Imagine you are a customer service rep (CSR) at a small/medium company and a phone call comes in from a customer. As your phone rings, up on your screen pops all the information about that customer, pulled from your CRM database in Salesforce.com or SugarCRM, plus other information from other databases and finally a nice Google Map showing you where that customer is located and potentially other information like the locations of your nearest offices. During the call, the CSR needs to bring in a subject matter expert so the CSR consults their web panel and looks at the presence information displayed for each of the other people in the business. The CSR can then contact someone showing as available and potentially bring them into the call.
Now imagine that all that is running on top of open source telephony... specifically Asterisk.
You can now stop imagining, because Digium just bought the company that does precisely that. There will undoubtedly be much attention today (at the very least in the VoIP blogosphere) about Digium's announcement here at AstriCon today that they have acquired SwitchVox. I am going to bet that much of the reporting today will focus on angles like these:
- Digium now has very competitive offerings (SwitchVox SOHO and SwitchVox SMB) for going after the small / medium business market.
- Digium bought themselves a very sophisticated/simple/easy GUI/management interface that moves them forward dramatically in making Asterisk easy to use, deploy and manage.
- Digium just got 1400 paying customers with over 65,000 endpoints.
- Digium bought themselves parity (or more) in their ongoing competitive feud with the folks at Fonality/Trixbox.
All of that is true. The SwitchVox products offer a very seriously competitive list of features (you have to go through and expand the subsections to see all the features). The GUI is very well done and simple. The price is quite compelling for the servers and also the support. I mean, for $1200 ($995 server plus $199 support) an SMB gets an IP-PBX with a very broad range of features and an unlimited number of users! Yes, the business still has to pay for IP phones, but they can buy any of a wide range of phones at varying price points to suit their needs. Considering that almost all the mainstream IP-PBX vendors charge on a per-user basis for licenses, the unlimited user model is certainly disruptive in its own right. (Digium has also been doing this with their Asterisk Business Edition.) And yes, Digium now has an answer to the growing competitive threat of Trixbox and it's management interfaces, support, hybrid model, etc.
All that is true - but it's not the really interesting story.
To me, what is far more compelling is that Digium just bought themselves a whole group of people who "get" the world of "unified communications", business process integration, Web 2.0 mashups, etc.
Digium has had no story at all around "presence" within its core offerings. Now it does. While Asterisk has always been a platform play where you have the ability to integrate Asterisk with other apps, doing so has not exactly been for the faint-of-heart. Hire yourself some programmers and you can do pretty much anything with Asterisk... but that's not something that many businesses want to get into. SwitchVox now gives Digium a way to do easy integration with databases and web sites. The integrations to Salesforce.com and SugarCRM are slick. The Google Maps popup is a seriously cool mashup! (And where is that on the roadmap of the mainstream vendors?)
Throw in a "click to call" add-in for Firefox to let you dial any number you see on any web page, plus a plug-in for Outlook, and you've got a very compelling offering. For a very nice price. My only knock (other than the fact that I can't find a picture of their Google Maps mashup anywhere on their website) is that it doesn't seem like their presence capability is yet integrated with existing instant messaging services. Given Asterisk's XMPP (Jabber) capabilities, this seems an obvious path that could get them connected to Jabber and GoogleTalk presence information. If they don't have that yet, I hope they add it soon, as we really do NOT need yet another place to change/update our presence info.
Regardless, this integration capability is, to me, the real story. Phones are being commoditized. I have to believe call servers/IP-PBXs are on their way to being commoditized. (Folks like Microsoft are going to help in pushing those prices down.) The money will ultimately go away from those areas.
The future of "unified communications" is about platforms. About mashups. About web services. About exposing APIs. About making it easy to combine different sources of data into interfaces that make people more productive. Microsoft gets that. Some of the traditional IP-PBX vendors get that. Digium has always known that, but this acquisition gives them a far better ability to make it happen.
Congrats to the folks at both Digium and SwitchVox for making this happen... I very much look forward to seeing where it evolves! (And in the meantime, I'm going to have to go down to the AstriCon exhibit hall and get some video of the Google Maps mashup to show how very cool it is...)
Technorati Tags: asterisk, astricon, digium, mashups, opensource, presence, switchvox, telephony, voip