VoiceCon: IBM, ShoreTel UC Offering Designed Specifically For SMBs

According to the two companies, the "unified-communications-and-collaboration-in-a-box" offering is aimed at businesses with less than 500 phone lines and will include enterprise-class features around mobility, security, e-mail, presence, instant messaging and IP telephony. IBM's Lotus Foundations Reach, an appliance that customizes the UC and collaboration functions of IBM Lotus Sametime for smaller businesses, will be integrated with ShoreTel UC gear.

The companies officially launched the bundle at this week's VoiceCon in Orlando, Fla., and said it would be available in the second quarter of calendar 2010. First debuted at IBM Lotusphere in January, the package, dubbed ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations, will be sold through the channel via distributor ScanSource Communications.

"It's one-click install, incredibly easy and fast to do, and easy to support," said Mark Arman, vice president of business development at ShoreTel, in an interview. "It's a value proposition that is meaningful as you look to the 's' in SMB. There are millions of these customers worldwide, and by and large they have sophisticated needs. I've heard a lot of vendors say, 'Well, they don't need this or they don't need that.' But the truth is they are sophisticated about UC, just on a smaller scale."

SMBs crave video, voice, integrated telephony, messaging and other UC functions as much as their enterprise counterparts, Arman argued. Many, however, don't have the IT staff needed to support UC deployments or the time and cycles to pick out best-of-breed solutions.

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A number of vendors purporting to offer UC for SMB, Arman said, are in fact merely offering scaled-down versions of enterprise products.

"You can't claim to be a UC vendor if you haven't solved the problem on the desktop. You have to provide something that brings all of those communications silos together, but translates to small," he said.

"It's proven really powerful," said Alistair Rennie, general manager, Lotus software and WebSphere Portal, for IBM's Software Group. "[SMBs'] collaboration needs don't end at e-mail, instant messaging and file-sharing. SMBs tend to survive in today's world but fitting into networks of other organizations. A lot of people connected to enterprises are small and medium businesses that are small but work globally and have different types of organization structures."

Applications that combine sophisticated UC functionality plus ease-of-use have been elusive to SMBs, Rennie suggested.

"You're taking their PBX, connecting it to the network, and it shows up as another capability on the network. [IBM Lotus] Foundations discovers it like it would a printer, or another application," he said. "The user integration -- the management -- is all in a simple console."

ScanSource's role, said ScanSource Communications President Buck Baker, will be to help disparate partner communities learn the IBM-ShoreTel package and identify opportunities to sell it.

"You've got the ShoreTel traditional guys, the IBM Foundations guys and the ScanSource telephony resellers. This can bring each of them to the table, but each has different needs," Baker said. "The key here is that you're not taking the enterprise solution and bringing it down to SMB; you're providing a solution for the SMB. There's a big difference."

Arman said the appeal of partnering with IBM is that it "sticks to its knitting."

"Of all the partnerships we have, it's been the most successful in terms of the interaction and the cultural fit between the two of us," he said.