Webley takes lead in unified communications: small and medium businesses yearn for “find me, follow me” features

Webley takes lead in unified communications: small and medium businesses yearn for “find me, follow me” features – Enterprise solutions

Joan Engebretson

Unified communications–a service that enables end users to access and manage their e-mail, voice mail and fax messages through a variety of interfaces–is an offering that the largest carriers have not yet had great success in marketing.

But a handful of service providers, including Webley–which claims to have 60,000 customers–have chosen to focus exclusively on the unified communications market. “We believe we’re the market leader,” says Webley senior director of product management Siva Tripuraneni. “We have at least a 35% share.” And that’s counting only offerings marketed under the Webley name. The company also licenses its technology to other service providers.

Webley targets distributed work forces, individuals, and small- to medium-size businesses with between 10 and 50 employees. The biggest draw, says Tripuraneni, is “the ability to be found any time and the ability to come off as a big company even if they’re a small company.”

The Webley service can be accessed via a Web browser or a local or 800-number. The voice interface responds to voice commands without the need to use a dial menu. Users can place calls by simply asking the phone to dial a person by name. They also can listen and respond to email messages over the phone. (Respondents receive an email message with a WAV file attached.)

“We emphasize speech recognition as a differentiator,” says Tripuraneni.

The service also supports call transfer and “Find Me-Follow Me” service, which automatically forwards calls to a desk phone, cellphone or home phone, depending on the instructions that have been given to it.

Using the Web interface, users can receive faxes as PDF files and can link up to five email accounts. The Webley service retails for $36.95 for 250 minutes a month, $54.95 for 500 minutes a month, and $77.95 for 1000 minutes a month. The company also has begun to market subsets of its complete service–such as speech-enabled conferencing–as separate offerings.

“Our sales strategy is to go after the big accounts, get approval from the top, and then hand it off to resellers,” says Tripuraneni. Eighty percent of revenues come through resellers, he says.

On the wholesale side, Webley offers service providers the ability to launch the service without any capital or operational expenditures. “We host them on our platform and provide customer support and billing,” Tripuraneni says.

INFRASTRUCTURE

To support its offering, Webley operates a network operations center co-located with Level3 that houses media servers, application servers, voice servers, a message database, media gateways, billing and provisioning servers, email and fax servers, and Web servers.

Voice users are connected through agreements with competitive local exchange carriers and traffic is backhauled to the NOC over IP.

Webley declines to reveal margins or revenues, but Tripuraneni says that the company–founded in 1997 and backed with close to $60 million in venture funding–has been profitable for more than a year.

As for the future, Tripuraneni says, “We’ll continue to differentiate ourselves on speech recognition and channels, we’ll add more features, and we’ll pass on cost savings. We can also create features for niches.” Recently, the company turned up a “doctor-on-call” offering in under 60 days.

Such targeted offerings will be key to the success of any unified communications initiative, says Helen Chan, senior analyst with The Yankee Group. “The key thing is for carriers not to expect all small and medium enterprises to like the same features,” she says. The construction industry, for example, will prefer store-and-forward functionality.

Chan agrees that unified communications’ strongest appeal is to the small and medium business market.

“When you look at the SMB market, you’re contending more with a mobile workforce,” says Chan. “The blend between work and home life is strong, so Find-Me-Follow-Me makes a lot of sense.”

While Webley relies heavily on word of mouth, Chan says carriers also must educate prospects. “Word of mouth works, but if you don’t know about [the service], you don’t ask.”

COPYRIGHT 2004 Advanstar Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group