Modern communications technology has resulted in all kinds of cool, new applications in the past few years. But, from the perspective of many small businesses, the unified communications features these new technologies enable may as well not exist at all because they’re simply too expensive and/or too complicated to deploy and maintain.
Yet, unified communication is now being woven into the fabric of modern commerce, meaning that small companies may struggle to compete because the solutions they need are out of their price range.
So what’s a small business to do? Recently, IP
telephony and IP presence solutions provider Mitel (News
) took a hard look at that question and began developing a solution designed to bring unified communications within reach of smaller companies. This new solution, Mitel Applications Suite, will be generally available starting in July.
To find out more about Mitel Applications Suite, TMCnet spoke with Fred McConnell, senior portfolio manager at Mitel. McConnell spoke about the small business factors Mitel took into consideration for development of its new solution, and the specific ways the new solution helps small companies compete.
Total Cost of Ownership
McConnell started by saying that, in clamoring for a unified communications solution geared to the small business, Mitel’s customers and channel partners indicated the most important factor in this market is total cost of ownership.
“You can have all the features you want, but if it’s not affordable to buy and affordable to manage ongoing, it’s not a value to small to medium businesses,” McConnell told TMCnet.
To address this important factor, Mitel looked at four aspects of total cost of ownership (TCO
): initial cost of purchase, cost of deployment, ongoing management costs, and cost to train end-users.
One of the key ways that Mitel lowered TCO for Mitel Applications Suite was to consolidate the number of servers needed to run the applications from three to one. For the small business, that greatly reduces the cost of deploying and maintaining the solution.
Introducing Mitel Applications Suite
So what is Mitel Applications Suite? It’s a suite of three Mitel products:
Mitel NuPoint Messenger IP
– messaging solution with advanced call routing
for auto-attendant applications and call routing for individual users via a feature called Call Director.
Mitel Mobile Extension – provides ability to centralize all calls to a single number accessible by both desk phone and mobile phone.
Mitel Teleworker Solutions – allows Mitel endpoints to be located anywhere on the Internet; distributed employees working from home or branch offices maintain access to the centralized communications system.
This suite lets small businesses look very large to their customer base, McConnell said. This ability to present a professional face to customers is very important to small businesses, he added, and so that’s something Mitel emphasized when developing Mitel Applications Suite.
“We’re really focusing on providing tools for the small business to be able to look bigger than they really are, so they can scale using the technology and support a highly distributed and highly mobile workforce,” he explained.
Benefits for Channel Partners
In developing Mitel Applications Suite, Mitel did not consider only the needs of small businesses; the company also took a look at what its channel partners needed to successfully market the new solution. One way to do that is make it easy for channel partners to educate their technicians about the new bundle.
Toward that end, Mitel greatly simplified the training process by providing offsite education tools—meaning that channel partners don’t have to take their technicians out of the field to get certified.
“We’re delivering all the training for them, either through pure self-study—where you just open up a course and go through it and at the end take a test and e-mail it to us—or a virtual Web session where technicians can just connect in via the Web to our training center and take the NuPoint class from wherever they are,” McConnell explained.
Another key challenge for channel partners is how long it takes to deploy a solution. With that in mind, Mitel kept things simple by making Mitel Applications Suite be a pre-packaged solution with about 80 percent of the functionality already set; channel partners can tailor the remaining 20 percent to meet individual customer needs without having to reinvent the entire wheel every time.
Mitel addressed deployment time in two key ways. First, the company created a single, initial commissioning tool that lets channel partners deploy Mitel Applications Suite along with the company’s Mitel 3300 IP Communications Platform. Using this tool, distributors can create pre-packaged starting points for the solution, and then go in on a per-customer basis with tailored features to quickly create a new system.
“Also, unlike our competitors, we have created a single management interface for ongoing moves, adds and changes as business needs change,” McConnell said.
This management interface maintains a single look and feel with other system functions, letting an administrator log in through a Web-based interface to make changes.
McConnell spoke at length about the mobility features built into Mitel Applications Suite, and how they add value to the solution.
“We’ve really focused on the value of the whole suite being greater than just the sum of its parts,” he said.
Here are two examples showing how Mitel Applications Suite brings small business telephony into the realm of manageable mobility:
1. Mitel Mobile Extension can be configured so that Mitel NuPoint Messenger IP acts as a single mailbox, regardless of where that mailbox is accessed from. Multiple phone numbers can be associated with this single mailbox.
2. An option with Mitel Mobile Extension lets a call be sent to a mobile phone, from which the user either presses a key to answer or lets the call be sent straight to the central Mitel NuPoint Messenger IP mailbox.
These two features simplify message management for the user by enabling him or her to use one single system, with a common interface, for accessing messages from a variety of devices (e.g. desk phone, cell phone, PDA). End-callers also are provided with a consistent interface every time.
“We’re creating value that works horizontally across the apps as opposed to just being vertical pieces of functionality,” McConnell said. “We’re very excited about it, and the response thus far from our channel partners has been very positive.”
The Future of Mitel Applications Suite
The July release of Mitel Applications Suite will be Phase 1 for the new solution suite. McConnell said Mitel intends to take the base solution and expand it by adding other applications in the company’s portfolio. When other applications are added, the focus on lowered TCO and ease-of-deployment will be maintained, along with centralized, consistent interface.
Initially, Mitel Applications Suite is being marketed to new Mitel customers in the U.S. who have not already deployed another Mitel solution.
“In a future release, we will support customers who have already made an investment in a single application, allowing them to seamlessly migrate to Mitel Application Suite without having to reinstall,” McConnell explained.
He added: “Our plan is to roll this out globally over the next couple releases.”