ESI Evolves the eCloud PBX

by Sandra Gustavsen

It was more than two years ago that Estech Systems Inc. (ESI) officially launched the ESI Cloud PBX, a subscription-based hosted telephony service for businesses in North America. The hosted offer, now known as eCloud PBX, has evolved since then, with sales growing some 40% year-over-year and outpacing the company’s premises business in terms of percentage of growth (though premises systems remain the majority – 80% – of ESI’s total revenue). esi-logo-blue

ESI has a channel-only sales approach (no direct sales) with 600 active partners. Of these, about 225 are Sales Agents Partners now actively selling the eCloud PBX service through the ESI Partner Program. This is up from 40 partners when the service was initially launched in 2014.

As background, in January 2013, ESI purchased the retail assets of Vintalk, including the infrastructure and the customer base associated with Vintalk’s SIP trunking and hosted PBX solutions. Subsequently, ESI began offering the SIP trunking service, along with hosted audio conferencing, fax services and a disaster recovery solution. In mid-2014, ESI launched the ESI Cloud PBX hosted/cloud telephony service tightly integrated with its own line of SIP telephones, giving its customers subscription-based alternative to installing telephone system equipment on-site. ESI has sold business telephony systems in North America for 29 years. The company currently offers a family of premises-based IP-enabled Communications Servers (ESI-50/100/200/600/1000) and a native IP system (ESI IP Server 900).

What’s New?

For the last couple of years, ESI has been focused on the user experience and understanding the needs and behaviors of workers when they are in an office. What usage patterns are associated with an office desk phone versus the ESI Web-based dashboard versus a mobile phone? When (and why) are users turning to one “communications interface” over another? This study led ESI to redesign its mobile client application (Ditto) and align that user experience with a newly-developed, next-generation phone (the ePhone7) to bring smartphone simplicity to a business desktop telephone. Additionally, the eCloud PBX user packages have been restructured into five plans (up from three with the initial launch), including a lower cost metered offering for users with more moderate phone usage.

Enhanced ePhoneGo Mobile App

Customers that subscribe to the more advanced ESI eCloud PBX user packages can download the Ditto client application to an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet to conveniently access ESI desk phone features on-the-go. This includes managing calls to/from an office phone number (single number reach), configuring feature settings and receiving voicemail notifications. A re-designed user interface, a split screen layout for iOS and Android tablets, WiFi to 4G/LTE hand-off, presence status indicators for the contact directory and Bluetooth headset support are among the more recent enhancements. The Ditto mobile application is included with eCloud PBX Select Plus, Premier and Premier Plus user seats (more on the seat bundles below). A similar mobile client application is also available for ESI’s IP Server 900 on-premises telephony system.

Next-gen ePhones

The office desk phone is not obsolete – yet. High quality audio, recording and speakerphone capabilities remain a necessity in conference rooms and during critical business conversations. And while today’s office desk telephones excel at audio quality, they are often difficult to program and lack the convenience, intuitiveness and ease-of-use of a mobile smartphone which has become the preferred device for quick and easy management of communications. With this in mind, the engineers at ESI have developed the new ESI ePhone desktop phone series, including the latest ePhone7 next-gen device that combines the simplicity of the mobile phone experience with quick and easy access to common business phone features that workers require from an office telephone.

The ePhone7 is a “contact-centric” device (no physical buttons) designed for managers, executives and operators. Contacts are organized and displayed on a large 7-inch color touchscreen in four categories – Personal, Coworkers, Favorites and Groups – without any need to program speed dials or DSS keys. Personal contacts can be imported from a Google account, and Coworkers and Groups are automatically synchronized with the extensions and departments that are provisioned in the system. ePhone7 also integrates ESI’s eLocation feature that displays a contact’s presence status (on a call, do not disturb, available, etc.), but also whether a coworker is physically in the building (in the office or away). Common business calling features (transfer, hold, park, record, mute, etc.) are simple one-touch buttons as are call history, missed voicemails and easy access to dialing.esiephone7

ESI’s ePhone7 has been in beta with ESI’s eCloud PBX customers, and after tweaking and enhancing with months of feedback, general availability is expected soon. Already on the market is the ePhone4 for active business users, a 4-inch color display phone with a real-time view of calls, history and voicemail. ESI also offers two traditional SIP-based desktop phones, the ESI 30SIP business phone for lower usage needs and the ESI 45SIP Gigabit model for more active users.

