March 02, 2009
Alteva's Business Internet Phone Service
By Richard Grigonis, Executive Editor, IP Communications Group
Alteva offers one of the more interesting examples of a business Internet phone service. Instead of running their VoIP service over whatever network you happen to use, such as broadband DSL and cable networks designed for simple data transfer rather than live, real-time voice, Alteva (News - Alert) has built a network specifically for high-quality business VoIP phone service.
William Bumbernick, CEO of Alteva, says, “I’ve led Alteva from a startup to the largest enterprise hosted IP communications company in North America, according to Broadsoft. As far as Broadsoft’s customer base is concerned, we provide more enterprise hosted seats than anyone else. By ‘enterprise hosted’ I mean the customers of 500 or more employees. So we have a very nice niche market in that mid-to-large customer base. Our model is first and foremost to provide a solid, stable, usable hosted managed IP platform, our mantra is really innovation and more innovation. That’s how we built the company and have become successful. We focus on not what’s available in the marketplace today, but on what needs to be in the market tomorrow. We have an in-house development team that focuses strictly on that. So, unlike hosted providers, we do a lot of R&D, rather than just buying solutions that are out there, we created our competitive edge in developing our own solutions as a product for us before other companies come upon the same idea. We have some great examples of that. We were the first to market with a fully-hosted call recording platform, built into our system. It’s a portal that customers can turn on or off. You can see all the calls you made, you can play them back, tag (News - Alert) them with interesting notes and search them in a number of different ways. We also have some advanced call center applications, and we see much evolution regarding call center apps.”
“We also provide intelligence products,’ says Bumbernick. “So, in a customer base of enterprise-class customers, we see many requests for call metrics. Not just ‘who called who when’, but real intelligence about calling patterns. They want to know ‘how customer support teams are communicating with the customers. How are the company’s vendors communicating with them? Based on that data, we’re able to provide some usable business intelligence to our customers to help them shape the way that they handle their call centers, calling patterns, or communications capabilities. That’s our innovation model that we’ve adopted.”
“We approach every customer relationship from what we call a dual ROI method,” says Bumbernick. “We make sure that every relationship that we embrace and every customer that comes to Alteva has two things going for them: the ROI of our platform so they save money by adopting an Alteva solution, and the ‘return on innovation’ so aside from just saving money, what are the more intangible or immeasurable benefits that we provide to our customers through innovation, app development, tie-ins to CRMs, and workflow with their telecom systems. So we’re truly working to get customers’ business processes integrated into their telephone systems, rather than letting the limitations of the telephone system limit their business processes.”
“Alteva was founded in 2003,” says Bumbernick, “and we were one of the first service providers in the U.S. and as far as hosted IP goes, we’re a ‘grandfather’ in the marketspace. Moreover, we are a real rarity, a profitable grandfather in the marketspace. Very few companies are actually making money doing this, but we’ve been profitable since Q4 of 2006, and we’ve remained largely profitable since then. We have customers in 48 states and nine countries. Our average growth over the last three years is 66 percent. We expect this year , because of the economy, not to see a downturn in that growth but actually a spike – we’re waiting for our accounting numbers to verify our belief that our growth will be in the low 80 percent range.”
“Our primary product is the hosted platform,” says Bumbernick. “We provide an IP PBX (News - Alert) replacement service for companies that average 50 employees to our largest customer, which has 5,500 employees. So we’re in both the small business and the larger enterprise market spaces. We’re largely thankful to companies such as Salesforce.com (News - Alert), which have done a great job at getting users and whole companies acclimated to the idea that you can really provide an effective solution off-site. And as soon as a company opens up to that idea and says, ‘Hey, let me find out what other hosted opportunities are out there,’ then it becomes a slam-dunk. So it’s been a windfall for us and we’re happy about that.”
“Alteva has focused first on the quality of the solution,” says Bumbernick, “so as to be able to provide an enterprise-class solution to Fortune 500 companies, to companies that are retail operations with hundreds or thousands of stores, to companies that have five employees. The only way to be able to do that is if the phone works – the first and foremost feature is that the phone must work and it’s got to be of great quality. So we focused on that first. We spent the first four years of our business ensuring that those components were solid. Now, since we built those pieces from the ground up, we’ve been really able to concentrate on the innovation side of the business – what’s coming next. That’s where this leads into conferencing and collaboration.”
“Here at Alteva, we believe that the future of VoIP is the integration of VoIP into everything that a business does,” says Bumbernick. “But that I mean VoIP should integrate into their CRM systems and into their workflow systems, and that’s where collaboration will evolve from, not just Live Meeting type collaboration, where we can see each other on a screen. Rather, I’m talking about collaboration that’s baked into applications that the company uses every day. That’s the evolution. The novelty today is the ability for an app to open up and act like Live Meeting, WebEx or our Alteva Collaborator solution, and be able to use that app as a collaboration medium. But the reality is that the medium will eventually be ‘baked’ into the apps themselves. As VoIP evolves and becomes baked into the apps, then with that VoIP, as Alteva supports video right inside of our audio stream, we’ll become the video, conferencing and collaboration components. In this hosted model, everything is becoming server-based.”
“We’re seeing companies building entire business models on open source collaborations,” says Bumbernick. “There’s a company called SlideSix [www.slidesix.com] which makes an amazing Powerpoint/video/audio-embedded solution that you can do right online. They’re a huge free presentation sharing community where you can upload your presentations and share them with your friends, publicly or privately. You can add video and/or audio by recording it directly within the site. It supports various presentation formats such as PPTX, PPT/PPS, PDF, ODP/SXI, and MOV [QuickTime]. As you go through the slides of a presentation on line, I could be presenting my Powerpoint slide with video right into it from my Macbook, along with the audio of what I’m saying, and SlideSix puts its all on a single screen. It now becomes a presentable solution that people can just go to, log in and experience for free. That’s just one example of how audio and video can be baked into an application. That’s where collaboration is going to go.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time, effort and money in video, because that’s the essence of collaboration,” says Bumbdernick. “It’s not only talking to you in a conference call, but showing you who I am and then also being able to share the screens of whatever application is pertinent. But in our particular switch, we have a feature called ‘video add-on’. It’s a way for us to grab video from external sources and bring it into the switch itself. So what we’re able to do is build little web apps, or Adobe AIR apps, or web mashups, that tie in to these video cams that exist on PCs today and just bring it into the conversation. It takes away this concept of needing a video phone to do video. It will actually integrate with whatever phone or handset you have on your desktop and it goes into the call. It becomes an icon on the desktop that you can click on to ‘Add Video’. So if you and I are on a call, I click on my Add Video icon and you click on yours, and now we see each other over our PCs simultaneously, with the audio that’s going over our call right now. So it’s pretty interesting where the evolution of all this is taking us.”
Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC (News - Alert)�s IP Communications Group. To read more of Richard’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi