Siemens updates OpenScape software

With enterprise communications platforms evolving from traditional telephone switches into packet-based systems that bring together many forms of messaging, Siemens Information and Communication Networks Monday is set to unveil the second generation of its OpenScape software.

Siemens has fleshed out the software, HiPath OpenScape 2.0, with greater scalability and a tool kit that will let third parties do more with OpenScape, including developing new applications. The update also can work more closely with familiar Microsoft applications such as Outlook.

OpenScape provides an enterprise communications portal that shows which employees are reachable and on what medium, as well as easy methods for sending and retrieving messages and starting conferences and collaboration sessions. It is designed to boost productivity by eliminating "phone tag" and other time-consuming communications chores.

"It's really important for people not to have to chase each other and leave messages in four places before we connect," said Gene Rodgers, president and chief executive officer of Star Information Technology, a consulting and systems integration company that is based in Medfield, Mass., and sends consultants and sales representatives all over the U.S. Star uses OpenScape internally and has been a beta tester of OpenScape 2.0.

The best addition to OpenScape in its new version is the software development toolkit, which allowed Star to fully integrate the Siemens software with Microsoft's SharePoint portal software, Rodgers said. Previously, employees had been able to use only about three-quarters of OpenScape's features through SharePoint, according to Christian Manasseh, a technology architect at Star who was in charge of the integration. With the new kit, Star has been able to integrate all the features employees need to use, he said.

This type of software, as well as the market for it, is still in its infancy, according to industry analysts. The move from traditional circuit-based to packet-based infrastructures is a major shift, they said.

"This is the beginning of what will be a large number of value-added applications that extend your traditional telephony environment," said Gartner analyst Jeffrey Snyder. "IP telephony is not just a replacement for your (private branch exchange)."

OpenScape 2.0 can support as many as 2,000 users per processor (specified as at least a 2 GHz Pentium 4 that can access 2G bytes of RAM), up from 500 in the previous version. In addition to running it on multiple-processor servers, users now can group together multiple servers to support more users. In addition, a processor can now support as many as 5,000 formal and informal workgroups among those 2,000 users, said Gary Paris, vice president of HiPath solutions for Siemens.

The voice portal feature, through which users can sign in to teleconferences, retrieve messages and access online information, now supports natural-language commands, according to Tim Miller, technical evangelist at Siemens ICN. That means users can give commands in their own words rather than in set phrases, he said.

In addition, the company has made enhancements to presence, collaboration and mobility features, Paris said.

* Presence awareness, previously limited to devices enabled with Session Initiation Protocol, has been extended to any device. For example, users who go on the road and are reachable only by cell phone can have their profiles on the OpenScape portal automatically changed to show this.

* Enhanced text-to-speech capability allows users on the road to access their calendars and task lists by phone. In fact, companies that build applications with the development toolkit can make any HTML or XML content available to employees or customers via voice, Paris said.

* For external participants who do not have access to OpenScape but need to participate in a conference call, they can call the person who invited them to the conference call. Then they can follow a prompt on that person's OpenScape voice mail greeting to enter the call, Miller said.

* From OpenScape, users can now enter Microsoft's Live Meeting service with one click. In addition, users can call in to OpenScape and use a voice-activated system to reach any contact listed in a Microsoft Outlook directory, instead of just contacts who are OpenScape users.

* All the components of OpenScape can now reside on the same server.

The new single-server option matters to customers because it could save them a lot of money, according to analyst Brian Riggs of Current Analysis, in Sterling, Va.

"When you start adding servers, the price for this sort of platform skyrockets," Riggs said.

However, despite the technology having great potential, the market for it is still unproven, he said.

"What I'd really like to see from Siemens ... is a demonstrated demand from enterprises for this sort of solution," Riggs said. More than 100 companies are using OpenScape, according to Paris. The first version of the product began shipping last October.

OpenScape 2.0 is set to ship in early August. Pricing is now modular, at $125 for the core presence technology, with voice portal features available for an additional $100 per user and collaboration features for $25 more. Siemens ICN will add three languages - French, Italian, Castilian Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese - to the current offerings of English and German, Paris said. Individual users can select the language for their own portals, he said.

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