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In the CEO Spotlight section in Internet Telephony magazine, we recognize the outstanding work performed by exemplary companies. Each month we bring you the opinions of the heads of companies leading the Internet telephony industry now and helping to shape the future of the industry. This month, we spoke with Craig Rauchle, President and Chief Operating Officer of Inter-Tel, Inc.


GG: What is Inter-Tels mission?

CR: Inter-Tels mission is to continue its legacy of providing advanced technology to businesses, enabling them to improve their most fundamental business challenges, such as increasing revenue, improving operations and controlling costs. Our company has built a solid reputation as having the ability to deliver a tangible and practical return on investment to our customers. We do this by developing applications that improve their critical business processes, and by demonstrating the real economic benefits these technologies provide. We believe our mission embodied by our ability to deliver value to our customers will become even more important to the market, particularly as technology itself becomes more complicated, and businesses face new competitive pressures and dynamics.

GG: What is your vision for Inter-Tel and how is the company positioned in the next-generation telecom market?

CR: Inter-Tel believes advanced applications that improve business processes will drive the enterprise communications market. As thought leaders in developing many of these solutions, such as collaboration and presence management tools, we often times see our competitors feverishly working to deliver their own technologies and duplicate our success. So, we have recently taken several strategic steps to solidify our position.

Among these was the acquisition of Linktivity, Inc., which was highly regarded for their Web-based conferencing and collaboration tools. We have already integrated Linktivity technology into Inter-Tels communications platform, with the release of Inter-Tel Web Conferencing and Inter-Tel Remote Support. The market is starting to embrace these solutions as a cost-effective alternative to pricey ASP conferencing services like Webex and Centra, so we see a lot of potential here.

Another strategic move was the acquisition of Lake Communications, a company that manufacturers business communications systems for the SOHO environment. Lake has been very successful selling its products into the major global service providers like British Telecom, Telecom Italia, and Australias Commander. From a distribution and product strategy perspective, Lake is a very good fit.

GG: Now that it appears that growth and opportunity are the trends in the VoIP industry, what possible hurdles do you see that might upset this momentum?

CR: Among the trends we are watching closely is the ongoing debate revolving around standards and interoperability. Inter-Tel is a strong proponent of standards-based technology. We were the first major vendor to integrate SIP at the core of our system. We are operating under the premise that at some point in the future, customers will demand that they can access each of their business-specific applications in whatever infrastructure they choose-whether it is an IP, TDM or wireless network.

Our industry has to be cognizant that we are most successful when we deliver solutions that meet market expectations, and not try to force feed technology down customers throats. The unfortunate reality is that many in this industry have reputation for doing just that. If VoIP is to continue to gain mindshare and market share, we must make sure we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

GG: What are some of the technology areas where Inter-Tel is increasingly focusing, and why are these areas important to the future of your company?

CR: There are a number of technologies that we are interested in leveraging, particularly as we look to expand our product portfolios.

Certainly, we continue to see next-generation IP-powered applications as an exciting opportunity for Inter-Tel. Solutions like presence management, collaboration, conferencing, and mobility are changing the way people work as well as communicate. Through these tools, companies are beginning to understand how they can expand their market penetration, compete on a larger stage, capture more revenue, improve customer service, and most notably, reduce expenses. These applications provide a compelling argument to companies that have shown an interest in Voice over IP.

Identifying new vehicles that can deliver these applications throughout an enterprise is extremely interesting to us. Were taking a very close look at the potential of WiFi and WiMAX technology to determine how we can better serve mobile workers and remote locations through wireless connectivity.

In addition, security is another area that has drawn our attention. The challenge for Inter-Tel, and the industry as a whole, will be to reinforce security while at the same time allowing for the proliferation of open, interoperable solutions that leverage standardized protocols. We are working very diligently with our partners to develop a mechanism that allows customers the freedom to choose the solutions that make sense for them, without compromising the level of security their businesses require.

GG: Describe your view of the future of the IP telephony industry.

CR: As weve seen in recent years, VoIP is constantly re-defining itself to the enterprise. When it was first launched, VoIPs primary benefits were articulated to be significant reduction in both toll charges and network management costs. What wasnt understood at that time was that in order to deploy VoIP, most companies needed to invest large sums of money to upgrade their data network. Any reduction in toll charges was negated by price-dropping from carriers and service providers.

Today, VoIP is rightfully earning a reputation as a conduit to deliver advanced applications that improve business processes. We can point to VoIPs revenue-generation capabilities as well as its well-documented benefits on the cost side.

In my mind, we will continue to see applications as the primary force driving VoIP growth in the years to come. IP technology provides us with a strong foundation to develop tools that can tangibly impact business performance. SIP, WiMAX, and other technologies will be important, but what will really matter is how well we address customer challenges. That power lies in applications.

While the next few years will be very exciting for Inter-Tel in terms of new technologies and solutions, we are very much committed to staying true to our roots by providing tools that are as practical as they are advanced. IT

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