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Doing UC Before UC Was Cool


TMCnews Featured Article

April 30, 2008

Doing UC Before UC Was Cool

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director

While Unified Communications (News - Alert) has been perhaps the hottest topic in the IP Communications space of late, that hype has yet to manifest itself in the form of widespread adoption. In fact, estimates place UC in the single digits in terms of percentage of business investment in communications.

For the SMB market, in particular, the difficulty often is finding a solution that is easy to integrate into an existing communications system, and one that is easy to manage and use. Also, because SMBs do not typically have the IT resources to dedicate to installing and managing several different software platforms, the ability to have an entire organization on one common system is crucial.
One company, which, as President, Americas Ernie Wallerstein, Jr. says, is providing a better product than it is really known for in this space, is Zeacom (News - Alert). The recently released Version 5 of Zeacom Communications Center provides just the enterprise-wide unified communications solution SMBs need, in a single software engine.
In fact, according to Wallerstein, Zeacom has been providing UC features since well before “Unified Communications” became a recognized product set. “Because the market demanded it, we’ve traditionally kept them separate,” he explained during a recent visit to TMC (News - Alert).
“We’ve been doing it for years,” he added, “Running IVR and Contact Center solutions, including presence and messaging for the entire corporation.”
Where Zeacom believes it has a fundamental advantage over other solutions is in its knowledge and understanding of voice in a data environment, bridging the traditional gap between the two. It also looks at presence as much more than simply, “Are you on the phone?” or “Are you logged on?” 
For Zeacom, the key is in its Rich Presence features, which lets users know when colleagues are at their desks, whether they have moved their mouse in the last five minutes, and more. Users also have the ability to set contact preferences for any number of individual callers based on dozens of different status indicators. This allows them to receive calls from certain callers in any situation, while directing most other callers to voice mail, for instance, when in a Board meeting.
With the emphasis on mobility today, ZCC also allows for presence status and messages to be remotely modified via mobile devices — changing presence status automatically changes the outgoing message. Furthermore, users can assign specific outgoing messages to certain callers.
For instance, while on a recent business trip to London, Wallerstein left an outgoing message for a U.S.-based sales rep to call him on a DID number provided by the hotel at which he was staying (other callers would simply have gotten his standard Out of Office message). When the rep called, Wallerstein was then able to quickly check the presence status of his New Zealand-based vice president of sales, and conference him in with a single button touch.
While that level of specificity provides clear value to customers, such features often are difficult to configure. However, the user interface developed by Zeacom is not only easy to configure, it provided an extremely attractive dashboard view of entire organization’s status. And for mobile users, the engine creates a WAP version that shows only key individuals — a buddy list, if you will — to allow for a condensed view on mobile devices, enabling like flexibility and ease of use when traveling.
“Our core is not voicemail; we’re really about the User Interface,” explained Wallerstein. 
In addition to the interface, Zeacom has also developed an easy to use, feature rich conferencing application, using that same interface for scheduled or ad hoc conferences. Users are able to drag and drop as many as 64 participants in to a call — the only requirement is adequate trunking capability. 
But, just as in any group conversation, conference calls invariably result in side conversations that detract from the value of the general call. Not a problem with ZCC — conference coordinators can drag and drop groups of participants into a side conversation, and then back again when they are done.
The solution also provides for volume control for each participant on the bridge — you now have the ability to mute those participants that just won’t let others talk. Or, for those shy people, you can increase their volume levels so they can be heard. The bottom line is it’s another useful feature that makes the conferencing applications a little friendlier
And, since nobody likes the process of logging with email addresses and long passcodes, Zeacom’s solution automatically recognizes and announces registered users.
“We see conferencing as being the slick application,” said Wallerstein. With the look and functionalityZCC provides, Zeacom has created just that.
Zeacom’s solution has been developed to integrate with Avaya, Cisco, and NEC switches, and Wallerstein says Nortel (News - Alert) may also be in the works in the future. He readily admits that Zeacom has not created a solution is a fit for each and every communications infrastructure, but when it looks at its target market of businesses with 2,500 users and below, in order to be successful, it has to make choices. The truth is, it is compatible with some of the largest vendors on the market, which creates a more than substantial potential client base. Particularly with a market as large as the SMB, it is more important to pick a market segment and service it well.
In addition to conferencing and presence, the Zeacom solution provides all the other common Unified Communications features — mobility, fax, IM, messaging, IVR, screen pops, calendar and CRM integration, and more. But, according to Wallerstein, the real key is that it is provided in a single software engine that makes it easy to deploy and manage. It also means clients have the same functionality, the same look and feel, across their entire organizations, providing a consistent experience internally as well as for external communication.
“We’re better than most in the presence and conferencing features, but really, the key is that we’re doing it all in a single software-based solution.”
Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Managing Editor of TMCnet, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to nearly 3,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

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