I met Mitel Networks officials at a West Side hotel in New York last year to see demonstrations of the companys new 3300 Integrated Communications Platform (ICP), Your Assistant desktop application, collaboration software and IP phone sets.
At the time, the demos were impressive but kind of disjointed, with each new aspect at its own draped table. Last week, I met some of the same faces, GUIs and handsets at the companys new permanent demo center in Midtown, and enjoyed a much more cohesive educational experience.
The suite of offices on 34th Street in Manhattan includes an eight-cubicle setup of the 3300, where all of Mitel Network Corp.s converged communications tools, for both regular businesses and call centers, can be shown to media and prospects to good effect.
Visitors can proceed from the demo to the equipment racks, where servers and wiring connections are neatly labeled and their separate roles made clear. Or they can proceed to a white-boarded conference room to draw pictures and discuss possible configurations.
What I liked most about the 3300 ICP last year was its Your Assistant desktop interface. YA has the whole, mixed toolset of instant messaging, click-to-dial, call transfer, call forward, file transfer, and audio and video conferencing that others–PBX vendors and Centrex service providers alike–like to put on whole-screen “dashboards.”
But Kanata, Ontario-based Mitel was the first vendor Id seen to shrink all of that functionality down to the manageable size of a buddy list, where it can peaceably coexist with other desktop apps.
YA presents just the expandable features that a user might want, when he or she wants it. Its a design that appears to have borrowed docking, collapsing and expanding UI ideas from the feature-dense graphics packages of Macromedia Inc.
Mitel–along with London-based Skype Technologies SA and Microsoft Corp.s MSN Messenger, when its VOIP aspect works–understands a fundamental notion about convergent communications that others have missed.
Convergent communications cant be presented as a more complicated way of using your phone. They must be presented as a richer way of using your buddy list. This will make perfect sense to a generation of people that already does more communicating over the keyboard than through the dial tone.
The IM generations—two, counting mine and my childrens—also “get” the idea of presence, something Your Assistant (and Openscape software by Siemens Information and Communication Networks Inc., and others) use in multiple media. IMers dont confuse “presence” with physical location.
They know that the Great Register in the cloud lets us find our buddies no matter where they are, whether we sit at our home PCs or sneak notes around the world through PCs in the classroom.
Likewise, YA will work for anyone who plugs in via broadband from any location, whether theyve packed a Mitel IP phone or a YA soft-phone client on a laptop.
PC Magazines Labs recently took a look at Mitels solutions.
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YA windows show you which of your co-workers are available to chat, which are on the phone, which may be in video sessions and which are video-enabled.
And it ramps up from text to voice to video with a click. Video conferences for as many as five people are supported using the YA 6600 server and any USB cameras; a richer video option is to use the MXM conference bridge and video endpoints OEMd from Herzliya, Israel-based VCON Ltd.
Your Assistant can place and answer phone calls, video calls, IM and file transfers. When a call comes in, it pops up a little window with caller ID or ANI, or a whole Outlook/Lotus Notes/ACT/Goldmine record.
You click to dial from logs of missed and received calls, and you can easily capture numbers into a contact list. You can click and drag phone numbers from any list to make an instant conference call.
Mitels IM software, imbedded with YA, is enterprise-secure, encrypted and OEMd from San Diego-based WiredRed Software Corp. But it can be set up to work with MSN, so you can include your beyond-the-office contacts in your personal buddy list.
And its exceptionally clever: If someone who is online calls you while youre on the phone, it can automatically pop up the chat window that you need to tell him to hold on a sec, or when to call back, or to answer his burning question.
Your entire Your Assistant profile and controls can be ported to an iPAQ pocket PC by Hewlett-Packard Co. This can be nestled in the cradle of the 5230 model phone, giving it an instant personality transplant. Wi-Fi-based telephony via iPAQ is still in the works.
Theres one option with Your Assistant that I, as a tech journalist, could really warm to: Using a Knowledge Management system OEMd from dtSearch Corp., of Bethesda, Md., it can index documents anywhere in your file system by the names of people or groups in your Outlook PIM.
So, should my SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) guru call me back a day after Ive left a burning question in his voice mail, I need not drag my brain out of todays subject matter, force it back into yesterdays and fumble through files until finding the one with the highlighted questions.
Theoretically, at least, a screen pop-up would produce not only the gurus Outlook record but also an instantly accessible list of files of related correspondence, presentations and the story in progress.
Salesfolk—who have a 750 percent greater likelihood of ever actually gaining this tool, publishers being the parsimonious bunch that they are—could appear totally focused and dedicated to anyone who calls.
To be sure, Mitel has not given up on the use—or the profit—of hardware phones. You can click on Your Assistant to make the call, and it will activate your IP phone unless youd prefer to use a headset. But the phones are all about converged media, as well. Ramping up from voice to video is a matter of one button on the handset.
At the highest end of the phone line, the 5240 “IP Appliance” comes with an XML and HTML browser, upon which such applications as hospital television-service ordering and meal selection have been implemented.
Cheaper, teleworker versions come with a two-line screen. All of them can be daisy-chained to PCs. If networks fail, the phones—three of which can work on one DSL link, they say—can fall over to analog PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). They have dual-boot VOIP functionality, to SIP or Mitels own MiNet IP protocol.
Mitel also sells its system with a Nuance Communications Inc. speech engine, voice verifier and VoiceXML interpreter. This works in the unified messaging application so you can voice dial or order up particular voice mails by saying, for example, “Give me Dan Smiths voice mail.” It also makes it possible to write and run any kind of IVR application using VoiceXML markup language.
The window-side row of cubicles in Mitels demo center is dedicated to contact-center applications. These, too, are sold very modularly and based on an OEM of contact-center technology based in Sioux Falls, S.D., called Prairie Fire Communications.
Here, youll find intelligent routing of calls and e-mails, agent scheduling and forecasting, historical reporting, supervisor monitoring, recording (with synchronized screen activity) and supervisor control.
Youll also find intelligent queuing that tells customers on hold how long theyll have to wait and asks them if theyd like to let a voice mail hold their place in line for them.
Like all other IP PBX vendors, Mitel beats the drum of incremental migration to IP. Phil Ouellete, my demonstrator, posits a customer who has just invested in two TDM PBXs but wants to gateway the two across a WAN and wants to grow into Mitels capabilities.
For this site, Mitels reseller inserts a plain, unadorned ICP 3300 platform on either side of the customers WAN, gatewaying to the TDM PBXs on either side. For now, it packetizes voice and passes QSIG signals for four-digit dialing and toll bypass. Later, “well turn on licenses,” Ouellete said.
The 3300s can grow to serve voice mail at first—or remote IP phone users, ACD or conferencing—and can eventually replace the PBXs entirely.
In a similar vein, a CITELlink gateway in the demo centers equipment room, from Seattle-based Citel Technologies, made it possible to hook up your new ICP 3300 to pre-existing Norstar phones from Brampton, Ontario-based Nortel Networks Ltd.