A funny thing happens when you bridge telecommunications infrastructure with cloud computing: You can serve communications and collaboration in smaller slices. And a new breed of smaller telcos can resell those slices as their own, without having invested tens of billions in fiber infrastructure first.
If you’ve never heard of Unify, then perhaps you’ll recall one of its parent companies: Siemens AG, one of Germany’s largest companies and the biggest engineering services provider in all of Europe. In 2013, Siemens came to the realization that communications had not yet been unified (past tense), and that the way to go forward was to compel the industry to truly head that direction.
Consumers were introduced to Unify last year by means of a collaboration product called Circuit that users can install directly into their Web browsers — a product that uses HTML5 technology to go head-to-head against both Microsoft Skype and Cisco WebEx.
This week, Unify took the next logical step, introducing a new IP-based communications service on a cloud platform. OpenScape is geared for a new class of telecommunications service providers, some of which may only serve select groups of customers, or operate within limited metropolitan areas. They’re not AT&T and Verizon.
But they can become competitive with AT&T and Verizon — or so says the plan — by being enabled to tailor and customize OpenScape service and couple it with their own service bundles and support features.
As Unify Vice President Rolf Mueller told CMSWire, it’s a shift in his company’s customer philosophy, as a direct result of having hired Jon Pritchard in February 2014 as executive vice president of worldwide channels.
“Under the old management, the channel was a kind of add-on to our direct business focus,” said Mueller. “But since Jon is with us, we have really a strong focus on channel.
“The business model is, we try to create value for our partners,” he continued. “From our perspective, the partner is the first customer. Every partner runs more than one brand in its portfolio. We have to win that first medal, as we say, before we’re even hitting the customer.”
Both the business and consumer worlds have grown accustomed to the idea of phone companies, or telcos, being essentially multiplied forms of “the phone company” or “Ma Bell,” prior to the breakup of the original AT&T. When communications service transcends the level of Web-based chitchat and instant messaging into the realm of business contacts, people expect small numbers of huge, highly centralized networks that encompass the planet.
With the move to IP-based communications, hosted on the same classes of servers that run IT departments, theoretically service providers have no particular requirement to provide service that encompasses even the entire county. While wireless connectivity may continue to be a major telco product for an indefinite time, the business collaboration that takes place on those connections does not have to come from the same telco. (That is, of course, unless local laws from the 20th century state that it must.)
So Unify is unveiling, through select channel partners beginning in July, an entry-level, software-based communications platform called OpenScape Business S, which supports up to 1,500 users. It provides voice, video, Web videoconferencing, point-of-presence, and social network hosting, some of which will be advanced versions of what consumers find today in Unify Circuit, said Mueller.
From there, channel partners can scale up their connectivity options with OpenScape Enterprise Express, which enables up to 8,000 users and includes a mobile connectivity option with gesture recognition. According to Mueller, the EE version can be installed on hybrid cloud platforms or entirely on-premise, in virtualized environments.
Each of the options contains a mix of Unify features, such as voice mail, Outlook and Office 365 plug-ins, and contact center support, all by way of pre-tested service packages.
As Mueller explained, after channel partners have made their sales, OpenScape’s provisioning effectively enrolls their customers as users of the Unify network. From that point, it’s Unify that provides the back-end support. Just how much of the Unify brand end customers will see, is determined by the channel partner, who may opt to serve as the customer point-of-contact for support, or purchase a support option from Unify.
Usually, as far as European customers are concerned, said Mueller, what partners prefer is for Unify to stay behind the scenes and to serve as their customers’ business telco of choice. It’s a business model that has already taken hold in Germany and throughout Europe, and which is certainly headed to the Americas next.
Simpler Media Group, 2015