Cisco and Microsoft have made their moves to attract small business customers to IP-based voice communications, seriously changing the dynamic in a marketplace previously under-served by a hodgepodge of networking, open0source and lesser-known VOIP (voice over IP) companies. Specifically, the new products -- Cisco's Smart Business Communications System and Microsoft Response Point -- are intended to set small-business customers' bar of expectations for features, ease of deployment and simplified cost structure.
I just completed a review of Cisco's Smart Business Communications System. Cisco's done a lot of work here -- taking its existing technologies and repurposing them for the smaller end of the market, without making many sacrifices in terms of features. SBCS is a reseller's delight, as Cisco has simplified pricing structures and made ongoing management easier for VARs, while hiding all the complexity from the customer -- making the reseller an essential partner.
Interestingly, Cisco also owns Linksys, which also has small-business-oriented voice systems available. When I asked Cisco's Eren Hussein, senior manager for SMB solutions, about how Cisco differentiates the different technology families it has in the marketplace, he said:
"SMB as we know it is a large and diverse market. Anywhere from the corner donut store to a small brokerage is all considered within the category of small business customers. Clearly they have very different needs when it comes to their IT requirements. We feel Cisco is uniquely positioned to serve this large market opportunity with a set of products that can address the specific requirements of any small business customer. We truly see that we will position all the assets Cisco has. The Linksys products are quality products in their price span. But the traditionally branded products are for customers that truly value what their IT spend is -- customers that have an aspiration to look and behave like a larger company, to use IT to help run their business better, to have a better presentation and responsiveness to their customers. With SBCS, we are leveraging the key assets Cisco has developed over decades, purpose building it for the right fit and function to serve these customers."
Microsoft's taking a slightly different route, putting together the software, and relying on OEMs (D-Link, Quanta) to build and deliver the appliance with the software pre-installed. The end result looks to have fewer features overall than Cisco's products, but allows more customer self-reliance in managing the system, and a much lower price point.
Look for the Response Point review (on Quanta hardware) next week, and feel free to offer your comments on Cisco's SCBS below.