Newz Snippets Spring-2016

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Sometimes being succinct, yet thorough, and presenting details without fluff and hype is refreshing. Here, we round-up recent advancements around business telephony and unified communications products and services – in a brief, quick-take type of format. Read about some of the new integrations and applications, new cloud services, software updates and more from the business communications vendors on our radar. Think of it as newz in a nutshell.

3CX has integrated its software-based phone system with software-as-a-service solutions from Tenfold.  The Tenfold solutions enhance the integration of the 3CX Phone System with popular Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems through additional dialing options, reporting and analytics such as Tenfold’s lead danger reports, team-based analytics and automated “next” dialing that prioritizes sales workflow, among other capabilities. Tenfold products support integrations with dozens of CRM systems, including Salesforce, Zendesk, NetSuite, InfusionSoft, Oracle, Sugar and many others.

8×8 is evolving its current Virtual Office Meetings cloud-based conferencing and collaboration service with HD video conferencing and mobile collaboration. Support for HD 1080p video on laptops and computers is generally available this spring, adding to the meeting features already available such as one-click meeting scheduling, document sharing and annotation, group chat, launching a web conference from a chat session and standard-definition video conferencing. Additionally, this summer, the 8×8 Virtual Office mobile client for iOS and Android will add support for Meetings with HD 720p video. Virtual Office Meetings is available as part of 8×8’s Virtual Office Professional bundle. In other news, 8×8 is updating its Virtual Contact Center (VCC) service (June 2016) to include a native quality management solution (interaction recording and display and agent scorecards), customer journey analytics (from the customers’ perspective) and a new EasyConfig tool for contact center managers to better control agent screen and workflow options.

Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise Rainbow is a new cloud service that will be operated by ALE to deliver contact management, instant messaging, presence, persistent messaging, audio/video, screen sharing and other cloud-based business services. Rainbow is an overlay approach that makes the cloud services available to companies with any vendor’s on-premises or cloud-based solution. Rainbow expands upon ALE’s earlier OpenTouch Personal Cloud portfolio that requires channel partners to invest in invoicing tools and support. With Rainbow, ALE becomes the complete provider, making it easier for partners to offer these services to end customers. Later in the year, ALE will add support for a hybrid approach (Cloud Connect) that will allow premises-based communications platforms from ALE and other vendors to connect to and integrate with the Rainbow cloud services.  To encourage usage, ALE will be offering free Rainbow services to its installed base. In other news, ALE will be introducing virtualized versions of its communications servers (planned for Q4 2016 and early 2017), two new DECT phones and a new entry-level IP desk phone (GA Q2 2016).

AltiGen updated its MaxACD all-software contact center specifically designed for Microsoft’s Skype for Business (Lync) and Office 365. The new R7.0 software adds Web Chat Queuing and Routing (click-to-chat from any web page with chat requests routed to available agents) as another channel for customers to engage with agents in addition to voice-centric communications. R7.0 also adds a new web-based administrator console for administering agents and workgroups and monitoring and managing system activity. AltiGen MaxACD runs on industry standard servers using VMware or Hyper-V virtualization technologies and can be deployed on-premises, in the cloud or in a hybrid configuration.

Avaya has expanded the deployment options for its IP Office cloud services, now offering two options for its channel partners – a partner-hosted, partner-branded hosted/cloud service available globally (Powered by Avaya IP Office) and an Avaya-hosted, Avaya-branded option available in the U.S. (OnAvaya-Google Cloud) for partners that do not have the data center infrastructure to host and manage the service. See the related write-up for more detail.

Avaya’s new subsidiary Zang offers a cloud-based communications platform-as-a-service with an application development environment, embedded Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and pre-built applications. Developers and end users can utilize the Zang subscription-based services to build and deploy custom communications-enabled applications and services for consumers or enterprises. This includes using Zang applications with third party communications applications such as Cisco Spark, Microsoft Skype for Business and Google Hangouts. Zang leverages the assets of the previously-acquired Esna Technologies and its cloud integration software, but extends these capabilities into more of a complete and open development platform with APIs and pre-built applications such as the forthcoming Zang Spaces team collaboration application expected in the second half of 2016. “Avaya Breeze” is the new name for the Avaya Engagement Development Platform and marks a new direction that extends this Avaya Aura application development environment to  support third party communications platform integrations. The new Avaya Snapp Store is an online marketplace for distribution and purchase of Avaya Breeze applications (pre-built snap-ins) that are developed by Avaya or third party developers.

BroadSoft acquired cloud contact center company Transera and its omni-channel (voice, email, chat and social) and analytics software solutions for the contact center. The acquisition expands the BroadSoft portfolio into the rapidly growing Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) market and will enable BroadSoft’s service provider customers to offer a “single stack” solution that includes contact center along with its BroadWorks and BroadCloud hosted PBX and Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) offers and with the service provider’s own network transport.

Cisco has extended the features and functionality of its cloud-based team collaboration application, Cisco Spark, adding business telephony and video conferencing to the existing messaging and meeting capabilities already available. This latest development takes Spark to a whole new level, making it a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) contender with built-in messaging, meeting and calling functionality. The Spark Calling service is aimed at small and mid-sized businesses with 250 users or less and is offered through Cisco partners as a monthly per-user subscription. See the related write-up for more details. Cisco also announced the Cisco Spark Innovation Fund, a $150 million investment to accelerate the creation of custom applications and integration tools based on the Spark communications platform, and the recent acquisition of Synata search technology which is expected to enhance the existing Cisco Spark search capabilities. In other news, Cisco is buying IoT service provider Jasper Technologies; Cisco will benefit from Jasper’s recurring revenue IoT business, but will also be adding new services, including advanced IoT security and analytics solutions.

Digium updated its Switchvox premises-based telephony system with enhancements based on the company’s latest Asterisk 13 software. The new Release 6 introduces a redesign of the company’s Switchboard Web-based call control application that adds customizable, roles-based user interfaces, improved Salesforce.com integration and several new widgets, among other features. R6 also introduces Switchvox support for VMware, adding a new, virtualized software-only deployment option for Switchvox customers looking to consolidate hardware and incorporate telephony components into their IT infrastructure. Switchvox 6 was already generally available for Digium’s hosted Switchvox Cloud service and is now officially announced for the on-premises deployments – Switchvox Appliance and the new Switchvox for VMware. Switchvox customers with an on-premises deployment and a current support contract can upgrade to Switchvox 6 at no additional cost; Switchvox for VMware starts at $2,745.

ThinkingPhones has rebranded as fuze, the name of the cloud video conferencing company it acquired in November 2015. The new name is meant to emphasize that the company’s cloud-based services encompass more than just voice and telephony, but deliver (i.e. “fuze”) voice, text, data, and video on a single platform. The company is currently integrating the Fuze web and video conferencing technology with the ThinkingPhones UC services and will be introducing new user bundles in the near-term, along with a unified client application that combines all modes of interaction (voice, email, SMS, video, etc.) that will allow users to easily move between modes for more efficient and effective communications.

Grandstream Networks launched the new IPVideoTalk cloud-based Video, Audio and Web Conferencing service. The platform, built from scratch by Grandstream and hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS), allows users to schedule meetings, set up recurring meetings or initiate instant meeting via the online interface. IPVideoTalk is available to consumers and businesses worldwide. Grandstream is offering three subscription plans: a Basic plan for $39 per month (25 meeting attendees, three video presenters), a Pro plan for $55 per month (50 meeting attendees, eight video presenters) and a Plus plan that supports 100 meeting participants; there is also a free 2-month trial. Currently, participants can join using any Grandstream GVC series model or Chrome/Firefox browsers on a PC or Mac. In other news, Grandstream introduces a new 8-line, color IP business phone with on-screen digital BLF keys for high call volume users (list price US $115).

