ShoreTel Expands UC Platform With Shortel 12 Update

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ShoreTel this week updated both its flagship unified communications offering and its contact center platform, eyeing greater opportunities for ShoreTel and its partners in enterprise accounts as it continues to push upmarket.

The new products are ShoreTel 12, the next version of its main UC offering, and Contact Center 7, the update to its contact center platform.

Key to ShoreTel 12 is how it incorporates audioconferencing, Web conferencing, presence and XMPP-based instant messaging as part of its core architecture, said Kevin Gavin, ShoreTel's chief marketing officer -- not as UC bolt-ons to an IP-PBX system. In typical ShoreTel fashion, it's a plug-and-play setup, Gavin explained, with a single hardware appliance and distributed software architecture.

"ShoreTel 12 is our own completely new UC. It's a ShoreTel appliance running Linux, but you plug this into the network, and it's discovered and managed entirely inside of [management interface ShoreTel] Director," he said.

Whereas ShoreTel had previously OEM-ed its audioconferencing, webconferencing and IM solution from Alcatel-Lucent, ShoreTel 12 includes products it developed in-house.

"When you have someone else's solutions you're a victim of their development schedule," Gavin said. "It's completely in-house and while we have a couple of small pieces we brought in for the core technology, we own it and we built the solution entirely."

ShoreTel 12 also doubles the per-image user capacity of the platform, meaning it can now scale up to 20,000 users supported under a single system, up from 10,000 in the previous version.

There's also tighter integration with various pieces of the Microsoft stack. Outlook 2010 integration, for example, means ShoreTel users can schedule and join conferences with one click in Microsoft's Outlook feature menu, and view presence indications or initiate calls or IM exchanges.

Finally, ShoreTel 12 expands integration into other platforms, too, including a native Mac application called ShoreTel Communicator for Mac, intended for Apple users in the enterprise. Version 12 can also provide UC features to a range of mobile devices, including iPhone and BlackBerry, Gavin said.

ShoreTel 12 will ship in June, Gavin said, and as with previous releases, is available as a free upgrade to existing ShoreTel UC customers.

Also new this week to the ShoreTel portfolio is Enteprise Contact Center 7, which introduces a call queuing and call routing technology for ShoreTel customers called Personal Agent Queues. The intelligence built into the Contact Center 7 software means agents can answer calls while pushing existing calls with a single click into their personal queues and route calls more effectively through advanced scripting. Supervisors can also receive reports on agent queue activity, including how often a call has been re-queued by an agent.

Contact Center 7 has a Web-based management interface called Contact Center Director, and can also now retain multiple years' worth of statistics and agent interaction reports. ShoreTel has also included diagnostic tools to help administrators see how various resources are being used in the system, from snapshots of current calls to views of scheduled callbacks and external database connections.

The updates come as ShoreTel continues to gain face in the IT channel, especially among SMB-focused solution providers looking to push upmarket using ShoreTel's mobility solutions.

Its financials have also been a show of strength; in ShoreTel's most recent quarterly earnings report, the company said its revenue is up 39 percent year over year and has seen at least a 30 percent increase four quarters in a row.

"Both our aided and unaided brand awareness has increased," Gavin said. "It used to be that in this space, you'd name Cisco, Avaya and Nortel -- every discussion was of those three. Now it's Cisco and Avaya and who else? There's a bunch of us who are laying claim to that seat. We're not declaring victory, but we are increasing our awareness and partners are getting the message."

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