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August 11, 2011

ITEXPO Exhibitor Aastra Discusses the Future of Business Communications

By Rich Steeves, TMCnet Copy Editor

Whether conferencing by HD video, speaking through VoIP channels or using cloud-based unified communications, it is clear that the future of business is the future of communications.  That future is rapidly changing, and technology corporations must consistently adapt to meet cutting edge needs of businesses of all sizes.

In the upcoming ITEXPO West conference in Austin Texas, which runs from September 13-15, the topic of business communication, the changing needs and the latest technology, will be discussed and dissected by leaders in the industry.

One such leader is Tim Whittington, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Aastra (News - Alert) USA, a company which specializes in meeting the business communication needs of both single-line businesses and multinational corporations.  He recently sat down with Rich Tehrani (News - Alert), CEO of TMC, to discuss the future of business communication.

Among the finer points of the discussion included: the growing use of HD video as an increasingly common means of communication in business, the role of the cloud in SIP and Unified Communications, the roles of mobility and social networking in the future of business communication, and much more.

Read the entire interview below:

1.       How has your market segment evolved over the past year and what trends have fueled those changes?

With a broad portfolio of products, Aastra operates in many segments within the market for business communications. While each segment has its own set of challenges, there are some common themes. Businesses of all sizes seem to be grappling with the need to rein in costs, while at the same time satisfying the demands from their workers to support more applications and more devices. The effect from the consumerization of IT is that users want at least as much functionality from the applications and endpoints they use for work as they can get from those they use at home. This includes the choice of a wide variety of device types, strong support for applications on their mobile devices and access to video collaboration. They want all this delivered with a high quality experience and extremely easy-to-use interfaces.

2.       What do you see as the next disruptive force in technology and how will it impact your market or business?

Advancements in technology and the evolution of networks to support greater speeds and feeds will lead to widespread adoption of video as a common means of communication. Video communication and collaboration will move out of the boardroom and onto the desk for the common worker. Our BluStar media phone is a great example of a technology that will help drive this adoption. Unlike the PC clients that are most prevalent today, BluStar provides true HD video, conferencing and application sharing in a familiar form factor including an intuitive touchscreen interface. I have one on my desk and can attest that it is truly as easy to use as a telephone. Just as important, it’s affordable enough to be deployed throughout the enterprise.

3.       How has the acceptance and adoption of the cloud model influenced your development cycle and process?

Cloud-based communications have long been a factor in Aastra’s product offerings. As one of the world’s leading manufacturers of open standard SIP phones, we have a large customer base among service providers offering hosted telephony. Adoption of cloud communications is now becoming part of our opportunities for our UC platforms as well. For example, our Clearspan solution for the very large enterprise market is now being deployed by some of our customers to offer managed or hosted services to particular communities of interest. Since it was built from the ground up as a highly scalable, multi-tenant solution it’s a natural fit for cloud communications.

4.       What is the most common request you are seeing from your customers? How is your company addressing these demands?

Cost containment (especially in OPEX) is a strong thread of concern among our customers across all market segments. We have addressed this issue in a number of different ways, depending on the product. For example, our A700 IP-PBX (News - Alert) for the SMB market bundles the call manager and a number of UC applications onto a single, virtualized server. We have simplified the management of the system so that it can be installed in a number of hours - not days - and can be managed remotely. We offer it with a wide range of endpoints so that businesses can deploy the most cost effective handset or mobile option depending on the needs of individual workers. For our SIP phones, whether deployed with our own call mangers or other PBXs, we offer tools that greatly simplify deployment and management.

5.       How is the continued growth of social media changing service and product development strategies?

At Aastra social media has not yet caused fundamental changes in the way we do business, however it has added another channel in which we can listen to and interact with our customer. We continue to provide quality service and quality products that address the challenges of our customers. The decisions regarding what we develop, and how we service our customers are based on a number of factors including looking at current and future market drivers, such as social, economic, and technological changes. That said, we do have plans to add social media integration into our products where appropriate, such as our Solidus eCare call center solution.

6.       Will Google+ become bigger than Facebook and Twitter? Why or why not?

All three platforms have their place, and are useful for different purposes. Twitter provides a quick way to broadcast content or alert followers to breaking news, but it can be difficult to follow a thread of conversation. Facebook (News - Alert) is better in that aspect, but it started as a social platform for college kids and has to play catch-up to meet the needs of businesses. Google+ , on the other hand, was started by techies who are closely involved with the community so it can evolve more quickly to meet the needs of its users. And since you don’t have to be “friends” with someone to follow them on Google+ it provides a better platform for sharing content among communities of interest.

7.       As businesses continue their move toward virtual workforces, how are you meeting the need for increased mobility?  What barriers are keeping others from adopting mobile strategies?

Mobility has long been a strong point for Aastra, going back to our acquisition of Ericsson’s Enterprise Division in 2008. Ericsson pioneered the PBX mobile extension way ahead of the competition, and Aastra has continued to develop and enhance our mobile client applications. Today’s mobile solutions must support geographically dispersed workers using a variety of devices, and offer the same set of features on the mobile as the user could get from a deskphone. Our solution does all that. In addition, we provide Over the Air provisioning and management in order to make it practical to deploy.

8.       How do you see the mobile operating system war (iPhone vs. Android (News - Alert) vs. RIM vs. WM7) playing out?

iPhone and Android will emerge as the strongest contenders. Recent data shows Android has close to 50% of the world marketshare for smart phones, growing at an impressive rate.

9.       What are you most looking forward to at ITEXPO West in Austin? What do you see as being the biggest trends at the show?

We are looking forward to meeting with our current resellers and customers, and having the opportunity to connect with potential new ones. ITEXPO provides a great opportunity to give live demos of our latest products and features and engage with users to learn more about their challenges and how we can help.

10.   Who should visit your booth at ITEXPO and why?

End users and resellers engaged in deploying IP-PBXs, UC applications, video solutions and SIP devices, as well as those involved in deploying solutions around Microsoft Lync, should visit Aastra at booth #813. We look forward to seeing you there!

Rich Steeves is a TMCnet copy editor. He taught writing for nine years. He has also worked as an editorial assistant at Penny Publications. He has written short stories, newspaper columns, blogs and recently published his first novel. He attended The George Washington University where he received his bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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