would want to do that. Microsoft can use certain elements of RP for call control with OCS if needed, but OCS is not a suitable solution for small businesses. If a business needs inexpensive telephony and/or IM client, they have other options. The value of OCS and unified communications is in their ability to integrate multiple applications from IM to voice to UM to conferencing, but in order to deploy all these capabilities, a business will need several servers with a significant price tag.

Others are speculating that Microsoft is planning to focus most of its efforts in the communication space on cloud computing and communications as a service (CaaS). I believe that Software as a Service (SaaS) and CaaS have some potential for delivering business applications and communications to SMBs. Similar to existing hosted telephony services, it alleviates all implementation and management hassles for small businesses typically lacking in-house technical expertise. However, SOHOs and very small businesses are likely to continue to prefer the least expensive consumer solutions. On the other hand, small businesses at the upper end of the range – 20 to 100 users – may actually benefit from inexpensive premise-based solutions such as Response Point.

In my opinion, Microsoft should certainly pursue profitable opportunities as that would eventually be best for both itself and its partners. I do believe, however, that Response Point has a good market potential. As I mentioned earlier, it is competing against traditional vendor platforms, many of which are just too expensive and difficult to manage for small businesses of up to 50 users. Hosted IP telephony has failed to gain much traction throughout its nearly decade-long existence, although it is touted to be a most suitable alternative for this particular market segment. Open-source telephony, on the other hand, is becoming a more viable option, especially with Digium and others focusing on developing a channel, something that was considered one of their major weaknesses so far. Consumer vendors such as Google and Skype are also vying for a piece of the SOHO and small business market and are likely to eventually gain some penetration. However, Response Point has the advantage of having been developed as a business system from the start and the channel has already been trained.

Conclusion

Overall, I believe that Response Point is a viable solution for the small business market. As with any technology, however, its success is largely dependent on the vendor’s execution plan, and I’ll repeat myself – “It’s all about channels”. Given the right marketing efforts, it will sell, and given the right vendor and channel support – it will thrive; without those elements, it is not going to make it on its own. The small business market continues to be under-penetrated and to offer tremendous opportunities. While the competition seems to be intensifying in this market segment, the various solutions seem to offer some distinct advantages and disadvantages thus basically catering to slightly different sub-segments. As some of Microsoft’s partners seem to believe, more extensive  marketing efforts may be needed (TV commercials, end-user webinars, etc.) with a strong marketing message that clearly identifies the benefits of Response Point in order for Microsoft and its partners to be able to keep Response Point sales afloat in this challenging economy.

The CxO Perspective On Unified Communications in a Down Economy

With the recession having forced business decision makers to change their investment priorities, communication vendors and service providers are re-assessing their challenges and opportunities for growth. One of the top questions on communication vendors and service providers’ minds is how perceptions of unified communications (UC) have changed and how the down economy is impacting demand for the individual communication applications as well as demand for UC as an integrated set of voice, data and video applications with pervasive presence across all communication media.

UC Awareness and Usage on the Rise

We conducted an end-user survey of over 100 C-level executives at U.S.-based multi-national corporations (MNCs) that sought to accomplish the following objectives:

  •  Measure awareness of communication and collaboration tools
  • Identify leading communication and collaboration vendors and service providers
  • Identify frequency and level of communication and collaboration tool usage
  • Determine importance of communication and collaboration tools
  •  Understand the effect of the recession on communication and collaboration tools
  • Determine future intentions for deploying communication and collaboration tools within organizations

We sought to understand the degree of awareness, usage and importance of the following applications:

  •  VoIP
  • Audio conferencing
  • Web conferencing
  • Video conferencing
  • Telepresence
  • Instant messaging
  • Presence
  • Unified messaging
  • Unified communications

One of the most positive findings was the fact that over 30% of respondents were aware of all these applications. Most respondents (80%) were aware of VoIP and the three main types of conferencing applications, whereas about 31% were aware of UC (the lowest awareness level of all applications). Interestingly enough, over 30% of respondents also claimed to be using UC within their organizations, which may indicate that, due to varying UC definitions, users identify UC with IP telephony and/or other advanced communication applications. Another reassuring survey finding was the fact that at least 30% of the respondents found all the communication applications listed above to be “very important” and at least 73% found each one of these applications to be either “very important” or “somewhat important”.

The really bright spot was the finding that 74% of the respondents expect their budget for communication and collaboration products and services to increase or stay the same with only 26% anticipating a budget reduction over the next 12 months. Some of the stated reasons for increasing spending included expansion and growth at the respondents’ organizations and industries as well as technology advances and replacement of outdated systems and use of new applications. Respondents who stated that they planned to continue or increase their usage of UC explained their decisions listing a number of actual and anticipated benefits including: cost savings, productivity and the ability to better communicate both internally and externally.

Finally, one other interesting phenomenon revealed by the survey was the respondents’ strong intentions to increase their usage of managed and hosted services. Only 18% planned to decrease their usage, whereas the rest intended to either “somewhat increase” or “significantly increase” their usage of such services.

 

gdpr, News, privacy

Free conference call providers are a dying breed


The days are numbered for all Free Conference Call services, it’s simply a matter of time. The big telcos have been a bit pissy for having to aid their competitors indirectly via the USF. The emotion over this has been coming to boil for years now and recently Free Conference Call provider Foonz fell, just a few days ago.

