ShoreTel Rolls Out Connect Common UC Platform

After more than two years of development and planning, the company releases the technology that will offer businesses a single user interface.

Cloud communications

ShoreTel for the past three years has been developing a common platform for its on-premises and cloud-based unified communications products. Company executives have been talking about the offering for almost two years, and earlier this year at its user conference introduced attendees to the platform, called ShoreTel Connect.

After more than 12 months of meeting with customers and working both with employees and outside partners to prepare them for ShoreTel Connect, the vendor is ready to roll out the common platform and user interface. ShoreTel announced the platform Aug. 18, a move that not only brings such capabilities to a unified communications (UC) market that is in transition, but also one that company officials said marks the "coming out party for the new ShoreTel."

"We're here," Chief Marketing Officer Mark Roberts told eWEEK. "This is our time. … We're now at that 'when' phase [with the common platform]."

ShoreTel started down this road in 2012, when it bought M5 Networks for $146 million, a move that brought in cloud-based collaboration capabilities to complement on-premises UC products the company had built its business upon. It opened the vendor to new markets and enabled it to address changes in a communications space that is still being pressured by such trends as the proliferation of mobile devices and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) practices, and where businesses increasingly are looking for cloud-based solutions.

It also opened up new avenues for ShoreTel to generate more recurring revenues by delivering its services via the cloud.

In a post on the company blog, Chandler Harris, content marketing manager for ShoreTel, pointed to a report by IDC analysts that forecasts that global revenues for the cloud communications market will jump from $123 million in 2013 to $7.5 billion in 2018.

"The great cloud migration is underway, with more organizations than ever moving their business processes to the cloud," Harris wrote. "Communications is no exception."

Analysts such as ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala have applauded ShoreTel's efforts to develop such a common platform, saying businesses are finding that there are some services that are best delivered via the cloud, while others should stay within the firewall.

ShoreTel's Roberts said that with ShoreTel Connect, the company can now deliver UC services three ways (on-premises, through the cloud or in a hybrid fashion). And no matter how the services are consumed or delivered, businesses can use the same single platform and interface, making communications technologies easier and less complex and giving them wide flexibility in creating their UC environments.

"There now can be one common platform to deliver all these [UC] services," he said. "It's not an either-or choice."

ShoreTel is offering three deployment options for Connect, including Connect OnSite, an on-premises UC solution owned and maintained by the customer. It includes IP PBX telephony services, ShoreTel's desk phones, the Connect client app, a mobility application, collaboration suite and browser-based administration.

For those businesses looking for a fully hosted and managed UC-as-a-service (UCaaS) offering, there is Connect Cloud that offers the same functionalities. The third option is Connect Hybrid, in which customers with on-premises equipment can have applications delivered through the cloud. ShoreTel is currently offering such Hybrid apps as ShoreTel Fax and ShoreTel Scribe, a voicemail transcription service.

During a conference call earlier this month to discuss the latest quarterly financial numbers, ShoreTel President and CEO Don Joos said the Connect platform will help the company grow its recurring revenue stream and that initial feedback from partners has been good.

"They are obviously very excited about that opportunity because again it's a single code base, it gives them the opportunity to bring one solution to market regardless of giving customers choice into how they want to deploy that," Joos said, according to a transcript on Seeking Alpha.

Since introducing Connect in April, partners have been introducing the platform to customers and, in July, started "advanced coding of the Connect solution to new customers," he said.

"We included [the OnSite and Cloud] deployment models in our initial rollout to match the most immediate priorities communicated to us by current and potential customers as well as our channel partners," the CEO said, adding that a survey found that midsize enterprise CIOs said that as much as 20 percent of future investments in communications would involve hybrid technologies. "We will start to address that demand in the December quarter when we introduce Connect Hybrid, which is designed for customers that want to operate multiple offices with a mix of cloud and on-premise environments."