UC for the SMB

SimpleSignal, a provider of business telephone and unified communications systems, released a voice-enabled messaging solution for small and medium businesses. The solution combines hosted PBX with hosted Microsoft Exchange 2007. Users will pay $59.95 a month for the service, which includes two gigabytes  of storage.

An analyst calls the system one of many that have entered the market with enhanced features, but none of these solutions have made much of a market input to date.

SimpleSignal’s offering, called SimplyMobile, enables users to listen to their emails and manage calendar items in Microsoft Outlook using voice commands from any telephone, including mobile devices. With the technology, email and voice services are hosted, allowing end users to focus on managing their businesses rather than managing their communications infrastructure, according to the company.

In addition to voice and email features, SimplyMobile translates emails from text to speech and enables users to call Outlook contacts via voice commands on their mobile phones. Users can also verbally change the time of a meeting in their calendar, with Microsoft Exchange sending an email notification of the change to meeting participants.

"Today's worker is mobile and needs one solution to manage their voicemail, email, and calendar from any location at anytime," said Dave Gilbert, president of SimpleSignal, upon announcing the new solution. "The convenience of having emails read while on the move and using voice commands to call contacts and manage calendars makes it incredibly easy for users to communicate, collaborate, and share information."

"Hosted unified communications represents a fundamental shift in the way business people communicate," said Tim Ritchie, vice president of sales for Chinook Hosting, which partnered with SimpleSignal to provide the Microsoft Exchange services. "The integration of voice and business communication applications will lead to dramatically increased productivity by automating call tracking and response while dramatically increasing first attempt contacts."

Despite the partners’ optimism, the new offering will need to compete with several other unified communications solutions, says Atlanta-based independent telecom analyst Jeff Kagan. "We have been hearing about these combined services several times over the last 10 years. Each time they get a little better. [But] the service providers have never really burst into the general marketplace in a big way, although the idea is sound."

New market entrants have challenges from cost of the services, generally weak demand, and reluctance of prospects to change from existing services, according to Kagan. "Will it be successful? Will the customer finally realize there are new ways to do things? Will these small companies ever have the marketing and advertising budgets to let the world know? These are some of the big questions."

Such solutions are good ideas, but have yet to become very popular, Kagan adds.  "Some of these have customer groups that keep them in business, but they have never grown past that niche yet."

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