Cutting the cord

Webinars that Raise Your Blood Pressure

I sat in on a webinar today from Aruba Networks, a well-respected manufacturer of wireless network gear. We use Aruba for wireless deployments that involve over, say, 20 users, so I was shocked when today’s webinar on “Cutting the last cord” was actually an hour long pitch for eliminating wired networks by moving to Microsoft’s Lync for your telephone system. Moving away from the desk phone is something I am passionate about, but not by getting in bed with the company that fleeced all of us for decades and were guilty of monopoly abuse of market share. It was like finding out that person you were flirting with at the bar was not only married, but married to the jerk that stole your lunch money in junior high.

Cutting the telephone cord

Cut the telephone cord and just have a broken piece of junk in your hand or the first real taste of freedom in your life as an office drone

I understand Aruba’s angle on this – if people buy the premise that you no longer need cables in the office, they would be required to load up on the wireless network hardware and software that Aruba sells. And I understand Microsoft on this too: Cisco right now owns the corporate enterprise network space, and Microsoft Lync has probably picked off all the easy wins at the enterprise telephone system level with companies that are end-to-end Microsoft. They are hitting the wall many manufacturers have slammed up against: the network guys in very big companies are all Cisco-certified and have invested their entire careers in learning Cisco IOS commands, Cisco’s oddball corruptions of industry standards like SIP, and in trying to breathe life into the Frankenstein monster of acquisitions that is a Cisco voice network. (Full disclosure: I flog my new technicians to earn their CCNAs and deploy Cisco switches in most greenfield installations.) If you can convince the C-suite that they can save money by dumping all of those switches and wires, the Cisco ‘one neck to choke’ value proposition falls apart.

Side note: I got a good chuckle at the fact that Aruba is using PRIs (for non-phone geeks, this is quaint, traditional land line technology) with their brand new Lync implementation and claiming $2M in long distance savings from Lync. I take it this means that the savings was found by stitching offices and remote workers together over the internet, the low hanging multi-office fruit that is a 10-15 year old technology solution. So, yes, the savings was from Lync, like my car’s groundbreaking feature of brakes has made it possible to decelerate.

Cutting the Cord

When I started in this industry in 2004, I had a dream. I had a dream that one day, little companies across Southern California would throw their desk phones in the garbage. They would use the Inter-Tel 8602 softphone, a cool piece of software featuring a handy dandy USB dongle hanging out of the PC or laptop. This softphone would, in my feeble, millennial brain, make it super fast to install a phone system, and make life so much easier for companies since they wouldn’t need PoE switches or to worry about programming phones for users. I pitched it over and over again, first with the Inter-Tel Axxess, then the Inter-Tel 5000, all throughout the aughts. All that fishing, and not one bite.

But We Like Our Phones

The feedback from customers made me feel a bit of deja vu to my time in Little League where I hit a lot of foul balls and lead the team in strike outs. So close, yet so far. CFOs and owners saw the cost savings and forward thinking sales manager types liked the deployment flexibility. IT managers with rooms full of desktops running XP on 1-2GB of RAM were ice cold to the idea. Here was a mission critical piece of software on their virus-plagued, under-powered PCs, and they did not want to take the risk even to save about $100 a seat on hardware costs. There were practical problems in the demo, also, such as an inability to hear the phone ring unless you wore the headset. Oh and speaking of sound… these economy class Dell and Gateway desktops didn’t even have sound cards and sometimes did not even have spare USB ports. So much for my per seat savings projections.

Umbilical cord

Telephone cord or umbilical cord? And who is the baby? Is this just a pretty gross picture I am using to shock? YOU MAKE THE CALL

And yes, many managers liked phones. They had an emotional attachment to their desk phone. Their computers crashed, their computers frustrated them, the IT guy was perceived often as a cocky, smelly wizard they hated and maybe feared. Phones? Reliable. Old school. A holdover from their early career. My grandmother even told me once “Businesses will always need phones.”

Businesses of the world, go softphone! You have nothing to lose but your cord!

You will not drown.

Business infrastructure is up to snuff for softphones for the most part.

