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Network World - You might not know BroadSoft if you're not in the telecommunications space. But if you use a hosted unified communications service from a provider like Verizon, Swisscom, or any of about 500 other telcos around the world, you may be a BroadSoft customer without realizing it.
That's because BroadSoft made a strategic bet not to sell directly to enterprises. Rather, it assembles the pieces necessary for telcos to host and sell unified communications (UC) services -- think voice, messaging, video conferencing, and so on.
Michael Tessler cofounded BroadSoft in 1998 after coming from Alcatel, and has since grown it into a publicly traded company with annual revenue of more than $160 million. In a recent interview with IDG Enterprise Chief Content Officer John Gallant, Tessler explained how Broadsoft sees the hosted communications landscape and the role of mobile devices.
Here are some of the highlights:
The full interview follows:
John Gallant: What is the BroadSoft mission and how do you deliver on that mission?
Michael Tessler: At BroadSoft, we are delivering unified communications solutions to service providers around the world and enabling them to deliver unified communications as a service, really a new category of capability. Instead of enterprises looking to purchase software and servers and do all that integration on their own, we’re enabling the service providers to come to market with a full unified communications solution that enterprises can consume on a per month, per seat basis -- very much like the transformation that took place with CRM and companies like salesforce.com. We allow the service providers to brand, using their own branding. We become a kind of BroadSoft Inside, inside the carrier’s networks, and allow them to build their own brand with these unified communications solutions. That’s one of the reasons why enterprise customers may not know us as a brand name, but would see us as powering services that they might purchase from their operators, whether those are fixed operators, mobile operators around the world.
Today we power a little over 500 operators around the world, and of those operators we power about 20 of the top 25 by revenue size. We’re certainly well penetrated in the service provider marketplace globally.
Q: There isn’t always a consistent definition of what unified communications is. In your view, what are the key components of that? What do you have to deliver to make a great UC solution?
A: The functional elements would be things like the old, what we call PBX functions, unified messaging, audio conferencing capability, desktop sharing collaboration, instant messaging and call centers or group capabilities, the front-office capabilities, the ability to interact on lots of devices – mobile and fixed devices. Those are the functional elements that make up what we would consider the unified communications suite.
One of the most important things that we focus on is really making sure that the end users can actually effectively use all those capabilities, so a huge focus on user experience, with that user experience crossing over from handsets to desktops, whether it’s Windows or Mac, to tablets to mobile phones, all the various operating systems, and really being able to make sure that all those experiences allow the end user to take advantage of this unified communications capability. What does that mean? It allows me to be more productive internally, allows me to be more effective in getting a group of employees together to collaborate. We can start dialoguing on instant messaging at present, and promote through conference and video. We can share documents. The way I love to think about unified communications is really using all these tools to be making sure that the employees will end up being more productive, both internally and also externally, with partners, customers. That’s really the drive for this.
Q: So how quickly is this hosted UC market taking shape?
A: The big shift has been building for quite some time. I think the big shift that has taken place recently is that a lot of the operators have been delivering what I would call hosted PBX functions, very much voice-centric capabilities...
Q: The managed Centrex kind of thing?
A: Exactly. Centrex was not a loved term, but definitely in the hosted voice world, a much richer experience, passing lots of the control over to the end users, but very much centered around replacing the PBX into the cloud. I think what’s shifted in the last 18 months is really taking that core and adding on the rest of the productivity capabilities that I mentioned before and transforming what I would call hosted voice or hosted PBX to now it’s hosted unified communications capabilities. It’s not a U.S.-only phenomenon or a particular market. We’re seeing this happen in every market that we participate in around the world. One of the things driving that is that unified communications is a very complex service to build. Lots of services, lots of functional elements, lots of complexity. The operator can reduce that complexity for the enterprise, so they can get this rich unified communications suite without all the complexity and with interoperability and upgrades. They can really take advantage of the productivity gains without all that major investment in both capex and ongoing operating expense.
Q: One of the things that service providers are criticized for is that they haven’t moved very quickly into the cloud services market. At least in the customers’ minds, they don’t have a great track record. What is it about the product set that you deliver that would make the enterprise user comfortable with this hosted UC?
A: Many times the challenge the operators have is that they’re delivered a set of components of technology and they’re required to integrate and create the end service. We’ve brought everything together for the operator from user experiences, and what I mean by that is clients that run on all the various devices that are delivered out of the network, upgrade out of the network, to the core functions, to the bridging functions, audio conferencing functions. The very massive amount of interoperability to all the devices that make up the solution, so handsets and gateways and all the things that need to be done, but the end user really doesn’t want to know how complicated that is. We’ve done a tremendous amount of work in making sure all that is really simple, integrated, easy to use, so that the operators can deliver much more effectively. We’ve also focused for the operators on how to deliver the value proposition. We’ve done lots of work in terms of helping them do a better job of understanding the customers’ requirements, and how to match that to the capabilities in the suite.
Another area that we’ve spent quite a bit of time on is how to really help those operators with things around delivery. You’re going to deliver a unified communications solution in the cloud. How do you make sure that service runs effectively? You can troubleshoot it, you can monitor 7/24. You can really provide superior performance on the service. We have all that in our suite. We deliver that to the operator, so the enterprise customer gets a much stronger capability through the operators than, I think, where traditionally the operators are forced to bring lots of components from multiple vendors together. We really helped them with the messaging, the packaging, the sales promotion, the way to go to market, really to help them figure out a segment into the various enterprise markets. Also, on the back side we really helped them with the delivery side of it, which can get complex as it’s a big shift of moving from traditional premise delivery to cloud where the operators have scale and will shine in terms of running very highly scalable, reliable, redundant infrastructures.