I am sure glad we decided to pull out of that Free Conference Call game long ago. Our conference call service “Lypp” (formerly Gaboogie) started by offering free conferencing but quickly decide that was a bad idea (duh!). Lypp is now cash flow positive, growing like crazy and not showing any signs of slowing down.

Finding the Business Value in Web 3.0

My colleagues Alaa Saayed and Melanie Turek recently took a look at Web 3.0 and tried to define it and assess its potential impact on both business users and communication solution providers. Here follow some excerpts from their study.

What exactly is Web 3.0? This buzzword has lately been used to describe the evolution of the Web in the context of human interaction. The so called “semantic Web” refers to the third-generation Internet’s potential to automatically and intelligently interpret the data accessed by a given user, thereby making the continuous flow of information increasingly relevant.

Through the use of semantic technologies, which intelligently process the nature and value of searchable text, Web 3.0 tools find and deliver the right content at the right time. To do this, they use special formats and notations, such as Resource Description Framework Schema (RDFS) and Web Ontology Language (OWL), to provide algorithms that understand the description of concepts, terms and relationships. As a result, a Web 3.0 search engine wouldn’t rely only on keywords to deliver information, for instance, but would also take into account the context of complete phrases or questions in order to produce more relevant results.

 For example, suppose you want to know the names of all the actors who have played James Bond in the 007 movies. If you type in the question “who portrayed James Bond?” into a traditional search engine, the tool will deliver a list of pages that may or may not contain the names of all or some of the actors who have played James Bond on screen; you must then click on those links to get the information you’re looking for. If you use an advanced semantic Web browser, on the other hand, the search engine will “understand” exactly what you’re looking for and deliver direct answers—in this case, a list of the actors, rather than a list of links.

Although there are many ways in which the semantic Web could help technology vendors and IT managers transform the way they do business, the key advantage it delivers is knowledge management.

We are immersed in the information age; companies and end users that best manage the onslaught of information–and contextualize it for efficient use–will realize a competitive advantage. The goal is to transform data from a variety of sources (consumers, employees, and enterprises) into personal and institutional knowledge.

Companies must leverage explicit and stored knowledge to deliver maximum value; to do that, they must manage that knowledge in ways that improve efficiency and streamline business processes. As a result:

 

1.  Marketing departments could better understand what customers are saying about their products.

2.  Communication departments could intelligently tailor their tight Internet/Web 2.0 communications budgets.

3.  Business intelligence units could better evaluate and analyze the competition.

4.  Customer service departments could better serve their clients.

5.  Doctors could better serve their patients by having enriched clinical knowledge.

6.  Travel agencies could better tailor their product packages and offerings depending on customers’ preferences.

7.  Financial institutions and banks could better serve people’s needs by tailoring their products appropriately.

8.  Enterprises could gather employee’s explicit knowledge (published, concise, and structured) as well as tacit knowledge (which resides in peoples’ heads).

9.  Service oriented architectures (SOA) and search services on the cloud could be drastically improved.

 

The goal of the semantic Web is to intelligently use information, instead of simply accumulating it.

Web 3.0

Web 3.0

WebRTC

SIP Trunking and Hosted PBX in Canada will speed HD Voice for small business

SIP trunks are simply another way of saying VoIP Provider for your phone system. A SIP trunk is a connection from a PBX (phone system) using SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) to an ITSP (Internet Telephony Service Provider).

It might sound complicated but it’s really quite simple, SIP trunks take the place of your legacy telephone company. Most phone systems out there today are more than a couple of years old and are likely based on circuit switched technology. Newer IP-PBXs use packet switching technology, which means they leverage the Internet to deliver the same features you have now, and then some. The difference could be minor or major depending on what your PBX is capable of and what your ITSP can deliver in terms of features and functionality.

Since the PSTN (public switch telephone network) is tied to aging circuit switched technology it has limitations in terms of what media it can support. Essentially, it can deliver low quality voice, that’s it.

SIP Trunks replace older PRI and POTS interfaces that we are used to and bring to the table a wide variety of communications options. Depending on your IP-PBX and your ITSP you could potentially look forward to HD (High Defenition) Voice and potentially HD Video.

HD voice (and video) for small business in Canada will happen, it’s only a matter of time. As broadband providers increase upstream bandwidth and dual WAN link-failover devices become common place, SIP trunking will accellerate in growth and on-net (calls made on the ITSP network) HD Voice will become common place.

Unfortunately, HD communication off-net (eg. PSTN) is not going anywhere at any great speed. Jeff Pulver is back as he reboots the communications industry with his new HD Communication Summit. I welcome Jeff back with open arms, if anyone can convince operators to increase speed towards wide-band/HD adoption it would Jeff Pulver.

Today we can see SIP trunking providers and hosted pbx providers supporting wideband codecs and devices on their networks. This will allow user to communicate in high definition with other users that have devices that support it, in brief you could have better calls between you and your colleagues in the office and remote office workers connected to the same PBX, and that is a step in the right direction.

Archives
Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Youtube
Consent to display content from Youtube
Vimeo
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google
Spotify
Consent to display content from Spotify
Sound Cloud
Consent to display content from Sound