Mitel, Shoretel’s just not that into you

After weeks for not talking to Mitel, it looks like Shoretel’s Board has managed to stay independent, as Mitel announced they are withdrawing their bid to acquire Shoretel. Reaction is pretty muted in the scant press that serves our industry, though some consultants that have historically worked with Shoretel were happy about the outcome.

Shoretel is a cruel mistress

Mitel will be curling up to watch this over the weekend (in German, because they are No.1 in W. Europe, see)

Key takeaways from this episode:

  1. No one is dying to get into enterprise telecom. No one else put a bid out for Shoretel.
  2. Competitors were not interested. As we mentioned in prior posts, competitors were not going to materialize as bidders. Avaya is up to its ears in debt, Cisco walked away from the small-to-medium business market Shoretel and Mitel are fighting over, and the Asian brands (NEC, Toshiba, Samsung) tend to pick “make” over “buy” no matter how bad their product turns out.
  3. Mitel continues to exercise Canadian prudence. Mitel was put in a position of bidding against itself, gamely upped the bid 40c a share, and walked away when Shoretel wouldn’t come to the table. The real risk for Mitel dealers is that Mitel made a bad deal to knock out a competitor and become saddled with debt, which fortunately did not happen.
  4. Wall Street gave a big shrug. Stocks for both companies barely moved, with trading volume for Shoretel off a third from the average.
  5. The hate between the two companies burns bright. Shoretel’s Board choosing to decline the offer is one thing, but refusing to discuss either offer with Mitel leadership is a sign of continued enmity between the two firms.

I am a little disappointed because I would have liked Mitel to capture some of the Shoretel magic when it comes to marketing their products. I am sure Shoretel dealers would have liked the SIP, contact center, security and virtualization capabilities Mitel brings to the table.

The Quietest Industry

It is ironic that an industry built around the human voice has so little said about it. I am thankful for sites like No Jitter, Daily Cloud, and Network World. There are scant resources for even finding comparative tests that are helpful for companies making a big decision. I had never even seen the NY Times cover telephone systems until the phone hacking article saw phone system hacking hit the mainstream media.

Of course, you can turn to the tech community, but you will find that telecom is an IT backwater. Sites like spiceworks and stackoverflow are amazing, fantastic resources that do not quite focus on telecom enough to be useful all the time for help and comparisons, and you never know if the person posting is a shill for a brand or not. Communities like reddit are similarly hit or miss, and written from perspectives that may not be your own. For example, the complaint about the type of RAID a Zultys system runs may be fascinating to sysadmins but perhaps not so important for a small business looking to get some cool new desktop integration features with their phone system.

One concern buyers of telecom equipment should have is in the use of industry consultant reports. Some have noted that some consultants, after receiving funding from an industry group, produce reports that further the interests of said group or are ‘astroturf’ support groups. Some writers describe a web of contributions and partnerships (not just in the USA, but overseas too) in a cottage industry of big telecom players like AT&T and Verizon supporting certain industry research groups which churn out reports favoring policies big telecom players like, which are in turn handed to Congressmen who receive donations from big telecom players and promote these special interests in Congress via bills and votes.

Industry awards might not be much help either. In this award ceremony, there was a tie between Citrix and Microsoft for Best Small Business Application Virtualization Software Providers – not much help if you are choosing between the two leading providers, who happen to be Citrix and Microsoft, at least at the time this was released.

In the end, outside of asking various reps a lot of questions, you are going to embark on a lonely journey in telecom research. Our advice is to see demos, ask for references, and even go on site visits to customers that have the systems you are considering purchasing. Don’t be shy about asking to try a trial or hosted version of the product you are looking at, there is no substitute for direct experience with a product. And take independent, 3rd party reviews with a grain of salt. There is big money in telecom and not a lot of press coverage, which leads to a lot of raised eyebrows when reports and reviews are tossed around.

Mitel, Shoretel Merger Drama Continues

Mitel and Shoretel will merge... or won't they?

