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Aspect's new architecture paves VoIP path

Call center specialist Aspect Communications has several new products, including a new architecture that targets companies transitioning to a voice over Internet environment.

Aspect Communications Corporation will kill three birds with one stone this week at the International Call Center Management conference in Chicago, announcing a unified call center architecture, an applications bundle for small and mid-sized businesses and a sales and marketing agreement.

The new Uniphi architecture introduced Monday by the San Jose, Calif., contact center vendor will bring together workforce, information and communications applications that help companies transition from Public Switched Telephone Networks (PSTN) to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

Many companies have begun to look more closely at VoIP, yet full implementation is years away for most. With Uniphi, Aspect intends to serve those customers making the move by starting with a hybrid approach.

"A lot of our customers see hybrid as the solution for their future for the next five to 10 years," said John Fomook, Aspect's senior director for solution marketing. "IP is in everyone's future at some point in time, whether it's next year or 11 years from now."

Merrill Lynch made headlines last week when it announced it had scrapped its plans for a pure IP system and switched back to a hybrid. That got people in the industry thinking, said Sheila McGee-Smith, president and principal analyst at McGee-Smith Analytics in Pittstown, N.J.

"In the contact center space, I have spoken with clients --, high-end customers --, and a phrase kept coming back to me, 'Yes we're trying IP telephony internally, but not where it touches my customer,'" McGee-Smith said. "I think there is going to be a long period of transition -- five, 10 or 20 years."

The first two products developed under the Uniphi architecture are Uniphi Connect and Aspect Call Center v9. Uniphi Connect allows users to operate a hybrid call center without the need for third-party gateway hardware, Fomook said. The IP card resides within the platform. It also includes an agent desktop that lets agents be located anywhere, Fomook said.

"You can now put all call centers in one location and outsource your agents to India," Fomook said.

Another enhancement includes the ability to present a single phone number for an outbound campaign to comply with new federal regulations requiring a call-back number.

Call Center v9's enhancements also include support for transit of routing calls. Incoming calls can be transited via a routing table, allowing the full digit string to be sent to outbound calls. Additionally, a user-to-user information feature allows information received with inbound calls to be inserted into outbound ISDN calls.

These new announcements make it clear where Aspect's strategy lies, McGee-Smith said.

"Overall, my impression is of a much stronger convergence message that maps better to the overall perspective of the market," she said. "Aspect had embedded convergence components in the past, but they're doing a better job of explaining the features now."

Aspect is also releasing Iphinity, call center and workforce management applications directed at the small and mid-sized markets. As their needs grow, customer can take direct upgrade paths to Enterprise Call Center and eWorkforce Management, Fomook said.

He added that the midmarket software runs on open systems with commercial hardware that can be easily integrated.

"With this announcement they're basically saying, 'We're going to ride on top of infrastructure that exists,'" McGee-Smith said. "It's an important move for Aspect. They've got a product that's attractive to people in the (small to mid-sized) space. A lot of others tend to be stripped down."

Aspect also announced this week a relationship with 3Com, a provider of voice and data networking products. Under the non-exclusive sales and marketing agreement, both companies will engage in joint development, sales and marketing.

Last week Aspect announced that president and CEO Beatriz Infante is leaving the company. She'll be replaced on an interim basis by CTO Gary Barnett.  


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