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March 2000


Communications Takes A Dive


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Learn And Win
You Gotta See The Show

Recently I went on a vacation to the Island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and decided along the way that this trip would be the ideal place to learn how to become a certified SCUBA diver. If you haven't taken the time to become certified as a PADI Open Water Diver you may be surprised to know that you will spend three days studying and swimming while getting used to your SCUBA equipment and getting prepared to deal with life in an aquatic environment.

For those of you with any interest in diving, I can't tell you how incredible it is to be underwater with the beautiful sea-life. It is an experience that I won't forget and want to repeat as soon as possible. An octopus, two sharks, a stingray, and two large lobsters were only a few of the creatures I saw during my underwater adventures.

Feeling Pressure
Something that intrigued me about diving was that pressure under water is much greater than the pressure above ground. In fact, every 33 feet in water depth is another atmosphere increase in pressure -- an atmosphere is the amount of pressure at sea level. The increased pressure has an interesting effect on the air spaces in your body such as the air in your sinuses. Similar to when you fly, when you descend, you feel pressure in your ears and must continually equalize by holding your nose and blowing out, thus causing your internal pressure to be at equilibrium with the pressure in the surrounding water. As you go deeper and the pressure increases, you must constantly equalize or discontinue diving. It is crucial to do this, or you may seriously injure yourself.

But responding to environmental pressure is not limited to SCUBA diving. We as humans are constantly responding to environmental pressures due to interaction with others, even on the job. I have noticed that many companies in the communications space are also feeling the increased pressure of competition caused by the Internet and the entrance of many new players in the market, which heats up the competitive space. How communications companies compensate or "equalize" determines their health and how well they will adapt as the market pressure increases.

Dealing With Pressure
I saw a good example of how companies equalize to meet competitive pressure at a recent trade show I attended. A few of my fellow TMC team members approached me and told me that I had to see one of the booths at the show. I was told they had an incredible product that would blow me away. Off I went to see the exhibitor in question.

I immediately recognized them as Cortelco Systems, a long-time provider of call center products. Cortelco has been providing products for so long that in my mind they were the ultimate legacy and proprietary call center company. I prepared myself for 15 minutes of the same-old same-old.

Reaching "Equilibrium"
After a brief discussion at the booth, I realized that this company has woken up and responded to environmental pressures. The first thing I noticed was that their hardware consisted of racks of Crystal industrial computers, some of the most widely used industrial PCs in the communications market.

Cortelco has definitely altered their business plan, and the story goes like this: in 1997 Cortelco began working on a Linux-based ACD system. Recently this system began shipping, and Cortelco is touting it as being a total CRM solution. Also, Cortelco recently changed its name to eOn (eoncc.com). Of course, now that the company begins with an e (it could have just as well began with an i or ended in .com) it was time for an IPO - which you can expect soon.

eQueue 4000
eOn has just introduced two products. The first is the eQueue 4000 contact center communications server, which functions as an ACD/PBX or virtual ACD, allowing customer communications by phone, e-mail, VoIP, and Web callback. An option allows for call recording as well.

What stands out in this product is that it uses redundant processors (courtesy of Crystal) and allows you to manage and track e-mail and Web contact as if they were phone transactions. The system can also respond to e-mails with pre-defined response e-mails that can be customized by agents. These e-mails can also be cross-referenced against a custom database of words that you wouldn't want your agents to write to your customers.

eNterprise 2000
eOon has also announced the eNterprise 2000, a Linux-based IP-PBX based on the same technology and architecture of the eQueue 4000. This is eOn's first Linux-based communications server targeting general business applications. The kicker is that this system can accommodate up to 62 T-1s and 2,000 total ports in a single system. We are talking about a serious PBX killer here.

There are three reasons why the eNterprise 2000 could be a serious threat to every other PBX vendor in existence. The first reason is of course that it is based on Linux, an OS that has made a huge splash in the computer market. The second is because this product is based on the same platform as the larger ACD made by eOn. The biggest barrier to adoption of PC-PBXs from the likes of Artisoft and AltiGen is that they must prove that these systems are as reliable as products from Nortel and Lucent. eOn has no such worries as it can simply point to the installation of the eQueue 4000, which is based on the same platform and has been installed in many mission-critical call centers. The final reason, and a clear sign that Cortelco's proprietary past is far behind it, is that the eNterprise 2000 is fully upgradeable to the eQueue 4000, providing growing companies with a migration path.

Take A Dive
To return to my SCUBA diving, I said earlier that the underwater world was one of unbelievable beauty, and that I would like to repeat this diving experience again as soon as possible. However, I also pointed out that, unless one takes the proper precautions and learns the appropriate techniques -such as equalizing pressure - diving can be dangerous as well.

The same can be said for what is happening in the communications industry, and Cortelco's rebirth as eOn is a valuable example for us all. They were fully aware of the beautiful (and rewarding) world out there in the field of communications, but they were also aware that to explore that world they would need to change, to adapt to the environment.

It may seem frightfully obvious, but SCUBA diving isn't like walking around above ground. And in the same way, offering CRM and enhanced solutions to your customers isn't the same as building a proprietary switch. eOn is a perfect example of a company that is aware of this difference between the old and the new, and that has taken the steps necessary to reach "equilibrium" in this new environment.