Interactive Intelligence announced PureCloud Engage for Salesforce, a new integration with the Salesforce customer relationship management (CRM) solution. Users can manage and queue calls, emails and Web chats from within the Salesforce user interface, as well as view screen pops of customer information driven by caller ID, dialed number, email address and other data. The integration also supports real-time presence status settings and integrated reporting. PureCloud Engage is part of the company’s PureCloud suite of unified communications and contact center applications running on Amazon Web Services (AWS). PureCloud Engage for Salesforce is available on the Salesforce AppExchange website.

LiveOps Cloud has developed a new Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) platform called CxEngage that builds on the company’s early innovations in the cloud contact center, but adds an open API framework and integration with customer relationship management (CRM), workforce management (WFM) and business intelligence (BI) applications. CxEngage is a multi-tenant solution that runs in Amazon Web Services (AWS) data centers located in various world regions, making the service available to multi-national contact centers that require geographic coverage; over 17,000 users are already on board, according to the company. In November 2015, LiveOps Cloud became an independent CCaaS company. (Mitel introduced the cloud-based MiContact Center Live Service in 2014 based on the LiveOps platform.)

MegaPath has enhanced its Channel Partner Program with more dedicated resources, enhanced tools and new reward programs, including an additional dedicated sales team and the new Enterprise Partner In-Depth Care (EPIC) Support Program that gives eligible partners and customers direct access to a support agent for service and support (unique toll-free number and PIN for contact). In addition, the company’s MasterStream quoting tool has been upgraded to provide quotes for all product types (Hosted PBX, SIP Trunks and PRI products), and there is a new commission system with a customizable dashboard and improved reporting. Partner rewards and incentives for selling MegaPath services now include the new Jump Start SPIFF (Sales Promotion Incentive Fund) that pays one times (1X) the monthly recurring revenue (MRR) on Q1 revenue over $1,000 (already offers other SPIFF bonuses), plus travel rewards for top-performing agents and partners. MegaPath’s Channel Partner Program includes more than 4,500 Master Agents, Integrators and VARs in North America.

Microsoft has made several announcements related to its new Office 365 E5 Skype for Business Cloud PBX solution, including extended availability for Microsoft’s Skype for Business Online to 32 countries (up from 15), with further availability soon in 60 countries and 100 countries by the end of June. Microsoft also introduced a new virtual Organizational Auto Attendant for the Cloud PBX (GA in April), allowing customers to use Office 365 for the automated handling of business calls and using speech recognition, and a new Cloud Connector Edition of Skype for Business Server for connecting existing phone lines and phone numbers to Office 365. Microsoft will be offering a preview of Skype for Business PSTN Calling services in the UK in May (to date, PSTN Calling has only been available in the U.S.).

Microsoft is partnering with Polycom and Logitech in a new initiative codenamed “Project Rigel” that will bring Skype Meeting technology to meeting rooms which are not equipped for modern video conferencing, but have traditional projectors or displays and require remote participants to dial via telephone. The new solutions will involve devices running Windows 10 for center-of-room touch control and Skype for Business online meeting technology for remote participants; the first systems are expected in the second half of 2016. In other news, Microsoft is acquiring Xamarin and its platform for mobile application development; the combination of Xamarin’s mobile development offering with Microsoft’s  Visual Studio, Visual Studio Team Services and Azure will provide a complete mobile app development solution for developing, testing and delivery.

Mitel announced a definitive agreement to acquire Polycom, creating a $2.5 billion revenue company (enterprise communications + conference and video collaboration) with a global workforce of approximately 7,700 employees. The combined company will operate under the Mitel name, but plans to maintain Polycom’s strong global brand; the transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of this year. There has been a lot of coverage and speculation on the impact of this merger, including this write-up posted on TalkingPointz. More to come on the strategy and product line integration as it becomes clearer.

Numonix announced the compatibility of its RECITE interaction recording solution with the Microsoft Office 365 hosted service, specifically the new premium Office 365 Enterprise Suite (E5) that adds Skype for Business services and enterprise voice features (telephony) to the hosted service. The latest version of RECITE (3.0) goes beyond voice recording to capture and record content from the multiple media types supported within a Microsoft Skype for Business environment. RECITE 3.0 records voice, but also video, chat and even screen-based communications such as application sharing and polling that often occurs during a conference. RECITE 3.0 was announced for Microsoft Skype for Business (Lync) environments last fall and is now available as a cloud-based service for Office 365 E5 customers. See the related write-ups on Numonix and Microsoft  for more details.

