For service providers, unified communications makes a great value addan up-sell to help users fulfill the greater promise of IP telephony. But it also can be a pricey proposition for providers to deliver those enhancements. Provisioning devices can be costly and time-consuming, requiring multiple visits to a customer site and a lot of back-end technical effort.
Of course, this heavy lifting can be well worth the effort when selling into an enterprise: a lot of work in exchange for a major contract. But its a different story when it comes to small-business users. When UC delivery calls for considerable up-front time and energy, service providers are challenged to make money on SMB customers.
One company, BroadSoft of Gaithersburg, Md., has released what it says should be a fix for carriers looking to deliver UC to the SMB space. Founded a decade ago, the 300-person company is arguably the leading provider of software for hosted VoIP applications. BroadSoft cuts a wide swath, serving 450 tier-1 to tier-3 providers in 62 countries, including both fixed and mobile operators.
Its flagship product, BroadWorks, has just been enhanced with device management capability. The technology allows a provider to quickly provision analog terminal adapters (ATAs), IP phones, integrated access devices (IADs), and IP PBX equipmentany access device that uses XML/HTTP for profile management. Through user-specific files delivered directly from BroadWorks, providers manage and control all aspects of device configuration centrally within the network.
"This is all about accelerating and optimizing the service provider experience," said Senior Director of Solutions Alex Doyle.
"The challenge is to drive cost out of the equation. If you are a Verizon or a Comcast and you want to take on a 500-person business or smaller, you have to be able to do this in a reproducible, scalable kind of way," Doyle said. "If you have to do three back-and-forth visits for a site survey, the features are still great, but the finances become problematic."
A hosted management system should take a lot of the complexity out of that equation, saving providers both effort and expense. "Now when the customer plugs in that phone, they will pull down all that phone information from the secure servers," and be up and running almost at once, Doyle said. "So all the planning and the costs of deploying are taken out of the fulfillment process."
BroadSofts management solution is hardware agnostic, meshing equally well with phones provided either by the carrier or by a third party. "The underlying architecture is web-services based," Doyle said. "That means the phones and devices are able to retrieve this configuration in a standard HTTP way. That inherently gives you not just security but also interoperability."
BroadSoft envisions automated provisioning largely as a boon to services providers. At the same time, this capability should prove a win for small-business users. SMBs are of course notorious for their desire to just have nothing whatsoever to do with the management of their own phone systems. They want it all seamless, and thats a big part of what BroadSoft hopes to achieve.
"Instead of having some guy come to their site and spend a day or two, the phones will come in and they will be and up running in an hour. Their experience will be greatly improved," Doyle said.
In addition to speeding initial configuration, automated provisioning capability ought to benefit SMBs in an ongoing way, by helping them to manage their telephony needs over time with minimal fuss. "You dont want executives trying to reboot their own phones," Doyle said. "If I grow my company or if have to cut 15 people, all of that is taken care of with this product. You dont have to redefine phones or reprogram phones or anything like that."
BroadSoft executive say they see no real threat from other third-party vendors at this point in the realm of automated provisioning. If anything, they say, it is the service providers themselves who could mount a challenge, by moving to develop their own in-house management tools.
For the time being, though, the providers have other priorities on their plates, including the effort to stay focused on their core business in the midst of challenging times.
"Service providers still want to provide service," Doyle said.