The platform play has been a recurring theme in this column, but prior to attending the BroadSoft (News - Alert) Connections 2008 event earlier this month, I hadn’t really thought about the company in these terms. My history with BroadSoft goes back to their earliest days, so it’s not like this is all new to me. Furthermore, while the definition of a platform play is somewhat fluid, I came away from Connections with a view that BroadSoft very much fits in this mold. Not just in a peripheral way either.
There is certainly the BroadSoft many of us know as an application server vendor, but today’s BroadSoft is much more, and that’s the focus of this column. Just to be clear, you can choose to read this as an endorsement for BroadSoft, but my primary intent is show how a vendor with a forward-thinking vision can position itself favorably with service providers by effectively integrating 2.0 technologies with IP communications applications.
So, what is BroadSoft doing that is so different? Some of it is an evolution of the company’s focus and offerings that is just coming into vogue now, and some of it is very new, having been launched at the Connections event.
As most people familiar with BroadSoft know, BroadWorks is the core platform upon which most of the company’s growth has been based. The latest numbers from the Connections event show that BroadSoft has more than 400 service provider customers in 61 countries, using solutions such as hosted IP telephony, residential VoIP and SIP trunking. This has served the company well, but is not really what I would call a platform play.
The picture changes, though, when you look at the more recent enhancements to BroadWorks, and building on that, BroadSoft Xtended, which was the main focus of Connections. Together, they make BroadSoft more of a true platform play, and create a versatile solution that can bring innovation to any type of service provider.
Briefly, the enhancements are built around FMC — Fixed Mobile Convergence (News - Alert) — and are branded as BroadWorks Anywhere. This extends the solution to mobile devices, and allows end users to work with just one business number, but having all the calling features work on all their devices. Aside from this convenience, the real magic of FMC lies in the ability to shift calls from one device and/or network to another in real time without dropping the call.
These capabilities are hardly unique to BroadSoft, but FMC makes BroadWorks of interest to both fixed line and mobile operators. This is certainly a step forward from their roots, when application server vendors were primarily selling to fixed line operators. This alone, though, does not really make BroadWorks a platform play. For that, Xtended enters the picture, and Connections was a good showcase for BroadSoft’s Web 2.0 vision.
The underlying idea of Xtended is to integrate the voice services supported by BroadWorks with Web services and Web 2.0 applications. BroadSoft’s CEO, Mike Tessler, talks about the importance of service providers “extending their networks” to attract new customers with innovative services. This is very much a Web 2.0 vision where the network is the means, not the end. In this world, the value drivers are connecting with others — anywhere, anytime, any way — along with collaborating and community-building.
What strikes me about today’s BroadSoft is the emphasis on the company’s customers (service providers) and their customers, rather than the BroadWorks technology. The emphasis is on creating a platform that lets the service provider stay in control, and in giving them the tools to respond directly to changing needs from their subscribers. To do this, the BroadSoft mantra for service providers is simple: “open up your networks.”
This may have been radical thinking a few years ago — and still is for some — but it is table stakes today, especially for platform plays like Xtended. With open, extended networks, service providers can reach further into the lives of their subscribers, creating a richer communications experience and allowing them to connect with others more effectively than ever before.
To illustrate the point, Mike Tessler talked about the incredible popularity of Facebook (News - Alert) and iTunes, and Xtended is one way for service providers to harness the potential of Web 2.0 with their subscribers. Remember, some of BroadSoft’s customers are catering to consumers, so these types of tools are very relevant to the story, and are paving the way for similar tools that will find their way into the business market.
So, how does Xtended do this? There are two answers, both of which will be familiar to regular readers of my column. First is the Xtended Marketplace, and second is the Xtended Developers Program. These are hallmarks of platform plays, and together, give BroadWorks a distinct Web 2.0 feel.
Marketplace is what you would expect: an online portal where service providers and their customers can download third party applications that integrate voice with Web services. Just like the iStore and Ribbit (News - Alert), BroadSoft is advocating that its customers need to open up their networks to take advantage of these innovations, and the company is doing exactly the same by opening up the BroadWorks platform.
When customers access these applications from Marketplace, they know they will have plug-and-play functionality within the BroadWorks platform, making it very easy for them to quickly introduce new services to subscribers. Furthermore, Marketplace has Web 2.0 applications that integrate with widely-used programs for both business and consumers. Examples include ACT!, Salesforce.com and Lotus Notes for business, and Facebook and Google (News - Alert) for consumers. This really extends the power of the core BroadWorks platform, with Web 2.0 applications for both types of subscribers. Taking this a step further, though, BroadWorks can now be used by service providers to offer integrated services that allow subscribers to manage both their work and personal lives with Web 2.0-style communications tools.
To keep stocking Marketplace with up-to-the-minute applications, BroadSoft has invested in its Developers Program, which is an essential building block for ongoing innovation. BroadSoft now has more than 100 sandbox accounts with the third party developer community, and recently held a mashup competition. The best entries were showcased at Connections, and it is clear that BroadSoft is building a strong ecosystem of developers who understand that voice is much more than telephony.
This should appeal greatly to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), who usually lack the infrastructure for premises-based communications systems, and/or balk at the high cost of business software platforms. With Xtended, service providers can offer a much richer set of solutions, especially for customers who are comfortable with cloud-based applications. They can now get desktop apps, mobile apps, telephony apps — all without costly software or hardware.
Not only does this validate the hosted model, which BroadSoft has supported from the beginning, but it also validates the Web services model, and gives service providers more solutions to sell with, and more ways to deliver value to subscribers.
For most service providers, this will be enough, but what really makes BroadWorks a true platform play is its ability to let service providers innovate. Developer sandboxes are great environments for trying new things, and more than ever before, forward-thinking service providers can be proactive and lead the market with new services that subscribers did not realize they needed. Creating value this way leads to sustainable competitive advantage, and with BroadWorks, it’s there for the taking.
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Jon Arnold, Principal at J Arnold & Associates, writes the Service Provider Views column for TMCnet. To read more of Jon’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Mae Kowalke