If you are interested in learning more about eOn and their Linux-based approach to communications and CRM, you can check them out at booth #932 at Communications Solutions EXPO.

Learn And Win

A few days before I wrote this column, I received an e-mail from my friends at PakNetX telling me that their company had been sold to Aspect Communications. PakNetX invented the IP telephony ACD category, and these pioneers deserve the financial rewards that come with a $55 million takeover. This acquisition of course is the result of Aspect realizing that they need to provide their customers with the latest call center technology, and IP telephony is the future of all communications.

I welcome you to come to Communications Solutions EXPO, April 26-28 at the Washington Convention Center in our nation's capital, and ask Aspect about their plans for PakNetX and multimedia ACDs in general. As Aspect is a leading vendor in the CRM space, their plans for the future will dramatically influence the entire CRM market. Aspect will also have their co-President Beatriz V. Infante giving a keynote presentation on Thursday, April 27, and I'm sure multimedia contact centers and CRM will be at the heart of her presentation.

Convergence In The House
For those of you who have been to a past Communications Solutions EXPO (formerly CTI EXPO), you know that the show is much more than call centers and CRM -- it also consists of solutions aimed at increasing corporate productivity (such as unified messaging applications) and service provider products (such as Internet telephony gateways and enhanced services platforms). An ongoing theme of every TMC event is the third incarnation of TMC's ConvergeNET, a multivendor interoperable VoIP network right on the show floor.

This on-site show network has quickly become the de facto industry standard VoIP interoperability demonstration, and you can expect the following companies and more to participate: Active Voice, Quiknet, Cisco, Quintum, Elemedia, Lucent, Starvox, e-Voice, Tundo, GTE, Vsys, iFace.com, Shelcad, Motorola, Net2Phone, Netrix, Aspect, Praxon, Picazo, and Nortel.

As a customer you need to guarantee that the VoIP products you buy today interoperate with the products you need tomorrow. As such, you should look for the ConvergeNET seal of interoperability before buying. If you are an equipment supplier and are interested in demonstrating your commitment to interoperability, please e-mail Hilary Inman for more information.

More Ways To Win
For the fourth show in a row one lucky attendee who is present during the second day of the show will win a shiny new car. In this case, it will be a best selling Jeep Cherokee (sponsored by Cincom Systems) -- a vehicle that any of us in the snow-covered Northeast would greatly appreciate right now.

And there's more! The live attractions at Communications Solutions EXPO are so popular and their topics are diverse: from learning centers on ASPs and TAPI 3.0 to the Next-Gen Telco In A Booth, and we wanted to give you an incentive to see all the latest communications technology in an objective, no-hype setting.

What we came up with is Solutions Quest 2000 -- when you pick up your attendee information packet in the registration area at the show, you will be given a Solutions Quest 2000 entry card. Visit each attraction listed on the card, and collect a stamp from each. After your card is full, answer the questions on the form and drop it off in the entry bin, located in the lower exhibit hall. Prizes include digital cameras, Handspring PDAs, and more! The drawings will take place at about 4:15 p.m. local time in the registration area on Friday, April 28, 2000. Please note, you must be present to win!

I urge you to sign up for Communications Solutions EXPO for free and save yourself the $50 on-site registration fee. While you are there, please also make your hotel reservations, as the local hotels tend to sell out quickly when Communications Solutions EXPO comes to town. I hope to see you there.

You Gotta See The Show

Communications Solutions EXPO (formerly CTI EXPO) has something for everyone who is interested in communications. Do you need a new PBX for your growing business? Or what about PBX alternatives? Exhibiting vendors who might have some answers for you include Artisoft, Buffalo International, CellIT, e-Voice, Inter-Tel, Interactive Intelligence, Nortel, and Praxon, among others. And while you're looking at PBX alternatives, what about the applications that you might want to take advantage of: unified messaging, speech recognition, IVR, support for SOHO workers, and so on? You might check out the booths of Figment Technologies, InterVoiceBrite, MCK, Periphonics, Sound Advantage, SpeechWorks, and Syntellect, plus a bevy of other exhibitors who specialize in the business applications space.

Are you a developer looking for the latest components, app-gens, testing tools, and software to put together your own communications solution? All of these people will be at Communications Solutions EXPO, including board vendors (Aculab, Amtelco, Natural MicroSystems), testing products (Hammer), industrial PC mfgs. (Carlo Gavazzi, Crystal, I-Bus, ITOX), and makers of app-gens (Envox).

Interested in the possibilities of IP telephony? Check out AudioCodes, Brightware, Cisco, NxNetworks, Quicknet, and Shelcad, plus many, many others who will be demonstrating products and interoperability on the show floor.

CRM is a hot topic, and if you're responsible for handling customer service, regardless of contact medium, you might want to check out companies from Acxiom to Aspect, from eGain to eOn. Big names and relative newcomers, they all will be demonstrating their CRM products and philosophies at Communications Solutions EXPO.

And finally, what is there for service providers? Another hot topic, to be sure, and you wouldn't want to miss the opportunity to meet with such companies as Merlot, Phoenix Global Networks, Softel Telecommunications, Tundo, and others, all of whom are building platforms aimed at the service provider market.

For a complete list of exhibiting vendors, please check out the Communications Solutions EXPO Web site. I'm sure you'll be convinced that there really is something for everyone.

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