The granddaddy of unified communications, Siemens Communications, on May 8 will try to extend its technology lead by adding new features for enterprises, developers and, more importantly, managed service providers.
Siemens OpenScape UC product portfolio now includes OpenScape Enterprise Hosted, one of the earliest platforms aimed at service providers looking to create a UC managed service for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Siemens believes that unified communications as a managed service is primed to take off, according to Al Baker, U.S. vice president of product management at Siemens Communications in San Jose, Calif.
"Software-as-a-service vendors are taking over [Microsofts] Exchange and e-mail for companies and doing it in a secure, economical way," Baker said. "This layers on top of Exchange and [Microsofts] Live Communications Server. This is designed for multitenancy with a reporting interface and is prepackaged in a way that doesnt require customization. We built a single administrators tool to allow managed service providers to administer Exchange and LCS in addition to OpenScape."
Early service provider customer Engage agrees with that assessment. "Weve been toying with delivering hosted VOIP [voice-over-IP] solutions integrated with business solutions for almost three years. With our UC push specifically, I think that were finally free of the TDM roots from the users perspective of telephony," said Todd Sharp, director at Engage, in Atlanta.
Between Siemens education efforts and the growing UC chorus coming from large vendors such as Cisco Systems and Microsoft, enterprises are beginning to take notice, Sharp believes. "A year ago people hadnt heard of [unified communications]. Now they have. Awareness has reached that tipping point. Thats why its taking off."
Siemens teamed up with Accenture and Ensim to build out the necessary provisioning, billing and management software interfaces needed to turn the OpenScape unified communications functions into a SAAS platform. OpenScape provides messaging, conferencing, collaboration, team presence and mobility functions that can be integrated with existing productivity applications such as Microsoft Exchange, IBMs Lotus Notes and other systems.
For the enterprise, Siemens will launch the new OpenScape VoiceLink option, which allows users to integrate IP telephony functions with Microsofts Office Communicator Client. From within the Microsoft client, users can access conferencing, calling and other UC features, "along with the instant messaging and presence thats there," Baker said.
The new version of OpenScape VoiceLink is compliant with the industry-standard SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and now supports Siemens HiPath 8000 IP softswitch.
Siemens also enhanced OpenScape Enterprise with a new Toolbar Desktop and enhanced its SDK (software developer kit) to allow customers or integrators to embed communications functions within business process applications. To date, such integration has been created for SAP, Siebel and Salesforce.com.
The OpenScape Toolbar client provides access to unified communications functions without taking up precious space on the users desktop. The toolbar allows Siemens client to co-exist with other clients such as Microsofts Communicator.
"The problem is they were ahead of their time. They came out with their own client before Microsofts Communicator Client. People didnt want two clients on the desktop, which is part of the reason Siemens introduced the Toolbar," said Blair Pleasant, an independent industry analyst with Comm Fusion, in Santa Rosa, Calif. "It can work with existing applications, takes up less real estate, and users dont have to switch from one desktop to another. They can start conferences from within that single application."
The openness of the Siemens offering, based on industry standards such as SIP and an SOA (service-oriented architecture), sets it apart from other UC offerings, believes Sharp.
"As a managed services provider, when we can deal with a large [customer] that may have Lotus Notes, Exchange, GroupWise, Linux or Unix messaging, the openness of the SDK and Web services tool kits lets us deliver with one platform UC features across most of those environments. Thats an important consideration," he said.
The new OpenScape offerings are available now.