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Avaya, Spanlink Gear VoIP to The Smaller Set

When we think of VoIP call centers, we might think of monolithic enterprises backed by large IT departments. But in reality, small and medium-sized businesses comprise more than half the IP telephony market.

With that in mind, competitors Avaya and Spanlink Communications are reaching out to branch offices and remote workers with new products and updated services.

During this week's VoiceCon 2006, Avaya is introducing one-X Quick Edition, which uses peer-to-peer connections. Quick Edition "brings simplicity to the small office," Byrd said.

"As you get below 20 employees, IP technology is difficult," Lawrence Byrd, director of IP telephony and mobility at Avaya, told internetnews.com.

Zeus Kerravala, analyst with the Yankee Group, told internetnews.com that IP telephony deployment to larger enterprises has been slow. "What IP does is remove the heavy infrastructure demands for call centers," according to Kerravala.

As with file-sharing, peer-to-peer VoIP eliminates the need for a central server and more technical support. Instead, the network intelligence is embedded in the Quick Edition IP phones, which plug into the office network.

"Peer-to-peer brings simplicity," Byrd said. The new service is "fitting a market need that hasn't been met yet," according to Byrd.

Peer-to-peer also protects against hardware failure and simplifies VoIP management. Phones automatically back up one another's voicemail while administration is done through a normal Web browser.

Quick Edition springs from Avaya's 2005 purchase of Nimcat Networks, an Ottawa company that developed nimX, IP communications software that could be embedded in devices to create peer-to-peer networks.

Quick Edition phones cost between $485 to $585.

Simplicity has become an important trend for its enterprise customers, as well, according to Avaya's Byrd.

The IP vendor is updating its MultiVantage Communications Applications, including the Communications Manager, to include "hot desking." Hot Desking allows workers to use cell phones alongside desktop phones to create instant virtual workspaces.

Minneapolis, Minn.-based Spanlink has partnered with Cisco and sees virtual offices as key to its pure-IP philosophy overcoming Avaya's evolutionary beliefs.

While virtualization enables call center workers to be located anywhere, "many of the current solutions are built on TDM-based networks and are not scalable to newer IP communications networks," said Spanlink CEO Brett Shockley in a statement.

Investors in Spanlink include SRI and Cisco.

Spanlink is announcing its new Spanlink Quality Management software, along with updates to its Cisco Agent Desktop and Cisco Supervisor Desktop applications.

Spanlink Quality Management 3.0 recognizes the move toward virtualization where a call into an Iowa contact center may be answered in New York.

The new product allows voice and screen recording from a remote user's PC. Quality Management also permits users to administer settings without requiring IT intervention.

In another nod to small offices, Spanlink Quality Management allows remote speech analytics to speed information searches by both customers and staff.

The simplification theme makes its way into the updated Cisco Agent Desktop and Cisco Supervisor Desktop call center software. The updates enable remote workers to use a commercial Web browser and connect via a telephone line.

Spanlink also is re-branding the natural language products it obtained in a 2002 buyout of Discern Communications.

The new Spanlink AnswerCenter 2.0 includes workers and customers asking questions (either by phone or through a Web site) in their own speech patterns.

"So you can get the right answer the first time," Tim Krasky, Spanlink's vice president of marketing and business development, told internetnews.com.

One advantage of natural language processing is its ability to understand specialized terminology. In a health care setting, if a customer asks a question about his daughter, natural language processing will understand he is speaking about an insurance dependent, according to Krasky.

Many call centers still rely on customer versions of the Google search, according to Krasky. AnswerCenter will provide the answers, rather than links to possible answers, said Krasky.