Unison Offers Free UC Systems to New York Businesses

Monday May 4th 2009 by Jeff Goldman

The giveaway is a one-time event, but customers can get free unified communications systems any time—if they're willing to live with a bit of advertising.

Unison Technologies recently announced the Unison Business Technology Advancement Program, under which the company will provide free unified communications systems, including all needed hardware and support, to ten small and medium size businesses in the New York metropolitan area. The deadline for applications is May 22, 2009.

Unison was created in 2006 by Intermedia founder Michael Choupak. "He had been looking for software he could host for that company which would provide a unified experience for business communication, not just e-mail and instant messaging but also telephony, voicemail, and so on," says Unison CMO Rurik Bradbury. "After talking to a lot of the biggest enterprise software companies and PBX vendors, no one had a plan that he liked for SMB software—so he decided to create his own."

The company released its software suite, which consists of Unison Server and the Unison Desktop client, in 2008. "The server functions as a PBX, as an IM server, a directory server, an e-mail server, and it does calendaring and contacts—and then the user experience at the front end is a desktop client that can do everything for you in one place," Bradbury says. "So you can click on a person’s name and you can call them or IM them; your voicemails come into the desktop client and you can forward them or save them, and you can also control your telephone through the desktop client."

It’s a more complete system, Bradbury contends, than those of many of its competitors. "As well as being a PBX, it also has the desktop client with e-mail, instant messaging—everything rolled into one… a lot of PBX companies are trying to position themselves as unified communications providers, but it’s not really true because they don’t natively, out of the box, talk to e-mail and IM systems," he says. (This is a debate that Enterprise VoIPplanet expects will continue for some time to come.)

A clearer differentiator for Unison is the fact that the software is provided free, on an ad-supported basis. "The business model of a Microsoft or a Lotus is quite archaic: There’s a very high cost of sales," Bradbury says. "If you look at the money they spend on sales and marketing, it dwarfs the money they spend on creating the product—whereas what we’re hoping to do is flip the equation around so we let people demand software and use it without paying."

And the ads, Bradbury says, will always be seamless and non-disruptive. "In the current client today, there’s minimal advertising," he says. "It’s banner-based, and it’s not inside the working desktop client. When you load the application, there’s a splash screen, and inside the control panel for the administrator there’s advertising in a banner format—so it’s not really noticeable for end users of the software." The ads can also be turned off for a license fee of $50 per user per year.

Bradbury says the idea behind the business model is to maintain more control than Unison would have over an open source offering, while getting an extra revenue stream from advertising as well. "We spent a very long time building this system… and our concern at the moment is that if you do an open source model, software can be forked into a different variant and you can lose control of the project—it’s a very ambitious project, and we wanted to have more control over how it unfolded," he says.

And for those companies selected for the Business Technology Advancement Program, Unison will provide more than just free software. "We’ll provide consulting and some deployment services, and if needed, some hardware for these companies, depending on who they are," Bradbury says. "It’s a way to get our name out there, it’s a way to get reference customers very close to our offices—and we’re also trying to get companies who are less technically inclined, because a lot of people testing Unison so far have been more technical."

Bradbury says there are no specific criteria for inclusion in the program, aside from the fact that each company has to be in New York City, and has to have between 10 and 50 employees. "Basically, anyone in the New York area is welcome to apply for this, and we will look for companies who particularly need it, who are close to us, and so on… we encourage companies to apply, and they may well end up with a free unified communications system," he says. "There’s not a massive number of people who are going to apply for it, so it’s not like a lottery ticket—it just makes sense to approach us, and we’ll see if it can work."

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