Unified Communications

Cloud-Based UC Solutions Continue to Broaden in Functionality But There's Still Room for Premises-Based UC

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  June 08, 2015

Cloud-based communications solutions continue to evolve, becoming even more full-featured than the unified communications solutions we’ve seen to date. And the fact that they’re offered via the cloud means these rich UC capabilities are now available not only to the largest of enterprises, but also to small and medium businesses.

For example, RingCentral (News - Alert) now offers call monitoring, international toll-free numbers, secure voice, Visual IVR Editor, and Voicemail Preview features with its solution. With RingCentral’s new Call Monitoring feature, supervisors can listen in, whisper to staff, join a conversation, and commandeer calls. International toll-Free numbers, meanwhile, allow RingCentral customers to expand into new markets and allows businesses to display an international toll-free number as their company phone number and allow customers to call a local number without a charge. The company’s UC solution as of a new release in April now ups its security quotient with Transport Layer Security and Secure Real-Time Transport Protocol encryption between endpoints on the network, including desk phones, conference phones, RingCentral mobile app and RingCentral for Desktop. It has extended the RingCentral auto-attendant capability by providing system administrators with an interface called Visual IVR Editor, which simplifies the account configuration process and can help eliminate misconfiguration and calling tree errors. And with the new Voicemail Preview feature, voice messages are automatically transcribed to text and shown on-screen along with the audio file.

“We’re rapidly innovating to meet the needs of our cloud communications customers across all segments, from SMB to larger enterprises,” said Jose Pastor, vice president of products for RingCentral. “Our latest features such as the Visual IVR Editor and Call Monitoring give our customers more control of their phone system, while Voicemail Preview and International Toll Free Numbers provide very user friendly features to help business customers work much more productively.”

Also earlier this year, 8x8 (News - Alert) expanded its cloud-based UC offerings with the introduction of Virtual Office Analytics, which works with its Virtual Office and Virtual Office Pro IP PBX (News - Alert)/UC solutions. The company actually came up with the Virtual Office Analytics concept to meet its own internal needs, explained Mike Reinhart, 8x8 senior product marketing manager, but in February it introduced the Hadoop-based dashboard as a commercial offering for its business customers.

Virtual Office Analytics provides the user with a tool to keep tabs on individual employee productivity in contact centers or other customer-facing groups such as sales, and also to better understand the customer experience, Reinhart said. Organizations can then use that information, he added, to make better business decisions.

The solution’s Queue Board provides a variety of parameters about the phone system and current situation, including calls in queue, calls in progress, current wait time, available agents, average answer time, average talk time, overflow agents, abandoned calls, average wait time, longest talk time, and more. Many 8x8 customers are particularly keen on understanding their abandoned call rate, said Reinhart, explaining that means those calls that never reach a resource to get what they want. The 8x8 system can allow businesses to know what the abandon rate is (so they can consider adding resources where needed) and to provide caller IDs associated with those abandons (so they can work to try to recapture that opportunity that might otherwise be lost).

There are three options for businesses that want to use Virtual Office Analytics. The Essentials Package sells for $3.99 per extension and provides information about inbound, outbound, and extension-to-extension calls. The Supervisor’s Package, which also offers real-time information on call queue activity, sells for $39.99 per seat per user at retail. There’s also a Service Quality component for IT staff, providing them with a view of all calls and their call quality.


But There’s Still Room for Premises-Based UC

Despite all the interest in the cloud-based telephone systems, Vertical Communications (News - Alert) continues to believe there’s a market out there for premises-based PBXs at the low end, CEO Peter Bailey told INTERNET TELEPHONY in a recent interview.

That’s why the company continues development on Vertical Summit, the second version of which was released in mid April. Vertical Summit supports both IP and TDM analog communications and can scale to support up to 140 users. More than a key system, this small business PBX solution includes unified communications with mobility and additional features such as call recording and the ability to initiate calls to numbers displayed in webpages and documents – all at what Bailey described as a very aggressive price point. This solution, he said, typically comes in at 10 percent or more below the cost of its NEC and Panasonic (News - Alert) competitors.

“It is an easy to deploy UC feature set for small businesses,” said Bailey. “It doesn’t get any simpler than that.”

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino