By now it is no secret I spent some time in Canada recently and met with a number of companies in the Terry Matthews family. One of these companies is Mitel and over the decades this company has proven to be far ahead of the technology curve. They haven’t been the marketing leader mind you but they always focused on technology and innovation and this allowed them to do well throughout a telecom market having its share of ups and downs.
In the early 1990s I remember Mitel at shows like ICA and TCA in places like San Diego, California exhibiting converged solutions integrating the PC and the phone system. Mitel has always been innovating. When I look at the PBX market today in fact it seems the companies who have innovated the most have made it through the ups and downs and the ones who stopped have been acquired as distressed assets.
So part of my reason for visiting Mitel was to see what the company is up to lately and where they see things going. I didn’t have a formal mission while visiting so my notes are a good overview of many of the concepts and products the company is proud of these days.
One of the innovations we discussed is something I have never come across and it seemed so unusual I wanted to point it out. When Mitel sells a cruise line a PBX it is more than just a standard hotel-based phone system. It has added features which take into account which time zone the ship is in to ensure wake up calls are adjusted to local time zones. This is important as guests who get wake up calls too late can miss their tours and the guests who get waken up too early suffer from one less hour of hang over recovery. And there is something sufficiently nasty about complaining hung over passengers that gets a PBX manufacturer to come up with innovations such as these.
Of course this is small detail but the always eloquent Simon Gwatkin who is the company’s VP of Strategic Marketing points to a small detail like this as something that differentiates Mitel from other PBX players.
One important area of discussion of course these days for any communications vendors catering to the enterprise market is that of unified communications and its implications on the future of enterprise PBX purchases. Simon tells me Mitel has been working with Microsoft for over two years and they are far ahead of the hype. It should be noted that a few vendors in the industry have been working with Microsoft rather closely over the years and the announcement of Microsoft collaborating closely with Nortel came as a slap in the face to these vendors. Mitel didn’t mention this to me but a few other vendors have.
In addition the Nortel initiate comes down from Steve Ballmer so while other PBX vendors have close ties with Microsoft divisions, it seems there is only so far a communications vendor can go within Microsoft without bumping into the Ballmer/Nortel ceiling.
Getting back to Mitel, the company showed me some great demos and raised questions like “Why shouldn’t the phone show me the presence info of my speed dial list.” Great question actually. I’m all for it. Where can we buy it? Thankfully Mitel is working on this as many of you read this article.
Other discussions worth sharing are the company’s belief in unifying communications as opposed to just unified communications. For example the company believes in combining teleworking, messaging, unified messaging, mobile extensions and contact center applications into a single package an SMB can manage. In addition we discussed the combination of CPE and hosted services delivering the best of both worlds through various applications all in line with what the customer is looking for.
This blend of hosted and CPE solutions has been coming up more and more in meetings I attend by the way.
But what the company seemed most excited about was pandemic threats. Now lest this be misconstrued, the company is in no way excited about the viral attacks themselves but the solutions they are developing to allow your company to deal with these threats when and if they happen.
Example? Well they are working on an IP turret which is a really cool device that does many things a regular trading turret does but at a fraction of the cost. Most importantly it runs on IP which means the turret can be installed in a trader’s home. In addition the device’s reliance on IP instead of myriad dedicated phone lines means traders will not need to install dozens or hundreds of dedicated phone lines in their houses. As you can imagine you can save a buck or two on phone lines in this scenario.
This is becoming an important issue as global monetary exchanges are mandating that there needs to be a disaster preparedness scenario where traders will be able to trade from home. This could be crucial if a contagious outbreak of some kind rears its head.
In short the meeting with Mitel was long overdue and I see the company is continuing to innovate nicely. We may be seeing the company going public in 2007 and if so it will be worth watching them as the energy Matthews exudes from the top is contagious and it motivates many within the organization unlike many other companies in the space. Still, tech innovation will be an important part of the future of telecom equipment vendors but just as importantly is positioning and branding against the likes of Cisco, Avaya and Nortel. If Mitel can manage a successful IPO they will have additional cushion with significant reserves they can use when taking these larger competitors head on.