Fast forward to 2014, and we have a confluence of a few trends that are making it impossible to consider installing an office where everyone gets a desk phone.

Oddly enough, IP phones are a culprit. The secret is out – they are expensive to implement. You have to replace your switches with Power over Ethernet switches, the dreaded PoE upgrade. Your network probably sucks if you haven’t moved to VoIP by now, so assume a technician will be fiddling about in your server closet for an hour or two. And often your cabling is funky. For LA-area startups, there is no cabling, they went wireless only to save precious capital from the start. So that $100 a seat savings in 2004 for a softphone as a best case scenario just exploded into a $250+ per seat savings, because all you are doing is adding software and a license to a desktop connected over WiFi, versus a network overhaul plus phone.

Desktop computers have gotten better too, of course. Minimum specs on Macs and even entry level Dells and HPs are 4GB plus a built in sound card. The shift to laptops didn’t hurt, with relatively sophisticated audio speakers and microphones bundled in. Computers are far more stable – as much as I am a professed Apple snob, the Windows 7 laptop I bang around on at home for gaming and Office hasn’t crashed more than a handful of times since I bought it a few years ago. So we can run streaming audio services like softphones reliably, and we don’t freak out about a daily CTRL-ALT-DEL like we did a few years back. So IT managers are more comfortable with voice on their network, and their networks are better suited for streaming as we moved to gigabit switches and cloud-based applications.

Ubiquitous softphones and tablets have also helped my dream become reality. We have all accepted that we have these phones in our pockets that sound awful on a phone call but are otherwise more or less magical to the lay person, with capabilities beyond anything we could have imagined just a few years ago. Strikingly, the only feature that has not improved with cell phones is the audio quality of a cell phone call. This has trained us to be content with choppy, static-y calls, and thus not mind the occasional audio weirdness from VoIP connections. It also means we all carry awesome computers in our pocket all the time, computers begging to have an app loaded on them, an app that is just an extension of your office’s telephone system.

Let’s not ignore this guy

Elephant in the room

Fact: The telephone is not quite as indispensable as it used to be

We don’t make phone calls like we used to. There are whole departments in businesses that seem to hate using the phone, and a whole generation of people – my generation – that prefer text and SMS and IM and Facebook Messenger and GChat and Snapchat and even email to communicating via voice. I can’t even remember the last time I called a friend for anything. In fact, when my phone rings at night or on weekends, it usually means someone died or a system crashed, so I probably have a pretty terrible phone demeanor in my free time. All that said, some roles, transactions, industries and circumstances will always be better served by real-time human voice, so I am not holding a funeral for the phone. I am saying that it was easier to justify spending hundreds of dollars per user on telephones when they were the only game in town for communications.

I’m a Business. I need a phone system. Now What?

For one, call us at 800-640-2411 and talk to one of our helpful folks in Sales, or email us from our website. We will meet with you, assess your needs, write up a proposal, demo products for you and help you feel like you understand this new vocabulary and whirlwind of technology at least 1% better. That is our “1% less confused guarantee” that has won us at least three compliments.

Without knowing your situation, I would recommend that your receptionist or front desk have a phone, for image and for the ability to handle a call if the computer is shut off. I would recommend conference rooms have physical conference room phones because you need a specialized device for group conversations. This can be a USB “hockey puck” type device but that doesn’t cut it if you have say 6+ people in a room or a room with challenging acoustics. People that make you a lot of money should get whatever they want, so ask them what makes them happy; a phone is a small price to pay to keep your President’s Club broker to stay happy. I’m not going to sit here and piss off your top producer. People with big desks are important and should probably have a phone, and rooms where an intercom and/or paging is important. Everyone else? Softphone it up. A Mitel MiCollab (former UCA) client or a Zultys MXIE client will blow the doors off any telephone in terms of capabilities, and can travel with your employee if they take their laptop home or move about your office. They are also easy to requisition if you have let someone go, as it is just a license you turn on or off with a click, versus a $150 service call to reprogram ye olde ancient phone.

