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Beyond find me/follow me

Today’s unified communications providers are adding new capabilities centered on instant messaging, message conversion, analysis and cloud-based contact centers.

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When businesses first started using cloud-based unified communications, their goal was to minimize the expense and management issues involved with premises-based communications equipment and to enhance employee productivity through capabilities such as find me/follow me and a unified inbox.

Today such capabilities largely are viewed as table stakes in the UC market. Offerings from service providers such as PanTerra, Thinking Phone and Smoothstone include features such as find me/ follow me but in addition offer vastly more sophisticated capabilities, with each company offering its own unique twist.

PanTerra offering supports IM and SMS conversion

A few years ago, UC may have been viewed as something that was nice to have but not necessary. But today, “larger organizations are seeing the cost of not deploying unified communications,” said Dave Immethun, senior director of marketing for PanTerra Networks, a four-year-old UC provider. “Deploying UC can increase productivity per employee by 30 minutes per day.” And for a company with 200 employees, that can mean a productivity increase worth as much as $2000 a day, Immethun said.

“For interactions that aren’t answered immediately, there’s a cascade of events,” Immethun said. If someone is waiting for an answer to a question, a range of other actions may be delayed — and that’s a particularly big concern if the person looking for answers is a customer. But as the options for communicating with one another increase, so does the complexity of reaching the person with the answer. People “tend to communicate using the means that’s convenient at that moment,” Immethun said

Immethun noted that “the amount of transactions that occur in a business that aren’t by phone have increased five times in five years.” Initially the shift was toward e-mail, but more recently, he said, “e-mail is losing steam versus instant messaging.”

Where PanTerra excels, Immethun said, is in “being able to move messages between communications protocols.”

For example, the company can convert e-mail messages to SMS — or instant messages to e-mail. Recipients establish how they want to be reached through a browser interface — and settings can be quite granular. For example, an employee could have his office and cell phones ring simultaneously or in a cascade, in which the system tries one device first then moves on to another if there is no answer. Users can also adjust settings based on time of day or day of week.

The PanTerra solution does not require any software at the customer premises and also eliminates the need for a PBX. The customer must use session initiation protocol phones, but PanTerra supports a wide range of manufacturers, Immethun said. In addition, the company offers a cloud-based softphone.

The service is fully manageable from the cloud, Immethun said, enabling either PanTerra or the customer to be responsible for managing it. Alternatively, customers can choose a hybrid approach where they manage some functions and PanTerra manages others.

The PanTerra solution is “not a softswitch with a bunch of applications bolted on,” Immethun said. Instead, using the software as a service acronym, he called PanTerra’s platform a “SaaS-based engine with a PBX engine and an audio conferencing engine and all the other tools plugged into it, with centralized billing and call detail records.”

As a result, Immethun said, PanTerra’s offering is location-independent, enabling organizations with multiple offices, for example, to set up billing groups based on function rather than geography. PanTerra’s “sweet spot,” he said, is an organization with multiple locations and about 200 users per location. “From a UC standpoint, that can be expensive because they would have duplication across locations and within applications,” he added.

PanTerra soon plans to announce TryUC, a scaled-back version of its service that will be available at no charge. The target market for TryUC includes organizations that need to communicate with PanTerra customers, but the offering will be available beyond that community, as well. “We want to build a network of people that communicate with our customers that will ultimately become customers,” Immethun said.

PanTerra relies on third-party network operators to provide connectivity between customer locations and its cloud-based data centers. Currently the UC provider does not sell its offering through network operators, but that could change moving forward. “It’s a business objective of ours to talk to carriers and broadband providers,” Immethun said.

Thinking Phone adds analytics

Like PanTerra, Thinking Phone Networks appreciates the impact that instant messaging has had on the business market. What makes IM so valuable, in Thinking Phone’s view, is its presence capability — the ability to know when someone with whom you want to communicate is available to communicate with you.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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