Restructured eCloud PBX User Bundles

Customers that subscribe to eCloud PBX can now select from five user packages – Metered, Select, Select Plus, Premier and Premier Plus, which have evolved since the initial introduction of the service. Per seat pricing is based on the length of the contract and the total number of seats and ranges from $15.95-$49.95 per user per month. Each user package includes an ESI phone in the seat price, either the ESI 30SIP or the ESI 45SIP business phone. Select and Premier users can upgrade to one of the next-gen ePhone color display telephones described above for an extra one-time, non-recurring fee.

  • Select and Select Plus user seats are designed for the general office user that requires standard/essential telephone features. This includes unlimited local and long distance calling within North America, standard telephony features, unified messaging (visual voicemail and voicemail-to-email notification) and a real-time view of call activity and call history via ESI’s Web-based dashboard. Select Plus users can also opt for ESI’s ePhoneGo mobile client application for iOS and Android mobile devices or a desktop client (softphone).
  • Premier and Premier Plus seats are designed for executives, managers and “power” users that require more advanced functionality. Premier seats include all Select and Select Plus features, plus Web-based user administration, on-demand call recording, custom call routing, call queuing, multiple device management for two (Premier) or three (Premier Plus) phone devices and the ePhone Go mobile application. Premier Plus also includes 25-party meet-me conferencing (unlimited inbound, 500 outbound minutes).
  • Metered plans are available for moderate phone users and limit local and long distance usage to 100 minutes of outbound calling (additional minutes are chargeable).

Deployment Options

ESI understands that individual businesses have unique needs and requirements. A “one size fits all” solution is never the answer. ESI is able to offer flexibility in deployment options, with business communications solutions that are subscription-based (cloud) or installed on-site (premises) – or a hybrid of the two.

Cloud: There is a lot of focus on cloud-based telephony now as acceptance and adoption of hosted/cloud solutions for business telephony and unified communications continues to accelerate. Businesses, small to large, recognize the benefits in subscribing to unified communications “as-a-service” (UCaaS) versus purchasing and installing hardware and software on-site. There are obvious budgetary advantages to selecting a cloud solution such as reduced capital expenses, fewer IT personnel and predictable per-user monthly fees, to name a few. But, there are also strategic advantages in terms of scale, consistency across a network and the ease of adding future innovations that are appealing particularly to organizations with multiple, geographically-dispersed offices. ESI has this option covered with its eCloud PBX hosted offer described above.

Premises: Despite the cloud, ESI understands the importance of an installed base of customers that want to continue using existing telephony equipment in their office locations, as well as new customers that prefer an on-site deployment to meet particular business requirements. For these customers, ESI continues to develop and enhance its premises-based business communications products for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) across North America. This includes a family of IP-enabled Communications Servers (ESI-50/100/200/600/1000) and a native IP system (ESI IP Server 900), along with associated ESI phones and applications. These systems can take advantage of ESI’s SIP Trunking service for transmitting of voice, video and data over a single broadband connection. Recent software releases have added many new capabilities such as a full-featured call accounting product (and a “lite” version) and new features important to contact centers and customer service, including CRM integrations with click-to-call and a screen capture capability with audio recording.

Hybrid Cloud: ESI also addresses the hybrid cloud trend with several cloud-based applications available to customers, whether they have installed one of the company’s premises-based business communications systems or subscribe to the ESI eCloud PBX service. Current cloud applications include hosted reservation-less “meet-me” conferencing for up to 50 participants, a Virtual fax service for receiving/sending faxes via email and ESI’s Abillity cloud-based billing application. Additional cloud applications are in development, including a hosted contact center capability (in beta now), CRM integration with Salesforce and Microsoft Office 365, voicemail transcription and collaborative desktop sharing. Stay tuned.