IT EXPO: UC Part of Response Point Roadmap, GM Says

Unified communications is part of the roadmap for the year-old Response Point small business IP PBX from Microsoft Corp., according to John Frederiksen, the new general manager for the product, in an interview with PHONE+ for the rollout of Service Pack 2.

Response Point, which was launched in October 2007, is a software-based IP PBX that is packaged as an appliance by three OEMs – D-Link, Aastra Technologies Ltd. and Quanta Computer Inc..

“Microsoft has a major investment in unified communications. Most of that focus today is in the enterprise space with Microsoft Office Communications Server and some work around Exchange. But we definitely believe that scales down to small businesses,” he said, noting that Response Point, as the small business telephony product, is the logical delivery point. “That’s one thing we are looking at too is how do we start layering on services to the Response Point application so that small businesses can get the benefits of unified communications that normally requires the benefit of a full IT staff to deploy today.”

Figuring that out is one of the reasons Frederiksen was named to head up the 36-member Response Point team. “To a large degree my coming on board was to help take it to the next level, to take it further. We think the small business telephony marketplace is incredibly underserved. With the transition to IP and convergence between data services and voice services, we think the market is set to explode,” he said.

As part of overall growth strategies, Frederiksen said he must make sure that Response Point is aligned with other efforts at Microsoft that are complementary or integrated. “There’s an overall Microsoft push to help small business customers have a more complete and capable network infrastructure and applications platform than a lot of them have today,” he said. One example of that is the Small Business Server, with an installed base of more than a million. “We think that Response Point is a great add-on product or addition to that solution,” he said.

Yankee Group analyst Steve Hilton agreed with the strategy, saying one of Frederiksen’s goals in 2009 is to “get Response Point to be an effective catalyst to selling additional Microsoft solutions (e.g., Small Business Server and UC solutions) into the small business space.”

Frederiksen said he expects Response Point Version 2.0 to be released to OEMs late this year for a January 2010 rollout.

Development for Version 2.0 will be driven by two primary objectives.

One is at the low end of the market (from one to 10 users) with the goal of making it easy to buy, set up and manage for a low price.

“We really are on the edge of something that is going to be a great product for the do-it-yourselfers and the very small business,” he said, noting the company already is learning from its OEM partners’ forays into retail sales channels.

Two is making the product more extensible for resellers serving the 10-50 user segment. “[It’s about] allowing them to add more value to the product and supporting some of the more complex scenarios that you get inside larger offices,” he said, noting the example of connecting branch offices, integrating contact management and other customizations.

Development also will consider the ecosystem of partner hardware, software and services.

Yankee Group’s Hilton said this strategy is “smart, smart, smart,” but he said Microsoft needs to have a greater marketing push behind its retail channels in particular.

Frederiksen did tip his hand on one feature of Response Point Version 2.0 – localization. Response Point today is English-only. Localizing the IP PBX software is a relatively simple task since in-language voice recognition capabilities already are available from Microsoft Research and the rest of text-base edits. The hurdle is developing an appropriate sales channel and support structure, including service provider partners, for each country. So, that will determine which localized versions will be rolled out in Version 2.0. “If you launch a product without the right channel and support in place, you can create a bad reputation. We want to be careful how we grow internationally,” he said.

Frederiksen brings to the mission 15 years of experience at Microsoft. The first eight years were in product management for Microsoft Exchange Server, the Windows 2000 Server launch, Windows XP launch. He spent a few years in client development and ran for three years.

His most recent assignment for the last two years has been with Microsoft Services, a consulting and support services organization. “A lot of people aren’t familiar, but Microsoft has 15,000 employees that either provide support or consulting services. It generates about $3 billion a year,” he said.

The consultative experience at Microsoft Services translates well in the Microsoft Response Point environment where users expect to be told how it all works together with their existing infrastructure.

Another parallel is leveraging a field organization to tell the Microsoft story and execute in a consistent way. In the case of Response Point, that field organization is the channel. “It’s getting the message out through them and it’s also thinking about how you support the partners to sell your product out there and coordinating that effort,” he said.

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