Perhaps even more importantly, Aculab Cloud is a great example of how a legacy vendor is re-inventing themselves, much in the way they’re trying to help their customers do the same as they migrate from TDM to IP. Aculab has plenty of company among vendors trying to position themselves for the next curve, with Mitel and Cisco coming to mind right away. I’m not going to dwell on those here, but Cisco has taken a leadership role in using their own collaboration tools to change the way they operate as an organization, which I think is great way to show proof-of-concept. In Mitel’s case, they have bet heavily on virtualization, which I think is the right path, but it’s too early to tell how effectively it differentiates them from the competition.
All legacy telephony vendors face transformational challenges and the board business is no exception. Aculab has been a market leader in this space for a long time, but the future lies elsewhere and the cloud will play a big role. You don’t have to look far to see what happens to companies that move too late or make the wrong moves; just look at the recent demise of Kodak. There may be a lot of life left in telephony boards and the installed base is huge, but most of the innovation and new forms of value-add is – and will be – cloud-based.
In that regard, I think Aculab has the right idea here. Sure, cloud is an early stage market and adoption may take some time. However, it’s not like the company had to make a radical shift or major investment with cloud. They have a healthy board business to drive revenues, which gives them the luxury to push ahead with building a cloud solution. Not only is this a relatively low-risk way to protect the core customer base with a next-gen migration path, but it helps stave off competition from other cloud-based offerings that have little or no legacy pedigree.
Furthermore – and this is what l like the most – Aculab Cloud gives the company an entrée into new markets and opportunities that could not be effectively addressed with legacy boards. I’ve been following related spaces such as UC, mashups and social media long enough to know there’s an exciting growth opportunity for telephony and voice-based applications. The key here, of course, is the migration from TDM to IP, at which point voice becomes just another application in a data network. This brings us into the world of SIP, multi-media, Web services, open APIs, low/zero transport costs, and presence to truly leverage the value of real-time communications. I believe this is the world Aculab sees as well and you can’t go after it without a cloud-based offering.
So, what is Aculab Cloud? My job isn’t to do a show-and-tell for Aculab – you can do that by visiting their website and making inquiries from there. Or, for a quick one minute welcome video, here's a good place to start. I’m here to convey the basics, from which I think you’ll see the value proposition and you can make your own decisions from there. In short, what we’re really talking about is TaaS – telephony as a service. By now, I’m sure you’ve come across a few of these XaaS variations – SaaS, CaaS, PaaS, etc. Essentially, these are new models for virtualizing what used to be product or hardware-based solutions, and re-inventing them as services delivered over a network. Telephony boards are a classic use-case here and once the underlying voice service can be provided from the cloud, so too can the applications.
That brings us to Aculab Cloud. First off, they call it cloud for all the right reasons, and it makes life easier for both the end user of their applications as well as the service provider in the middle of all this. In other words, it’s not a hosted solution where additional servers are needed, along with the associated operational costs and IT staffing. Aculab takes care of all this, so the end user only has to be concerned with creating the application and using it on a pay-as-you-go basis. Not to mention the fact that by taking these costs out of the equation, cloud-based applications are more economical for end users.
Another important consideration is that many telephony application requirements are situational – needed only for a specific program, time of the year, type of customer, etc. Whether the duration is just a few days or longer, these situations often cause spikes in the network, and being cloud-based, Aculab can ensure that capacity is always there, and that scale is not an issue. The same cannot be said for hosted solutions.
With that concern out of the way, what kind of applications are we talking about? Well, telephony applications have been around a long time, and common examples include announcements, IVR prompts, adding callers to conferencing, call tracking, SMS notifications, placing calls, call recording, etc. Economics aside, the cloud offers many other advantages and improvements over conventional telephony application development. As with other modes of IP communications, cloud-based applications are simpler to develop – especially in terms of writing code – faster to market, require minimal bandwidth, and tie up very little capital. I’m not a programmer, but I do understand that legacy coding is archaic and complex and today’s developers use much simpler and more flexible languages.
The end result is easy-to-use APIs that help end users on two levels. First, they now have a faster, smarter, cheaper solution for developing proven telephony applications that businesses regularly use. Legacy systems will be with us a while yet, so the need for these isn’t going away. Perhaps more importantly, the cloud and IP enables the development of new applications that simply wouldn’t be found in the legacy world.
This is where things get interesting and where innovation can drive competitive differentiation. When voice – well, telephony I suppose – becomes another data application, a world of possibilities opens up. I’ve written before about voice mashups, and this is really an extension of that, but on a broader base. Being simpler and faster to deploy, cloud-based options can be used by businesses of all types. You no longer need low-level programmers or developer expertise on the payroll – what you really need is people with an intuitive understanding of how voice can be integrated or embedded in new ways to make business processes better and/or customer interactions more seamless. Once you have that, the sky is the limit, and with some creativity, voice can now be elevated to being a more value-added service.
Aculab Cloud is a forward-thinking example of that, and in my next post about them, I’ll feature how one of their customers is deploying IP-based applications in their business.