The drama continues to unfold, and this is playing out as many in the press predicted. Mitel CEO Rich McBee has reframed the offer Mitel (MITL) made for Shoretel (SHOR), and that Shoretel rejected, as an opening bid. So far, there are no white knights on the horizon coming to save Shoretel, so Mitel begins the bidding war against… itself.

Mitel and Shoretel will merge... or won't they?

An awkward courtship between two rivals

Taking a look at the recent earnings out for dear Mitel, and you have a lot of bright spots. Mitel’s cloud business is taking off with over 800,000 seats sold. Year over year, recurring cloud revenue is up 50%, to 21.7M a quarter.  The quarter’s loss of 5.1M is actually small beans now that the Aastra merger is complete, amounting to 1.9% of over a quarter billion in quarterly revenue. Cash burn was 12M, leaving $120M in the bank. And another $25M of debt was retired in the last quarter, as the company continues to hack away at the debt burden that went up a sixth following the Aastra merger. 50 people were laid off following the merger, so there does not appear to be a wave of cost consolidation. All in all, Mitel’s story of incremental improvement and shift to a cloud-based business continues apace.

Having seen the product roadmap for Mitel following the Aastra merger, we can say conclusively that the Mitel MiVoice Office 250 (the branded Mitel MiVoice Office that was once the Mitel 5000 after it was the Mitel 5000 HX and the Mitel 5000 CP and the Inter-Tel 5200/5400/5600 systems) is here to stay. It will not be virtualized – that is where the Mitel MiVoice Business comes into play – but it is the Mitel system for the small to medium sized business of up to 250 users. There will be a new Mitel system from Aastra – the Mitel MiVoice Enterprise – that will support up to 500,000 users. Give us a call if you know of any Fortune 500 companies and small countries

If we look at Shoretel’s recent financials, we see an interesting moment in time – GAAP profit! Yes, Shoretel has made some money, though a paltry $366,000 on $90M in revenue for the most recent quarter. Top line revenue is up, they are keeping a lid on costs (snarky competitors will note: marketing is just about 1/3 of revenue and costs), all to be commended. Mitel has pissed all over their parade because this was the quarter Shoretel was waiting for, as they finally achieved enough scale to turn a profit. They are still sitting on a nice pile of cash ($57M).

Cloud though is not such a great facet of the business for Shoretel. Since buying M5, we have not seen a really good cloud story from the brand, since the two lines are not really integrated at this stage. Hosted revenue is up from a year ago, up $4M from $20M to $24M.  Competitors like RingCentral and 8×8 are showing massive growth every year. Vonage has leveled off – perhaps due to their large residential service component – but has close to $900M in annual sales.

Diving into the revenue numbers, we see flat product sales. The increase in revenue year over year at Shoretel is the $4M in cloud and $2M in support contracts and services. Support contracts are profitable for manufacturers but also limited as to how large they can grow – they are driven by product sales. You can only jack the price up on your support contracts so many times.

As far as the merger is concerned, Shoretel might want a more dynamic partner than Mitel, and definitely wants more money, but Mitel has shown that they have figured out a way to share a single software stream between premise and cloud, something we are still waiting on with Shoretel. I am not in a position to say whether this hurts Shoretel and accounts for their relatively sluggish growth, but the story with brands like Mitel and Zultys is much easier to tell – customers can just pick the way you want to deploy your system and not think about differences in how things work.

I can also report as a Mitel dealer that there is reluctance from the dealer channel to sell cloud, but no matter, as Mitel has a small army of direct sales reps. Shoretel is more reliant on their dealer channel, so if their dealers look at cloud the way our dealers do (they hate it, more or less) then the slow growth makes sense. Just as Mitel benefited from Inter-Tel’s US & UK sales machine when that merger took place, so Shoretel could start to look at their acquisition by Mitel as leveraging a Mitel sales channel that is already pretty familiar with their product, without hurting their loyal base of dealers who are stuck on premise anyway.