RingCentral has made a series of announcements of late, including the new RingCentral Global Office cloud service that allows a multi-national company to expand the RingCentral Office solution to international offices in supported countries and manage all offices via a single centralized administrator dashboard. RingCentral is also extending its Connect developer platform to include a WebRTC-based API and developer kit (now in beta), and is testing a new browser-based voice calling capability that leverages its cloud phone system, a company directory and a WebRTC-enabled browser to escalate a messaging conversation to a voice call.  In other news, RingCentral reports “significant traction” of the Glip team collaboration application, citing three times the usage since the acquisition of Glip in June 2015.

ShoreTel completed the rollout of its new Connect platform, announcing that Connect HYBRID Sites is now generally available in North America for networking Connect ONSITE and Connect CLOUD services and applications across multiple locations. Customers with a hybrid cloud-premises deployment will benefit from automated directory synchronization, a common dial plan that allows extension-to-extension dialing and feature parity for the mixed deployment model. The full ShoreTel Connect portfolio, including Connect ONSITE, Connect CLOUD and Connect HYBRID Sites, is now available in the U.S. and Canada (Connect ONSITE, the new premises-based system, is available globally). See the related write-up for more on the ShoreTel Connect solutions.

Switch.co has renamed as Dialpad Communications. The new name is said to reflect a user-centric concept that makes it easy for users to access voice, video, messaging and meetings via any device (a unified “dialpad”), offering a “more consumer-like communications experience,” according to the company. Dialpad (formerly Switch.co and Firespotter Labs before that) launched its cloud-based, business-grade phone system for Google Apps in January 2015 for $15 per user per month. Integration with Microsoft Office 365 was announced in October 2015. The company also offers the UberConference audio conferencing and online meeting service.

tekVizion introduced the onTap cloud environment for interoperability testing and solution optimization as-a-service. The new onTAP “virtual UC Lab in the cloud” hosts virtual instances of business communications platforms applications. Companies simply schedule a time online (a pay-per-use model) to log into the lab environment and conduct their interoperability testing; this eliminates the need to purchase any hardware and software to configure an in-house test system. In addition to interoperability testing, OnTAP is being used for real-time demonstration and training. tekVizion has also launched a unique “guarantee” program that guarantees the specific tech components tested will interoperate in that same configuration in a real-world environment; otherwise, tekVizion promises to troubleshoot the interoperability and re-test the configuration. This #tekVizionVerified seal of approval essentially “de-risks” the enterprise purchase and helps end-user customers make better technology decisions.

Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Telecommunication Systems Division IPedge software release 1.7.1 embeds two new applications: Meet-me Audio Conference and Call Accounting. The new capabilities add to multiple IPedge applications already residing on the Linux-based server, including call processing, unified messaging, unified communications, mobility and centralized administration. With the new Meet-me audio conferencing, four audio channel licenses are included free, and additional channels can be license-activated for more capacity depending on the IPedge server model and type (for example, up to 200 conference channels are possible on the highest-capacity IPedge Virtual Server EM). The new built-in Call Accounting application has no additional license requirements and requires no external hardware or software to generate call activity reports.

Unify (formerly Siemens Enterprise and recently acquired by European IT service company Atos) OpenScape Enterprise v9 introduces new features and enhancements to OpenScape UC, OpenScape Voice, OpenScape Branch and OpenScape Session Border Controller applications. The new functionality aims to support the digital workplace and the on-demand nature of work today. Notable features include improved integration with Microsoft Office and additional OpenScape Mobile call control features (OpenScape UC),  advanced telephony integration with Unify’s Circuit team collaboration application-as-a-service and new capabilities related to emergency services and cyber security (OpenScape Voice), local voicemail service and improved management (OpenScape Branch) and increased scale and reliability (OpenScape SBC).

Sandra Gustavsen