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April 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 4
Publishers Outlook

Microsoft’s Call Center Push

There is a level of excitement in the call center space I haven’t witnessed since VoIP began transforming the call center into the contact center. The latest revolution to come to contact centers is that of unified communications (UC). In this issue you’ll read about how Aspect (News - Alert) has introduced a UC platform enabling call centers to increase service, sales and first call resolution levels.

Just a few days after I first blogged about this, Microsoft (News - Alert) decided to invest in Aspect. Moreover, the two companies are collaborating on a suite of contact center solutions integrating the best of Microsoft OCS and Aspect’s UC solutions.

Mike Sheridan, SVP of Strategy for Aspect and Microsoft’s Clint Patterson, Director of PR for Unified Communications (News - Alert), told me more about this agreement between the operating system and contact center software leaders. The duo believe that the synergies afforded by this collaboration will be both great and transformational. They see peoples’ lives improving because of better call center service levels.

While on the surface it is easy to dismiss such comments as PR speak, one of the most frustrating experiences many of us deal with on a regular basis is communication with rock bottom contact center agents who are still digging. Even an improvement of a few percentage points will likely make our lives a bit better.

The two companies are in a five-year agreement which encompasses a collaborative roadmap between Aspect Unified IP and OCS. Microsoft will help improve the UC readiness of Aspect solutions and in addition will support sales and systems integration efforts which will include an SI practice whose goal it will to ensure end-to-end UC for contact centers. There are also significant go-to-market initiatives as part of this agreement such as PR, marketing and distribution of customer success stories.

Some of our discussion focused on CEBP and how call centers seem to be ideally suited to such integration. In addition Sheridan was quick to point out the synergies between presence in the contact center and the rest of an organization.

Over the next few years we can expect closer ties between the companies’ products and by 2010 we can look forward to Aspect solutions which fully leverage the OCS voice media server, allowing the full conferencing and communications facilities of this server to come into play.

The installed base of Aspect customers is just so vast that this agreement should pay back both companies for many years to come. Of course this news puts competitive pressure on Cisco, Avaya and Nortel (News - Alert). Now Aspect has a relationship which gives the company as much clout as Cisco and it also has a suite of software solutions which are more elaborate than most of the major enterprise communications companies.

Before I leave you, the most important part of this article may just be that Aspect will be using Microsoft’s telephony solutions in a few years. If Microsoft’s solutions are good enough for contact centers they are likely good enough for any enterprise application. This may not be great news for some of the PBX (News - Alert) players in the market.

Grandstream’s Grand GXE502X

Many of us know Grandstream for their IP Phones which offer great value as well as an assortment of analog gateways, ATAs, videophones, etc. Recently they’ve branched out into the IP-PBX space, creating a simple-looking device dubbed the GXE502X which can support up to 100 extensions and over 50 simultaneous calls.

The box has many features and is surprisingly robust. For example, there’s a built-in fax server with print-to-fax capability that can convert faxes to PDFs and e-mail them. Furthermore, there is enough memory onboard (512 MB) to store 150 hours of voicemail, 10,000 pages of fax and four hours of video mail. There is an auto-attendant, NAT traversal, PSTN failover, video capability, single-button SIP trunk provisioning (with select service providers), unified messaging, and four conference bridges which allow up to 20 participants in total — yes, you could hold a single 20-person conference call.

There’s also call center support with skills-based routing, busy level and other features. Expect integration with CRM packages and MS Outlook/OCS before the end of 2008. Video voicemail is also under development.

Amazingly, this device’s price is under $550. I’m itching to see this PBX in action.

» Internet Telephony Magazine Table of Contents

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