Shoretel’s cloud phones use SIP, their premise phones use MGCP, and until they update their core phone business to the SIP standard they will be at a disadvantage as the days of buying a phone to match your phone system fade into history. Mitel’s new SIP phones are out on the market and will probably make it very hard to compete now that Mitel can leverage Aastra’s scale for production and experience with SIP.

The premise system market is far from dead, but no one is dying to break into the industry, either. Shoretel and Mitel are far more nimble than the large companies competing against them in the SMB marketplace, and have better technology than the hosted-only companies in the space. As feisty as both companies are, it might be time to think about the possibilities a combination affords.

Top 5 Tips for Avoiding Phone System Hacking

Phone system hacker jerkface

The NY Times ran a scary article on phone system hacking, which led to a flurry of press about a growing problem in our industry (cell phone hacking, voicemail hacking, voip hacking). The most expensive form of phone system hacking involves people making calls from your phone system overseas to the equivalent of 900 & 976 numbers in a sophisticated kickback scheme, or routing calls on illicit calling cards and services through your phone system. This leaves you stuck with massive international calling charges that you are ultimately responsible for. The NY Times profiled a 6-person company hit with $166,000 of charges in a single month.

Phone system hacker jerkface

It gets so hot, hacking in a ski mask

You can always reach out to us to schedule a security audit if you are concerned about your phone system. Just email cs@teamextenda.com.

However, there are some simple tips that can protect you, and that follow general IT security principles.

1) Restrict international calling. Call your carrier and have them turn it off completely. Most international business people are comfortable with Skype, Google Hangouts, and the like anyway.

2) Require account codes. If you must make international calls, require an account code to connect the call. Call your carrier and request this simple change – calls will not connect until the code has been entered following dialing.

3) Enable alerts. Most carriers will send you a text or email if your usage exceeds a certain threshold, so you know to get involved.

4) Firewall should be on a need to connect basis. Only allow known IP addresses to connect to your phone system. If you have teleworkers connecting from home, enable hot desking to require a PIN to enable the phone or phone app.

5) ‘1234’ is a terrible PIN. Stop doing that. Don’t use default PINs, don’t use 1111, 0000, 1234. Ask your system administrator or Extenda to move to 5 digits or more. Hackers can access your phone system by hacking into your voicemail or conference bridge, so please, use sophisticated passwords. Our systems will lock them out after a number of bad guesses.

Mitel’s Shoretel Offer

Exciting times to be a Mitel dealer in Los Angeles. With a crowded marketplace full of Shoretel dealers banging into each other on every deal, many IT VARs, MSPs, IT and Telecom Consultants, and Telecom VARs and Interconnects are eagerly awaiting what shakes out, if anything, from the Mitel bid for Shoretel.

On October 20, 2014, Mitel (MITL) offered $540M for Shoretel (SHOR), an offer Shoretel’s board rejected. In fact, Shoretel has publicly scorned the offer as financially inadequate and tooted their own horn regarding their recent successes, giving every indication that they were fiercely independent and going to stay that way. Mitel sued them over intellectual property on the eve of their IPO, so this announcement, on the heels of a quarter where Shoretel managed to eke out a positive GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) net income could be seen as part and parcel of Mitel habitually raining on a competitor’s parade.

Except, for one, Shoretel hired Blackstone to advise them. This offer comes on the heels of last year’s executive exodus at Shoretel and a wave of insider selling over the last 12 months – all signs that there is something odd going on. We are looking at some weird execution problems at Shoretel lately too – it took about a month to patch the HeartBleed problem on their core systems, and this is still going on – different protocols and phones for premise and cloud.

