I recently had the opportunity to ask Touchstone Technologies CEO Mark Stacy about his business and the direction he is taking the company.
Touchstone is a Hatboro Pennsylvania based test and measurement company specializing in software-based solutions for active testing (load generation, stress testing, feature/function testing) and passive testing (network monitoring, analysis, QoS determination, back-office integration for SLA’s, etc.) of IP communications networks.
Please outline your new corporate initiatives.
Touchstone is currently focusing development on testing solutions that are aimed at technology deployers (e.g. integrators, installers) and SLA monitoring and diagnostics. While traditionally, the "nuts and bolts" were de rigueur for lab environments, there is a definite trend towards more simplistic solutions that can be plugged into a network, discover other test components, and begin a prescribed testing and analysis function. While this methodology is not necessarily "new", the assessments which we can make with our suite of tools provides a complete, clear and concise picture using real voice and video traffic over real Voice over Internet Protocols running through the actual VoIP-aware network components.
How is IP communications changing your company’s strategy?
As mentioned above, the deployment of IP communications has refocused our efforts on providing highly portable and reliable testing solutions that are geared more towards the field than the lab, although the majority of our sales are still to R&D groups.
What pains does your company solve for customers?
Touchstone's products are 100 percent software which allows our customers to take advantage of Moore's Law and to use the same tools in their labs as they do anywhere else their active and/or passive testing needs takes them. In addition, our products are highly malleable allowing us to quickly and easily customize them for any specific requirements they have. We are also building an opt-in community for our XML engine for SIP whereby our customers can contribute and download scripts that emulate their own or other parties' devices, effectively providing an online community of interoperability tests.
How has SIP changed communications?
SIP has significantly changed communications by proving a standards-based, easily debuggable protocol. The major difference between SIP and other protocols (such as H.323) is that there is a lot less room to compromise or bastardize the standard if you want to ensure interoperability with other manufacturers of SIP-based devices. In addition, SIP has proved to be very flexible and resilient and in fact, our "VoIP test peering fabric" which drives the inter-process communications of our testing applications is based on SIP. This allows our customers to easily become part of the fabric without having to learn some proprietary scheme.
How do you think the future of the market looks?
With the advent of IMS, IP communications is poised to become a lot more than the successor to the PSTN!
How does the growth rate in the US compare to the rest of the world?
While the U.S. was at the forefront in the mid-to-late nineties in IP communication development, the bubble burst significantly slowed development here. With the resurgence that occurred in late 2004 and 2005, I think we can safely say that from an adoption and development point of view the U.S. is catching up if not beginning to become the dominant force that one would believe it should be.
What do you think of Google and Apple entering the telecom market?
How about Microsoft?
They certainly have the footprint to cause some disruptions and will probably be acquiring a number of companies to help complete their infrastructure vision. As a software developer, I agree with their software-based approach. I would say their biggest obstacle is their own operating systems.
How will open source technologies change our market?
Open Source will continue to fuel early adoption and pilot programs, but anyone who is seriously considering building a mission-critical infrastructure on open source solutions should have a very good grasp of what the repercussions will be when that system fails (and let's face it, nothing is truly "bullet-proof"!).
What are your thoughts regarding hosted solutions?
Hosted solutions can significantly reduce the cost of switching to IP communications and make a lot of sense for smaller companies.
How will communications evolve over the next five years?
IMS will blur the lines between home, cell, and office phones and user location through presence and “find-me, follow-me” type functionality. And of course, video, video, video.
What will the industry see at your booth at ITEXPO?
We feel that without a doubt (just ask our customers!), we provide a better, more affordable way of testing IP communications whether you are working in a lab environment, at a customer premise, or both in the same day.
Why is your booth a “Can’t Miss?”
We won the January 2007 IT Expo East "Best in Show" award for test and measurement solutions and we intend to repeat that at the September 2007 IT Expo West show. Need I say more?
What do you want the industry to know about your company?
When we first started this company we were at a trade show when a gentleman came up to me and asked what does Touchstone do? I explained that we were in the test and measurement business for IP communications and he remarked "oh, you're a used car salesman". Ever since that day my mission has been to provide a level of service that exudes a friendly, no pressure atmosphere for our customers, prospective customers, and people who are just curious about IP communications. We go to great lengths to provide hands-on support to everyone that contacts us and most e-mails are answered in less than 15 minutes from the time of receipt. We pride ourselves on our "mom and pop" relationships and the fact that once a company becomes a customer, no matter how big or small, they remain loyal. Most importantly are the personal relationships we develop with the users of our solutions; if they leave the company that they are at, we usually end up as a provider to them at their new place of employment!
What’s next for communications?
If I knew that definitively, I'd be on a beach in Tahiti right now instead of answering this e-mail!