As we tried to (re)define SaaS and evaluate how different enterprise applications fit into this model, we assessed the different UC platforms from a SaaS point of view.
As I have previosuly stated, given the interoperability challenges when integrating disparate applications into an end-to-end unified communications solution, a pre-integrated service package offered on a hosted/SaaS basis provides great value to business users. But how flexible are service provider application platforms for a SaaS model given that most businesses have some existing premise-based infrastructure? And is SaaS really a panacea for the ailing communications market?
Let’s start by saying that, according to my colleague Melanie Turek (please see her post on SaaS – Enterprise 2.0 Blog » Melanie Turek, as well as Software as a Service: Everything Old is New Again), the SaaS story actually dates back to the dot.com era and the hype around the ASP model. In the old days, most hosted platforms were as monolithic as premise-based solutions which gave little chance to service providers to add more value to the service or differentiate. Today, it is still difficult to figure out to what extent different hosted IP services can also be considered SaaS. SaaS and hosted services bear a lot of similarities; yet, SaaS implies Web-based applications and also the ability of the service provider to manipulate, manage, upgrade, etc. the applications and fully control the back end of the platform in order to provide flexible services to its customers.
Open (understandably, somewhat of an arbitrary term), SIP-based platforms are opening up new opportunities for service providers today. Looking at the IP hosted telephony space, we can see that several of the service providers deploying a BroadSoft platform (including former General Bandwidth/Tekelec/VocalData and Sylantro solutions) have enhanced their service offerings by adding their own applications and improving the backend capabilities for faster and easier quotes, provisioning and service management. Some of the hosted IP telephony providers such as CallTower, Cypress Communications, Engage Incorporated, M5, Smoothstone, Vantage Communications and others have sought to deliver various communication and business applications (telephony, call control/contact center applications, chat/presence, etc., CRM) packaged in a SaaS/CaaS (Communications as a Service) manner.
BroadSoft is opening up its APIs for mashups and the potential integration of its voice communication platform with other applications for the delivery of more comprehensive service packages from the “cloud”. Not long ago it enabled the integration of services delivered on the BroadWorks platfrom with salesforce.com. More recently, LightEdge introduced a hosted UC package based on BroadSoft’s telephony platform and OCS, which shows that there exists a viable opportunity for service providers deploying BroadSoft solutions to expand their offerings with UC capabilities.
As mentioned in a previous post, UC platforms such as OCS and MCS currently used by CallTower and Cypress Communications, the two hosted UC leaders today, do not scale easily to multi-vendor PBX environments, which has pre-determined these providers’ business models whereby they offer a full package of telephony, VM/UM + chat/presence/UC + conferencing capabilities to their customers. This model certainly has its value and benefits to both the providers and their customers, however, it limits the overall target audience to those customers that do not have PBXs.
Cypress Communications, well ahead of everyone else with over 10,000 hosted UC seats today, claims that its Nortel infrastructure – MCS5200 and CS2000 – is one of the best solutions for delivering hosted communications to businesses. CS2000 is a scalable, robust, feature-rich platform that provides all the enterprise telephony capabilities required by business users. MCS52000, on the other hand, is one of the leading UC platforms available on the market today. I would like to point out, however, that Cypress Communications has been able to successfully leverage the capabilities of these platforms to grow its hosted UC base because of its ability to support the service all the way to the desktop including the router and the LAN switch.
CallTower, on the other hand, has experienced slower growth with its hosted telephony offering based on a Cisco UC Manager, but is looking to accelerate sales with a more comprehensive hosted UC package including network-based OCS. Going forward, CallTower is planning to leverage OCS for telephony as well.
There is a third company offering hosted UC and it’s probably the very first company that tapped into this opportunity four years ago – Engage Incorporated. Engage uses Siemens’ OpenScape to deliver voice as well as a number of other communication applications to its customers on a SaaS basis. Engage has had somewhat of a limited success as it has so far tried to bundle communications with other business applications – CRM, ERP, etc. – delivered as SaaS. OpenScape provides it with a unique competitive advantage, however, as it integrates with any PBX, any IM/chat client and any other vendor’s applications. It is one of the most open technologies available on the market today and is uniquely positioned as it does not seek to replace existing telephony or IM solutions but rather acts as the glue that converts disparate applications into a comprehensive unified communications environment.
While most service providers currently involved or considering hosted UC options already have some hosted/SaaS offerings – some started with email, others with telephony, yet others with CRM, etc. – going forward, hosted UC will provide an attractive revenue opportunity for telcos, VARs, etc., that do not yet have any hosted apps in their portfolio. Such providers may wish to consider OpenScape UC as it can enable them to integrate with multiple different premise-based infrastructure environments. Further, HiPath 8000 (OpenScape Voice) can enhance such service provider offerings with a telephony option as well. Developed from a softswitch and providing a robust PBX feature set, it provides a competitive alternative to existing hosted telephony platforms.
Siemens has long claimed to be striving to become a services company and with its open communications approach it seems well positioned to become one of the leading CaaS providers. Partnerships are going to be critical for its success in that space.
SaaS, and communications as a service, in particular, is not a panacea, neither today in the economic downturn, nor in the long term. It does offer a growth opportunity for service providers, however, and a viable option for businesses to test and trial new technologies and applications. Selecting the right platform from the start is going to determine each provider’s success in this space. Therefore, decision makers need to evaluate not only the existing platforms and their capabilities, but also each vendor’s vision and roadmap in order to make the right choice.