iMessaging and IBM Team to Drive i OS-Based IP Telephony
January 27, 2009 Alex Woodie
iMessaging Systems today announced significant changes to its System i telephony products and its business model that are aimed at making it easier and less expensive to integrate System i applications with phone systems. First, the company eliminated the PC hardware requirement for its iNspire suite, which is now a software-only product running entirely under i OS. Second, it overhauled its relationship with IBM, making the IBM the sole distributor of iNspire and opening the product up to Big Blue’s vast partner channel.
iMessaging Systems is a New Hampshire company that develops software that connects corporate phone systems (either traditional PBX or newer voice over IP) with i OS-based business applications. Thousands of customer service representatives at hundreds of companies around the world use iMessaging’s software to accomplish various phone-related tasks, including inbound and outbound call routing, 5250 screen pops, and automatic call distribution (ACD) queuing. The software also powers automated phone services, such as the interactive voice response (IVR) “phone trees” that provide customer self-service from toll-free phone numbers.
Ever since IBM started pushing System i-based VoIP solutions from 3com and Nortel several years ago, the writing has been on the wall for iMessaging and others in the computer telephony business: The days of the traditional PBX phone system are nearing an end, and Internet-based phone systems running on computer servers will take their place. IBM distributed a statistic from IDC that says the market for so-called “unified communications” technology is expected to hit $17 billion by 2011, making VoIP a bright spot in IT spending forecasts.
iMessaging recognized this trend toward unified communications, and two years ago it unveiled a connector that utilizes Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), one of the key standards enabling VoIP–or IP telephony as the System i world likes to call it.
With today’s announcement, iMessaging has shifted to fully embrace the SIP model. While SIP is not without its drawbacks, the move has much more upside, including allowing the company to eliminate the need for an outboard PC equipped with special boards from Dialogic that previously sat between the System i server and a customer’s phone system to route calls. Instead of this outboard PC (or multiple PCs with dozens of boards in larger environments), iMessaging system has developed a SIP-based call controller in C++, which runs under native i OS.
No outboard PCs means easier integration for System i customers, and lower cost, according to Karen Sedlar, CEO of iMessaging Systems. “It’s a big, big change,” she says. “The cost has decreased considerably because it’s now software only. A couple of years ago, the starting price would have been $20,000 to $22,000. The starting point now is $12,000.”
iMesssaging will continue to sell a plug-and-play gateway appliance for customers still needing to connect System i servers to older PBX phone equipment. While the company believes that 99.9 percent of new sales will involve VoIP systems, having that link to older technology makes good business sense, says Rich Ollari, president of iMessaging.
“One of the key features with gateways is we can connect with our clients using existing phone systems, even if they’re older more traditional PBX environments,” Ollari says. “So with these gateways we can connect with those environments today, but the nice thing about the iNspire solution is, because it’s API driven, we can position those clients to move into an IP telephony environment down the road, because the programming doesn’t change. The only piece that changes if they move from a traditional system to an IP telephony environment is we change the telephony interface. So it gives clients a nice migration path to get started working in telephony integration today, and position them for voice over IP or IP telephony down the road.”
And now that iNspire is an official IBM product–with an IBM product number and accessible to all IBM business partners through the product configurator–Sedlar thinks that sales have a real shot at increasing considerably.
“The product now will be distributed directly through IBM as an IBM product,” Sedlar says. “It’s a little different, as you know, having a vendor offering versus something that’s offered through the IBM channel. As an IBM business partner, I have a solution that I can sell–I don’t have to go to iMessaging to get it.”
One of the few hiccups in this transition for iMessaging is SIP itself. While it’s supposed to be a standard, everyone seems to have their own interpretation of the standard, Sedlar says. For this reason, iNspire has been tested only against the two System i VoIP systems from Nortel and 3com, along with the popular VoIP systems from Avaya and Cisco Systems, which do not run on the System i.
Sedlar acknowledges the shift to the IBM channel is a huge change for iMessaging. “We’ve always had a small direct sales channel,” she says. “We will become more of a sales support channel for IBM partners. We see ourselves, at least initially, on calls with IBM reps, helping them with proposals, helping them understand the telephony integration point.” All current iMessaging sales staff will be retained, she says.
The shift also provides more opportunity for ISVs to integrate with iMessaging. “We’re starting an initiative this week with IBM to begin, in a targeted fashion, promoting iNspire to the ISV community,” Ollari says. “iNspire is a real nice fit for the ISV community, because through existing [RPG] skills that ISVs might typically have on staff, they can now integrate telephony into their application, really quite easily, and offer another advanced capability in their software, and upgrade path to their client base. For obvious reasons, we view that channel as a great go-to-market strategy for us, because when we get the one ISV, we can really offer this solution to their entire installed base very quickly, once the integration is complete.”
iMessaging provides training and education on iNspire’s APIs, which are written in good old RPG, through its Telephony Integration Program, or TIP. You can find more information about iNspire and the TIP program at the company’s Web site: www.imessagingsystems.com.