But blow the doors off? Yes. No doors anymore. Your phone’s plaything buttons and paper labels and weird plastic consoles taking up half your desk should be thrown in the trash. With a softphone-enabled Unified Communications client like what we sell with Mitel and Zultys, you can see in detail what everyone is doing, you can highlight and dial with a mouse, you can drag and drop contacts to call and create conferences, and you never have to look at a manual again; contextual help is built right into the software. Dump the phone. You barely use it. That salesperson trying to sell you phones for your entire user community is pushing horse drawn carriages on you. Get a softphone and dial a contact in Outlook by hitting a hotkey combination on your keyboard.

The question you need to ask is, “Why does this person need a phone?” and come up with material, realistic use scenarios to justify a physical phone. If you have reporting, look at the calls per day. Look at your phone bill. I can’t tell you how many businesses tell me they have “a lot of phone calls” and are averaging about an hour or two of phone calls in a week per user. You wouldn’t buy all of your staff a personal fax machine. Why are you getting people that barely use the phone a $200+ piece of equipment only they can use?

Commonalities in Extenda Softphones

We don’t sell lame software that looks like a phone on your PC anymore. That doesn’t even make sense. Someone tell Shoretel?

Wut. This is so terrible.

Someone tell Shoretel they took the softphone thing too literally with this KITT car inspired design

Both of the award-winning softphones form Mitel and Zultys have a host of built-in Unified Communications features that make the software a central point of control of your communications – a real-time dashboard, if you will. Yes you can make a call, but you can also chat, launch a video call, send an email or share your desktop. You can also create custom calling rules that would have cost $10,000 and a dedicated server to implement just a few years ago. Visual voicemail, personal status, presence and a unified, company-wide address book and personal buddy lists are table stakes in this game. Now look at that stupid phone on your desk again, staring back at you like a dummy.

Why Mitel MiCollab

MiCollab

Mitel’s unified communications softphone all in one awesome PC client

The former Unified Communicator Advanced has a lot of great features. It is a clean, great design, very easy on the eyes. It is unobtrusive. It is great in Windows environments, with a lot of great built-in hooks to Outlook and Office products. The hooks to the Mitel family of products are seamless, especially the video and desktop sharing components and the provisioning through the MiCollab (former MAS). It can also be adapted to Lync environments, so you don’t have to use the oddball 3rd party products Microsoft requires to get phone calls going on their system, with the voice component just fitting in to the Lync interface for simple deployments.

Why Zultys MXIE

Zultys thrives in mixed OS environments and/or when you want to empower your users with granular control over their communications. The MXIE is going to get a face lift in the next year if you don’t love the look, but most of my customers see the great personality. This is a very powerful communications tool that features fax and group mailbox access. It is also easier to train on than competing products, because whether you are an operator, a call center agent, a supervisor or part of the rank and file, it is the same software product with slight tweaks for different roles. Products from other companies have specialized software for the call center, for operators, for supervisors and for knowledge workers, which is 4 products to master instead of one. It can also be configured and administered through the MXadmin software as with everything else in the Zultys world, which is very convenient.

Smartphone extensions

I love my smartphone apps from Mitel and Zultys. At the risk of upsetting some people, I like hiding my cell phone number from customers – I need to retain control over my personal time, and my cell phone’s native phone apps do not give me the tools like my office phone system does for sorting and routing calls appropriately. I like having access to my company directory and the ability to chat with a coworker’s desktop from anywhere. That said, you might get some resistance if you aren’t paying for employee cell phones, so the decision on deploying these devices or not is something I leave in your able hands. It effectively replaces a cordless phone for me, and the shorter battery life on my cell from the app running all day is more than made up for with the convenience of being able to see who in my company is available at a glance, set up my own personal status and call routing with a couple of flicks on my smartphone, and access corporate contacts.

Zultys MXIE

Zultys MXIE with a single image across multiple devices for a unified experience

Xarios Phone Manager for Mitel

Mitel has a great constellation of 3rd-party products that write software for their telephone systems. The Mitel Solutions Alliance (MSA) Third-party Developers Program lets developers write to Mitel’s phone system APIs to create software that can integrate to your phone.

