Third-party applications key to selling convergence

Santa Clara, Calif. – Third-party developers wanting to cash in on voice and data convergence need to come up with telecommunications applications that customers will not be able to use on legacy private branch exchanges, according to a senior executive at Cisco Systems Inc.

Don Proctor,

vice-president and general manager of Cisco’s voice technology group, said many users have traditionally considered migrating to VoIP because they are reacting to events such as a PBX going obsolete, a Centrex contract expiring, or the opening of a new office.

Traditional selling points of VoIP have been the advantages of putting all voice and data traffic on the same network. For example, vendors say, VoIP makes it easier to move and add users, and workers can phone co-workers at other sites by dialling their direct extensions instead of going through outside lines.

But now, more channel partners are looking at using applications to sell convergence, Proctor said.

“What can I do to help identify needs that the customer has that they have not identified yet, the ability to do new things that you can’t do on existing systems?” he said.

Proctor made his remarks during a keynote address at Cisco’s Innovations

Through Convergence (ITC) Expo, which was held in September at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

Cisco’s goal is to be the Number 1 vendor in the US$14 billion voice market, Proctor said, adding one of the ways it plans to achieve this is by placing more emphasis on third-party applications and on forging relationships with developers.

One analyst who attended the Expo said Cisco is on the right track with its strategy of reaching out to independent software vendors.

“There’s no killer app that’s across all verticals, which is why I think Cisco’s gone down the right path this way, by having independent software vendors,” said Zeus Kerravala, vice-president of e-networks and broadband access at the Boston-based Yankee Group. “I think Cisco’s responsibility should be to create the underlying infrastructure that can service the majority of companies, and then you’ll have those independent software vendors create those vertical-specific applications.”

About 90 per cent of sales in Canada are through the channel, said Chris Bazinet, marketing manager of Cisco Systems Canada Co.

Bazinet, who made his comments in a separate interview, said Cisco has 25 to 30 Canadian partners who are certified to resell Cisco IP telephony equipment.

Cisco is very selective about its IP telephony channel partners, because in order for a network to support VoIP, it has to be properly configured, said Troy Trenchard, director of marketing for Cisco’s IP Communications business unit.

Some of the technical concerns among users have centred around the quality of calls, and ensuring that users can carry on conversations without encountering latency and jitter.

Kerravala said Cisco has no choice but to be highly selective about its IP telephony channel partners.

“The technology is there that can deliver high quality voice,” he said.

“How to get there is something that people struggle with. Cisco has got to be clear to articulate the best practices, make sure their channel is well trained, and that’s something they’re getting better at, but they struggled early on.”

One software developer that attended ITC Expo, Spescom DataVoice Ltd., has written a program that takes advantage of a Cisco colour IP phone, the 7970G, announced earlier this month.

Johannesburg, South Africa-based Spescom DataVoice makes IPRecorder, a software package that lets call centre managers monitor agents and listen to their calls afterwards. One feature lets agents press the “assist” button on their IP phones in order to ask their supervisors for help during calls.

Gary Plante, a Spescom DataVoice systems engineer, said IPRecorder offers a user interface for supervisors that lets them monitor their agents, and if they’re using a colour phone, the icons of agents that ask for help will turn to red.

Proctor said in the last year, Cisco doubled its installed base of IP phones, from one to two million, and about one in five large U.S. companies are using IP telephony at more than five sites. The percentage using the technology at more than five sites was in the single digits last year.

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