Frost and Sullivan recently recognized Digium’s Switchvox UC solution for “exceptional value.” The award comes out of Frost’s Best Practices Research effort where the firm makes an effort to “determine how best-in-class companies worldwide manage growth, innovation, and leadership.”:
“Based on the findings of this Best Practices research, Frost & Sullivan is proud to present the 2011 North American Customer Value Enhancement Award in SMB Unified Communications to Digium [Switchvox].”
You never know which awards (or quandrants) are bought and paid for and which ones are earned. This one sounds pretty impressive to me, so I inquired a bit to find out more. It was earned.
I’ve watched Switchvox mature over the years. It was a start-up (Fourloop) that offered a software only solution just a few years ago. They took the Asterisk source code and turned it into a turnkey supported and idiot-proof telecom solution providing a great example of how to create revenue from open source. Such a good example that Digium bought the company in 2007. This was one of those acquisitions that falls into the ‘brilliant’ category. It legitimized both Asterisk and Switchvox as a feature rich supportable solution, it separated Switchvox from the herd of Asterisk PBX also-rans, and brought a whole new perspective to Digium. Switchvox was cooking up feasts out of Digium’s ingredients business.
To me, what is far more compelling is that Digium just bought themselves a whole group of people who “get” the world of “unified communications”, business process integration, Web 2.0 mashups, etc.
Digium has had no story at all around “presence” within its core offerings. Now it does. While Asterisk has always been a platform play where you have the ability to integrate Asterisk with other apps, doing so has not exactly been for the faint-of-heart. Hire yourself some programmers and you can do pretty much anything with Asterisk… but that’s not something that many businesses want to get into. SwitchVox now gives Digium a way to do easy integration with databases and web sites. The integrations to Salesforce.com and SugarCRM are slick. The Google Maps popup is a seriously cool mashup! (And where is that on the roadmap of the mainstream vendors?). Throw in a “click to call” add-in for Firefox to let you dial any number you see on any web page, plus a plug-in for Outlook, and you’ve got a very compelling offering. For a very nice price.
A few years later Switchvox remains a compelling UC solution, now bundled with appliance hardware. It offers excellent value, and their support over the years has even got better (they now remotely connect when appropriate).
My contacts at Frost pointed me to four broad areas that led to the award:
Performance: Switchvox grew its sales approximately 27% over last year (according to Frost). Switchvox also leads Digium as the fastest growing part of the business and now represents 30% of Digium’s total revenue.
Feature Set: A Switchvox SMB user license includes a desktop client (Switchboard), rich PBX features, unified messaging, conference bridge, fax server, IM/presence, video calling, mobility features, ACD queues, call recording, call monitoring, and graphical reporting. The company addressed the complexity of SIP phone provisioning with a simple plugin (provisioning token).
Pricing: Simplified pricing makes quotes easy to generate and understand. The SMB software has few options and there is no charge to access the APIs (more on this below).
Customer Value: This area looked at TCO and Frost was impressed. Switchvox’s software assurance covers support and upgrades and software updates have been significant and easy. All admin functions are accessed through a browser and simplified menus automate complex tasks including the applications which all reside on one box. They also give the individual users their own admin screen for access to voice mail and simplified routing options.While Frost says APIs were factored into their decision, I think it deserves still more attention as it represents one of the most compelling Switchovx differentiators. There are two kinds of APIs – user facing and admin facing and Switchvox has both. The user facing APIs enable “mash-ups.” Switchvox was very early to this space – and provided the tools to leverage the screen pop. Instead of just getting a calllerid, Switchvox can display a Google Map of the location of the caller, Mash-ups out-of-the box include Gogole Maps, SugarCRM, and Salesforce.com, but others are easy to build. There is also built-in integration to MS Office and third party voice mail platforms.
But the bigger deal is what Switchvox calls Extend, which is a set of APIs to the administrative functions of the system. For example, an HR system could add an employee and automatically create a new extension and voice mail box via Extend APIs. An appointment or reservation system could automatically out-dial reminders. Digium has been updating Extend with every release for the past several years and hopes to “Extendify” every administrative option in Switchvox. Switchvox will become a powerful CEBP engine in situations where it isn’t even used as a PBX.
It is two sides of a the same coin really – Asterisk is open source and anyone is free to modify it to their heart’s content. But that creates unique challenges around support. Switchvox is proprietary, you can’t actually get to, or modify its Asterisk code. However, it offers Extend so the platform can be leveraged in unique and custom ways. The two approaches are very different, but equally powerful.
Dave is an independent analyst and founder of TalkingPointz which is focused on enterprise communications. In addition to this (free and paid) content on TalkingPointz, he contributes to industry sites, can be found at major industry events, and provides advisory services to vendors and financial analysts.