Alteva's Hosted UC Solution - Bringing Voice to the Desktop

13 Jun 2010

Hosted UC offerings come in many varieties, and Alteva has a solution that brings the best of VoIP and Microsoft together for SMBs.

I've been following Philadelphia-based Alteva for some time, and have gotten to know them from their participation at the BroadSoft Connections event. Most recently, they were part of the launch of the Cloud Communications Alliance, which I wrote about exclusively here on this portal, which was one of the very first sources to announce this important initiative.

Their latest twist is focusing on the value proposition of hosted UC, something which a lot of providers are talking about lately. Many may be talking about it, but Alteva has long had a strong relationship with Microsoft, as has BroadSoft. When you put the three pieces together, you really do have the makings of a solid hosted UC offering. Microsoft brings the ubiquity of their desktop applications, BroadSoft brings the underlying UC platform, and Alteva ties it together and integrates both voice and connectivity into the equation.

Microsoft may own the desktop - at least up until recently - and along with BroadSoft, Alteva brings the hosted VoIP piece to make this a UC solution. Without voice, Microsoft really isn't UC, and the same is true with Alteva just offering hosted VoIP. What makes this different from telecom or data vendor-based UC solutions is the fact that Alteva sees voice first and foremost as a hosted application, and one that is tied more to the desktop than a handset. A few years ago that may have seemed like radical thinking, but as the cloud creeps into the UC vernacular, this starts to make good sense - at least to me.

While integrating with Microsoft is nothing new, Alteva has embraced the cloud and moved to a fully hosted offering. This is particularly attractive to SMBs, who tend to be more cost conscious than enterprises. SMBs have limited IT resources and are increasingly turning to hosted, not just to reduce costs, but to manage constantly evolving technologies and have access to the most up to date services.

In Alteva's view, hosted is also ideal for SMBs due to its flexibility. The on-demand model means customers only buy as much as needed, which is a great way to control costs, especially for businesses that are highly cyclical or seasonal. Another benefit Alteva touts is faster deployment time, which I think is often overlooked. Since they deliver a highly integrated solution, Alteva's customers will have their UC features up and running from the start. In my mind, this is a key part of their value-add. BroadSoft and Microsoft don't just work together on their own, and Alteva knows how use VoIP as the bridge here.

With all of the core Microsoft pieces being hosted - Exchange, OCS, Live Meeting and SharePoint - SMBs keep their costs down and Alteva is able to add voice to make this a UC solution. As mentioned earlier, what makes this different is the focus on the desktop. Aside from simply adding VoIP as a standalone communications mode, Alteva has voice-enabled Outlook. During a recent demo session, they walked through some examples where voice prompts were used to execute several tasks we would normally do with a keyboard, such as listening to voice mails, accessing the calendar, changing the time of a scheduled meeting, and dictating an email to others alerting them to the change. Voice-enabling these tasks is certainly part of the UC lexicon, and it's not hard to imagine situations where this would be very handy.

That said, this may seem like little more than high-end IVR, which may be true, but with Alteva's extensive integration with Microsoft, they're bringing hosted VoIP further into the mix here than almost anyone else. On the other hand, everyone is trying to make the cloud work with UC, including Alteva. I couldn't help notice that during the demo the voice avatar kept pronouncing Live Meeting as "Livv Meeting", as if it was mechanically translating from a foreign language. Voice recognition is far from perfect, but if you're going to mess up on the language, make sure it doesn't happen with the name of your product!

This may just be nit-picking, as I do think there's a strong story here. The main idea is that UC can be delivered in a hosted model, and it can work very well being Web-centric and desktop-centric. Alteva may talk a lot about VoIP and hosted UC, but they rarely mention telephony or desk phones or IP PBXs. This is a Microsoft solution that is voice-enabled by Alteva - with help from BroadSoft. The parameters of UC are not written in stone - for better or worse - and their offering fits the bill as well as anyone else's. Hosted offers a lot of natural advantages for SMBs, and when you tie Microsoft and VoIP into this, you have a pretty strong offering.

The key here is that SMBs can easily understand it, since they're typically running their businesses on Microsoft already. The learning curve is short, behaviors don't really have to change, and the economics are attractive. As Alteva pointed out during their demo, businesses may be interested in disruptive innovations, but they don't want their business to be disrupted when adopting them. They see the value in collaboration, but don't want to reinvent the wheel to get there. Not everyone is ready to shift this much to the desktop - or to the cloud for that matter - but it works, and for those who get it, Alteva is an easy choice.


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