About a year ago (in March 2016), Avaya entered into the cloud-based communications platform-as-a-service market, announcing the new Zang subsidiary and new application development environment where developers and end users can build and deploy custom communications-enabled applications for mobile devices, computers or integrated into traditional phone systems. This includes integrations with third party communications solutions, but also some pre-built applications-as-a-service such as the Zang Spaces team collaboration application which was in controlled release since June 2016 and is now generally available. More recently, Zang has developed and introduced a second pre-built service, Zang Office, which delivers a Unified Communications as-a-Service (UCaaS) solution for small to mid-size businesses (SMBs).
In a nutshell, Zang Office is a multi-tenant cloud-based business phone service available to SMBs in the United States and Canada (European coverage is targeted for September 2017 per meeting legal, compliance and interoperability requirements). Zang Office is designed as a 100% cloud-based software-as-a-service offering that is simple to order online through the Zang Store (self-serve), and as such, does not require a partner or any in-house IT resources to assist with set-up and management. The service launched in October 2016 with a per-customer capacity of 250 users and has since expanded that capacity to 1,000 users. Plans to support a higher quantity of users in distributed (multi-site) environments are underway. And, the company is actively working on making the solution HIPPA compliant which will make Zang Office suitable for healthcare-related businesses.
Users choose from three plans:
- Basic (for lobbies, break rooms or conference rooms; $15.95 per user per month); includes a company main number, extension dialing, , Caller ID, a virtual receptionist, hunt groups, voicemail and essential telephony features such as call hold, transfer, forward, pick-up and park.
- Standard (for typical office workers; $21.95 per user per month); builds on Basic to add a softphone for desktops, laptops and mobile devices (iOS soon and Android in late May) and a direct phone number for each user, as well as a number of optionally added features such as customized music-on-hold and Caller ID, multi-party audio conferencing, unified messaging (receiving voicemail and fax in an email inbox), hot desking and find me/follow me call forwarding.
- Power (for more advanced unified communications needs; $31.95 per user per month); includes all Basic and Standard features, with customized music-on-hold and Caller ID, multi-party audio conferencing, unified messaging (receiving voicemail and fax in an email inbox), hot desking and find me/follow me call forwarding as part of the package.
In addition to the freely downloaded softphone, Zang Office also currently supports three pre-configured hard phones, the Avaya E129 and entry-level Avaya J129 SIP desktop phones and the Avaya B179 conference phone. Support for the Avaya Vantage tablet-like desk phone is expected in late May, and the company is considering certifying a number of non-Avaya devices.
Currently, Zang is running a promotion that offers a 50% discount for a one year commitment. This makes the most advanced Power user seat very competitive at only $15.97 per user per month for the first year. Zang Spaces can be added for team collaboration, with a “Free” tier for all users that includes persistent chat, 5-party voice conferencing, file sharing, video calling to other Zang Spaces users and the Spaces API. The “Plus” ($5/user/month) and “Business” ($25/user/month) tiers build on these features to add more capacity, video conferencing, application integrations and more support. The Zang Office Power user seat includes a Zang Spaces Plus license for free, or Power users can opt for a discounted Zang Spaces Business license.
Single Platform, Single Identity
Zang and Avaya emphasize the “power of Zang” as a single platform that includes APIs and tools to build communication applications (Zang Cloud), a collection of completed applications that integrate communications within cloud applications (Zang Connect) and pre-built applications such as the team collaboration application (Zang Spaces) and the new business phone service (Zang Office), with more to come. Customers will have a single identity to access any of these services, perhaps starting with Zang Office, utilizing Zang Spaces for teamwork and then trying out the Zang Cloud application development environment to create some custom applications.
Mo Nezarati, VP & GM of Zang explains further, “Zang incorporates an innovative identity management system that allows Single Sign On (SSO) with a number of cloud providers today (to be expanded), as well as allowing the creation of a pure Zang account. Once an account is created, users can jump between all Zang applications using the same identity. Signing into one Zang Service will allow access to all subscribed services, and signing out of any Zang service will sign the user out of all of them.”
This ease of moving among and trying out the Zang applications and integrations has the potential to create a “stickiness” that will make the Zang Collaboration Cloud a central and (hopefully) irreplaceable part of an organization’s day-to-day business processes.
Zang Office vs. Avaya’s Hosted IP Office
Zang Office is not the first hosted SMB offering from Avaya. Last year, Avaya rolled out cloud services for its IP Office communications platform for SMBs and enterprise branch offices, offering two options for its channel partners: (1) a partner-hosted, partner-branded cloud service available globally (Powered by Avaya IP Office) and (2) an Avaya-hosted, Avaya-branded option available in the U.S. (OnAvaya-Google Cloud) for partners that do not want to host and manage the service or don’t have the data center infrastructure to do so.
Both hosted IP Office options require an Avaya partner to manage the sale. Moreover, with these offers, Avaya can leverage its expertise in traditional, on-premises telephony solutions to offer hybrid cloud-premises configurations for flexibility and investment protection. A business can continue using already purchased on-site equipment, while taking advantage of a pay-as-you-go hosted service for some applications or to network a mix of premises-based and cloud-based solutions across geographically dispersed business locations. Because Avaya uses the same IP Office software code base for premises and cloud IP Office solutions, the company can support the deployment (cloud or on-site) that best meets a particular customer’s requirements.
While Zang Office may have less in the way of telephony and UC features and functionality when compared to Avaya’s well-established IP Office, it will be appealing to SMBs looking for an affordable business phone service that is simple to order, install and manage without the need for an outside assistance or any in-house IT personnel. Zang and Avaya also highlight the post-sale customer success team that follows up on every order to ensure that those who purchase any Zang software service are able to adopt the solution successfully within their user body.
According to the Zang team, several enhancements are already in the works, including a browser-based softphone expected in April that will integrate with Google, Microsoft and Salesforce.com. Zang Agent, a cloud-based call center for SMBs, is targeted for calendar Q4 2017. We’ll learn more about the uptake of Zang Office (and the future of Avaya as it moves through the Chapter 11 process) as the year unfolds. Stay tuned.