Xarios Ltd. is a leading provider of communication solutions for the Mitel and one of our favorite partners. The Phone Manager CTI desktop solution was exclusively designed for MiVoice Office, especially contact centers, sales and customer service personnel and knowledge workers. MiVoice Office users have a greatly enhanced user experience and dramatic productivity improvements with desktop apps that connect their Mitel phone to their PC.

Xarios Phone Manager (Release 3.0) Standard Edition provides a lot of cool features for Mitel users, such as:

  • Highlight & Dial – Highlight a number with your mouse anywhere on your screen and the number can be used in the PC clipboard to click to dial without even touching your phone.
  • Search & Dial – Instead of hunting through your phone’s display, you can access System Speed Dial, Personal Speed Dial, Internal Directory and the user’s CRM directory all at once from a single function.
  • Call Control – Stop touching your phone. Seriously. Answer, hang up, hold, transfer, conference and more, all from your PC.
  • Presence Status Visibility – See what everyone in the company is up to with icons on your PC, with an icon for everyone in the business. Just click an icon to call.
  • Call Details Banner – When on a call, view live information about the call and sync your CRM data instantaneously.
  • Instant Messaging – Chat/IM with other Phone Manager users on the system
  • Change Endpoint States – Set DND / Set Call Forward with custom states
  • Call History – View your call history to call people back with one click or confirm Caller ID / Date & Time of call etc.
  • CRM Integration – Out of the box, easily integrate to Outlook, Zoho, SugarCRM, Goldmine, Act, MS-CRM and many other popular CRM programs. We can also rope in Xarios professional service for custom integrations to your customer applications or databases.

How Green is My Zultys

Your office phone system is hardly the biggest consumer of electricity in your office – that would be Courtney in accounting – but every Watt counts when it comes to trying to avoid boiling the planet for our kids, or saving money on power bills if you aren’t into science and book-learnin’.

A Zultys telephone system laughs at the gluttony of other IP phone systems and digital PBXs when it comes to energy consumption. An MX250 telephone system packed full of applications uses less energy than a light bulb. Competing systems that require multiple switches, servers, and peripheral products draw a multiple of that power. Not only is Zultys simply hyper efficient by design, the consolidation of different applications into a single server appliance not only makes administration simple, it helps your company do its part in the fight against global warming while saving you money on your utility bills versus the competition.

Zultys loves mother Earth more than other phone systems.

Zultys loves mother Earth more than other phone systems.

At Long Last: CT Gateway v5.0 Released for Mitel

Our customers throughout Los Angeles, Palm Springs and Coachella, Orange County and Ventura County with multiple Mitel MiVoice Office, 5000 HX, and even Axxess systems have been living with a secret shame. We had installed amazing communications systems that were stitched together across data networks, unifying locations across cities and even time zones. Applications like contact center reporting, call queues distributing calls to agents spread across a continent, unified communications and presence applications stretching across the enterprise, all served to seamlessly connect locations together with Mitel telephone systems. And at the heart of these applications was a computer, called a CT Gateway, often running Windows XP.

Mitel CT Gateway Duct Tape

The old CT Gateway was maybe not the most up-to-date solution.

Mitel has corrected this historic mistake with v5 CT Gateway software.  Now, CT Gateway can run on Microsoft Server 2008 and 2012 (64-bit) as well as Windows 7 and Windows 8 (both 32- and 64-bit).

What is Mitel’s CT Gateway?

The CT Gateway is an external application for the Mitel MiVoice Office, 5000, and Axxess systems. I think CT stood for ‘Computer Telephony’ but since this is the internet I can’t be bothered to even look this up.*

The CT Gateway had two major functions.  We would deploy the CT Gateway when we wanted to share an application across multiple Mitel systems we had connected together. Networking Mitel systems together allows customers to dial other locations across a data network, with extension-to-extension dialing and sharing Mitel resources.  For example, we could allow a single receptionist with a PC-based Console to see every phone in the company across up to 100 locations with thousands of users.  A CT Gateway would collect all that data and send it over to the Console.

The other function of CT Gateway was for Mitel MiVoice Office deployments that had a ton of applications running. The CT Gateway took the processing strain off of the telephone system when customers had multiple apps and programs running that were communicating with the telephone system in real-time.

*CT: Computer Telephony. I checked.