Odd choice of Phone

Cisco SIP for Shoretel Sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This blog post takes a pretty tough stance, noting that the telecom equipment market is consolidating as businesses shift to the cloud and that Shoretel has run at a loss for 16 years in a row. I would argue that the numbers clearly show that Shoretel’s cloud business is getting some traction. The counter to that is that SHOR’s cloud business is of insignificant size compared to 8×8 (EGHT) or Vonage (VG), who combine for a billion dollars in cloud telephony revenue a year. I would add that Vonage has a gross profit margin of close to 69%, and 8×8 runs at nearly 71%. Premise manufacturers like SHOR (59%) and MITL (55%) are going to face some challenges supporting a large premise base while they pursue cloud. I think combining to wring efficiencies and scale out of their operations is going to be crucial if these old-line companies are going to compete with firms with that big of an advantage.

Since Shoretel shares are 83% held by institutional investors, it looks like the barrier to a purchase may be more about price than stubbornly independent Shoretel leadership. This article features shareholders explicit about wanting a price in the $10-12 a share range, versus the $8.10 price of Mitel’s first offer. The stock has been flat for some time, so I would imagine shareholders are excited to see some movement.

So what does it all mean for our customers? If you are considering a Shoretel system, be aware that underneath the tough talk in the press releases, Shoretel hired investment bankers and Wall Street might like to see the company sold, so they can cash out on a stock, and a sector, that has been pretty flat. I imagine Shoretel is hoping for a bidding war to drive the price up, which would be a Pyrrhic victory for Mitel if they take on too much debt, though it is hard to imagine who would want to get in the game ahead of a huge technology refresh cycle about to sweep the industry.

New IP Phones from Mitel

Just $299 for the best phone ever: Mitel 6869i

Four cool new phones and a new sidecar (button box) are out now for your lucky users. The Mitel 6863i, 6865i, and 6867i are SIP phones out today, with the 6869i available soon.

Pricing for the 6863i starts at $99 list price, increasing to $179 for the gigabit 6865i and $229 for the full color, large display 6867i gigabit phone. Current Mitel gigabit phones are, ahem, a bit more expensive, so this is a game changer for our customers. If you are considering moving into a suite with one Cat 6 or Cat 5e cable per desk, with the other cable is Cat3, like most offices in Los Angeles and Orange County, your choices are bad. Currently, customers have to choose between $300+ gig phones on gig PoE switches, or $200 10/100 phones plus a second set of PoE switches for the phones in addition to gigabit switches for user machines. With a $179 gigabit phone, moving to a single converged network is a no-brainer.

Besides having a compelling price, these phones are thin with small footprint. Turned sideways, the base of the phone is not more than an inch and a half thick. A complaint we hear about the Mitel 5300 series phones and the Polycom VVX series phones is that they take up a lot of desk space – these phones are from Europe, so naturally they are thin and stylish.

The 6865i, 6867i and 6869i phones can use industry standard EHS (Electronic Hookswitch) adapters. You should care, because we can use wireless headsets from Plantronics, Sennheiser and GN Netcom with these phones without a physical hookswitch lifter contraption.

Affordable SIP telephone from Mitel: 6863i

Mitel’s $99 SIP IP telephone the 6863i from Aastra

The 6863i is an ideal value telephone. This 2-line SIP phone sports a 128-by-48px display, HD Audio and two 10/100 ports. As with all Mitel IP phones, it supports XML for customization. New to Mitel phones is a 4-way navigation pad familiar to users of traditional video game controllers.

 

Gigabit and stylish. Beauty and brains.

Flexible communications with an awesome Mitel 6865i $179 Gigabit phone.

Mitel’s 6865i is destined to be the Toyota Camry of office telephones – ubiquitous, reliable, flexible, with charming looks. It is an inexpensive ($179) Gigabit phone, a rarity in the market. Supporting 9 calls as a SIP phone, this phone has a 128-by-8px display, dual gig ports, 8 custom keys in addition to 11 feature keys, a 4-way Nintendo directional pad, and volume rocker. Electronic Hookswitch support is included, as is HD Voice audio.

