Two months ago, on September 26, 2005 I wrote an article titled VoIP Killed the PBX Star. This article received a tremendous amount of traffic and from what I am told was posted on quite a few PBX vendor intranets and became required reading at a number of communications companies. In the article I outlined various threats to PBX vendors and came up with ways to fight back.
One of the biggest threats I discussed was the establishment of enterprise Skype-like products. Coincidently, the day my article was posted, a company by the name of BlueNote Networks released what seems to be the first software designed to be like Skype for the enterprise.
Let’s think about this for a moment. If Skype is such a hit in the consumer market, why not the enterprise? Makes sense, right? If you were to design an enterprise Skype-like solution you would want it to support SIP and service oriented architectures (SOA) as enterprises want standards-based applications and they want these applications to work seamlessly with the rest of the software in an organization. Skype currently supports neither of these three-letter acronyms.
Such a system would however have to work like Skype. In other words, it should be an application. The basic premise should be install and go. No messy hardware details to deal with. I spoke at length with the BlueNote’s enthusiastic CEO Tom Burkardt who tells me the system his company designed was a result of an RFP from a brokerage house meaning it is not just an entrepreneur’s vision but an application requested from a real customer.
Their solution is called the SessionSuite Architecture and it is comprised of seven modular software components. The company suggests you think of SessionSuite as Microsoft Office and the modules as Word, Excel, etc. The modules deal with such items as delivering the GUI, federated relationships and the gateway between the PSTN and IP worlds.
The software has NAT traversal built in just like a p2p application and will support SOA features in the upcoming year. The company is focusing on interoperability allowing a multitude of VoIP and legacy devices to be used with the solution.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this system and is the support for SOA (My upcoming December Publisher’s Outlook in Internet Telephony Magazine will discuss SOA in detail) and the desire of BlueNote Networks to see telephony integrated into the corporate workflow. As you may recall in the mid-nineties the telecom industry turned to CTI as a technology that would allow computer systems to interface with telephony.
CTI excelled in the call center but did not fulfill its promise in the enterprise. VoIP has turned telephony into an application and now it is possible to have telephony interface seamlessly with other enterprise applications. The rules of the enterprise can now be applied to telecommunications like they are applied to e-mail and web servers.
We are still in the infancy of the integration of VoIP and SOA but the trend is in place and will grow over time.
As BlueNote gains traction we can expect many other similar products to come out of the woodwork. Microsoft is a natural for such a solution as is Oracle and perhaps Google. The question worth asking is will Skype decide to do the things it needs to do to become a mainstream enterprise software product or will the company be content serving the consumer market and disparate workgroups within the enterprise?
As SIP gains more traction in companies Skype will have to support this protocol or risk losing its lead in the enterprise to companies such as BlueNote and others.
I am still surprised that the day I wrote about enterprise Skype a company was introduced to fill the exact niche I mentioned. What I have learned from this experience is that the pace of innovation in communications is more rapid than at any time before. I would say we are now innovating faster than we did in 2000. What this means to entrenched PBX players is watch out.
In the splendiferous words of Mr. Don King I have a succinct prediction to make about today’s PBX vendors… If you aren’t fast you will be last.