It's a theme we've been hearing frequently of late: The integration of IP-based communications applications with everyday business processes is the golden egg inside VoIP and related IP communications.
Yesterday, IPcelerate Inc., a developer of just such an applications platform for enterprise and large commercial customers announced its move to bring the golden egg to smaller businesses, operations that typically lack the dedicated IT personnel to implement and manage such tools.
IPsmartSuite, the company's new product line, essentially takes a number of communications-related business processessuch as personnel/client/patient 'management'; automated scheduling, alerts, and reminders; call logging and recording; client billing; overtime controls; regulatory compliance measures; safety and security (think 911 notifications and recording); and the likeand mixes and matches functions to meet the specific needs of specific types of small business organizations:
- Healthcare facilities (medical/dental practices and clinics)
- Law offices
- Retail stores
- Office/Manufacturing facilities
"We've prepackaged certain capabilities into specific applications that we believebased on customer feedbackare important for those particular markets," explained IPcelerate CEO Kevin Brown.
"We've taken the framework that we use for our large enterprise customers and scaled it down so it is applicable for the small business owner as well," Brown went on. The framework encompasses some 45 or 50 different capabilities:"to send alerts to phones, visually and audibly, to have an application dial outside, the ability to record both voice and video, the ability to link into various types of databases," he elaborated.
The key here was to make the IPsmartSuite solution dead simple and totally bulletproof to deploy, Brown pointed out. "We had to simplify this for the retailer, for the small physician's office, for the small law firm or small manufacturing office. We tried to make it as plug-and-play out of the box as we possibly can because we know these companies don't have the staff to [manage systems]. They're not focused on technology; they're focused on running their business," he said.
VoIPplanet pressed Brown to drill down on some of the platforms functions in more detail.
"Dial-out is an application that is built into our framework," he responded. "Time and labor integration [time clocks and work schedules] is a capability that is built into the framework." With large enterprise customers, typically, VAR partners construct back-office logic that lets those previously independent systems interact to automate the processes of scheduling around absentee workers, controlling overtime, and the like.
"The small retail shop that has 10 employees, they can't afford that," Brown explained, "so we've taken all of those elements and created a self-contained solution. All they have to do is turn it on, key in their employees and their employee's phone numbers, and the schedule of when those people are supposed to work." The application then tracks who's shown up and who hasn't, who's on the clock and who isn't, and takes the appropriate stepscalling potential substitutes, alerting employees to clock out, etc.
Another dial-out application is designed for medical practices. Instead of a staff member getting on the phone to remind all of next day's scheduled patients of their appointments, IPsmartSuite's "patient management" function handles the task. "We hit one icon on the phone," Brown said, "and it goes and takes a look at the appointments for tomorrow and it goes out and calls those people, and continues to call them until it gets a response. And then it can drop a message in their mailbox or delivers a live message that says, 'Hi, this is Dr. Brown's office. Just a reminder that you have an appointment tomorrow morning at 10:00.' "
There's more, even to this single application, but you get the idea.
IPsmartSuitewhich, like IPcelerate's enterprise product platform, is designed to be layered on top of Cisco equipmentwill be available either as a turnkey appliance, installed on industry standard hardware, or, for those customers with a spare server and a staff member who does like to tinker with technology, as a straight software download.
Brown was reluctant to discuss IPsmartSuite pricing in detail, since not all decisions about distribution channel discounting have been finalized, but he did indicate that "it will be a tiny fraction of what the enterprise customer has to paysomewhere between 5 and 7 percent of that." (Enterprise-scale IPsession systems start at around $18k.) Doesn't sound as if price will be a barrier.
IPcelerate's IPsmartSuite announcement was timed to coincide with Cisco's announcement of its new UC 500 solution for small businesses, with which it is specifically designed to operate.