 

Top of the line gigabit IP phone at entry level phone prices

Mitel’s awesome $229 Gigabit color screen phone: 6867i

Mitel’s 6867i is designed for companies that are successful. Successful companies know that dropping another $40-50 on a vastly superior phone for their users shows their staff that they care. It also shows their customers that they (a) have good taste and (b) are in it for the long haul.

In addition to all of the goodies you would find in the 6865i like wideband HD audio, EHS, dual gigabit ports, low power consumption and handsome looks, the 6867i has a 3.5″ color QVGA screen, dual speakerphone microphones for exceptional audio, and an option for a detachable keyboard, expansion button modules (up to 3) and 6 programmable on-screen softkeys.

 

Just $299 for the best phone ever: Mitel 6869i

Mitel’s top-of-the-line gigabit 6869i phone features gigabit support and a 4.3″ color screen for $299.

Mitel’s 6869i improves on the 6867i’s perfection. This phone doubles the number of programmable softkeys from 6 to 12. It also offers an expanded 4.3″ color QVGA screen. Like the phone’s little brother 6867i, this model of SIP phone features an optional magnetic keyboard, dual gig ports, optional expansion modules, wideband HD Audio, low power consumption, and advanced audio processing with dual microphones.

Mitel 685i Full Color Button Console

Full color, LCD-based add-on console. Never print out paper labels again with the Mitel 685i.

The Mitel 685i is a sidecar for the 6867i and 6869i telephones, supporting 74 programmable stations across 3 virtual pages of buttons. Automatically updating button labels on a color display, this is an ideal device for a busy operator, power user, lobby phone as a directory, phones without attached computers nearby, or contact center agents and supervisors.

Lunch and Learn! Oct 24

iPhone 6 up for grabs at our VoIP Lunch and Learn

RSVP today (call Brandi Jackson at 818-786-2411 x207) for a chance to win a free iPhone 6 in our raffle, free lunch, exceptional company in the form of Extenda personnel, and of course, the benefit of our expertise.

Did I mention we are raffling off an iPhone?

iPhone 6 up for grabs at our VoIP Lunch and Learn

We are giving away a really cool pocket computer PDA from Apple called an iPhone 6. It runs Unified Communications apps from Mitel and Zultys, too.

This Lunch and Learn will cover all sorts of cloud-related information, and is taking place on:

Friday, Oct. 24th

11:30 AM to 1:00 PM

at

Kings FishHouse at Bella Terra

7691 Edinger Ave

Huntington Beach, Ca. 92647

Or just click here for a Google map

Windstream’s Fiber & Copper REIT

I’m just fascinated by this move by Windstream (articles from Bloomberg and WSJ) to spin off their physical network assets into a new entity.  Windstream is taking their fiber and copper assets and reclassifying them as real estate and spinning them off, raising some cash to pay down their mountain of debt and improve their cash flow.

While the press is up in arms about this move as some more of corporate America’s tax chicanery (New York Times with the outrage and the retort by Forbes), I think there is a more interesting aspect of this, at least from a telecom cost perspective.  If more telecom companies follow suit, bandwidth truly becomes a commodity, sold as white label bandwidth in bulk to carriers and put into corporate structures that resemble utilities or resource extraction LLPs. It is interesting to note that the Windstream spin-off will have a total of 25 employees running a $650M a year operation – similar in staffing to a REIT managing apartments, or a natural gas pipeline.

The end result could be less pressure from the likes of Verizon and AT&T to throttle bandwidth from companies like Netflix, helping the Net Neutrality cause. I say this because if the carriers are simply leasing white label bandwidth from a telecom REIT or REITs, they may not need to worry as much about spare capacity, peak load times, or intercity routing when pricing services for customers. Similarly, the barrier to entry for new carriers is lowered even further, as you just need to cut a check instead of lay miles of fiber to get in the game, putting further pressure on pricing and on carriers to differentiate their offerings to deliver value to their customers.

For our business customers, this financial maneuver signals that telecom costs will continue their downward slide.

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.