Computer telephony integration (CTI) used to be considered something of a dirty word in the reseller channel. That was mainly because of the high level of expertise required by Vars before they could even hope to sell a solution into a major corporate.
This chicken and egg situation contrasted greatly with the PC value-added situation of the late 1980s and early 1990s, where PC hardware manufacturers were falling over themselves to offer free training and advanced reseller recognition. Five years ago, getting into CTI cost resellers a lot of time, money and effort.
But today CTI has moved on tremendously. A quick scan through any distributor or vendor catalogue will confirm that CTI technology, in the shape of PC add-in cards, is widely available to the channel at sensible prices.
Moreover, despite the availability of supposedly user-friendly software, CTI still needs a degree of technical expertise to get up and running.
The good news is that, as with high-end PCs, many organisations, especially those in the small to medium-sized business arena, do not have such expertise in-house. But resellers have such resources readily available on tap.
These days, while high-end CTI systems are still around and are still being sold through specialist resellers, CTI solutions for small to medium-sized businesses are starting to appear on the market. But incredibly few PC resellers seem to have latched on to the fact that such systems can be sold on as value-added solutions to their existing portfolio of clients.
Often, a low appreciation of what CTI can do for a business is all that is holding back a customer from placing a swathe of orders for the technology from a reseller. In many ways, the CTI market in 1996 is where the PC industry was with networking in the late 1980s - a relatively immature market that is ripe for development.
According to a recent study from Schema, one of Europe's leading independent telecoms consultancies, the CTI market in Europe and in the UK particularly, has entered a period of rapid and accelerating growth.
Jo Piggott, a partner at Schema, claims the success of CTI is dependent on software developers producing CTI packages that require little or no adaptation on the part of the user. 'We are moving towards a period when CTI will progress towards a shrink-wrapped package,' she says. It is essential, according to Piggott, that software developers understand this if CTI is to enter the mass market.
The report, Computer Telephony Integration in Europe - An Update, claims that revenues from the CTI market in Europe are expected to grow from under $100 million in 1995 to more than a $1 billion in 2000, a compound growth rate of almost 80 per cent.
Piggott says the report follows on from a similar study undertaken by Schema on the CTI market four years ago. The report is billed as containing 'in-depth qualitative and quantitative research' that looks at the state of the CTI market and projects its growth.
The report is based on discussions the company has had with more than 500 telebusiness users across Europe, along with more than 50 suppliers and manufacturers. 'Where Schema differs from some of the other consultancy houses is that it really talks to the users of telecoms systems, rather than listening too much to the likes of Microsoft and others,' she says.
'It's so easy to get wrapped up in the higher levels of telecoms and lose touch with the actual users.'
There is a lack of awareness among potential users which has been slowing the take-up of CTI, the report states. It notes that although general awareness has increased over the past four years, with 70 per cent of the survey's respondents having heard of CTI, compared with 62 per cent in 1992, detailed knowledge of the industry is still sketchy.
Last year was something of a turning point for the industry. In the 1992 study, when a similar group of telebusiness users were interviewed, only about four per cent had CTI systems or plans to install one. This figure has now grown to 13 per cent, reveals the 1996 report.
The vast majority of these installations took place in 1995, the report notes. Comments from CTI suppliers interviewed for the study support this observation. One leading CTI manufacturer reports that shipments of its CTI software in 1995 were 34 per cent up on those of the previous year, while shipments in the first four months of 1996 already amount to nearly 70 per cent of the total figure for 1995.
The report suggests that first-party CTI systems are expected to account for the largest number of CTI workstations by the beginning of 2001, with just over 50 per cent of the projected installed base and about 17 per cent of the CTI revenues. At the same time, call centre CTI systems will account for just six per cent of the total workstations, but one third of the revenues.
The remaining 43 per cent of the installed base, the report notes, will be accounted for by group productivity CTI systems in the corporate Lan environment. This segment, the report says, will represent the largest share of revenues in 2000, at about 50 per cent.
Piggott predicts that by the year 2001, 10 per cent of the installed base of PCs in Europe will be using CTI technology. 'What we are seeing is a shift in power in the CTI industry. It used to be dominated by traditional telecoms systems suppliers and vendors of the medium to large computers.
'This balance of power and influence will progressively shift to those providing the computing components, particularly software, and highly skilled systems integrators,' she says.
Piggott believes the introduction of telephony software for small computer systems, especially client/server systems by major IT players such as Microsoft and Novell, has opened up a much broader range of possible uses.
This means that the current picture of a small number of very high-value sales to major companies using call centres for mission-critical applications is set to change. 'As CTI enters mainstream computing, the size of installations will shrink, while the number of installations will grow enormously,' she says.
Ron Charnock, chairman of Versatility, a US supplier of CTI software, believes the UK reseller channel still has not taken advantage of the massive fall in CTI hardware and software prices of the past few years.
Charnock, who will be in London at the end of September to talk to distributors and dealers about Call Centre, the company's $1,695 Windows CTI package, claims low to medium-sized businesses are ripe for CTI sales. Call Centre is claimed to be a powerful and scalable package that enables phone-intensive businesses to cost-effectively set up small and departmental call centres for the first time.
He is keen to see the company's US Versatility Integration Professional (Vip) programme extended into the UK reseller channel.
Under the Vip scheme, Call Centre is being handled by a national network of qualified Vars.
Despite the company's telemarketing centre in Amsterdam and its UK headquarters in Berkshire, Charnock wants all of Versatility's sales to be made through the reseller channel and not see a proportion of sales made on a direct basis.
'Our existing sales organisation is there to funnel sales leads through our resellers. We employ direct mail and other techniques to get the sales leads, and our operations in Europe pass along these leads, together with research, to our dealers,' he says.
Apart from call centres, many resellers will have supplied basic CTI-compliant hardware to customers in the shape of PC add-in cards. Supplying these cards is all very well, but where does the added value come from?
According to Maidenhead-based Exepos Software Solutions, its u350 Telephony Tool-box package allows developers to add value to existing Windows applications.
Peter Knight of Exepos says the aggressive price point for its toolbox aims to attract first-time developers into trying the package, which includes support telecoms application programming interface (TAPI) and telecoms systems API (TSAPI) compliance.
'This price allows third-party software houses to include the runtime code in their own commercial applications,' he says.
'Their software will then pop up our name when the module is engaged.'
Knight explains that if third-party companies want to claim Exepos' code as their own - that is, not have the Exepos banner displayed when the runtime code is engaged - they will have to pay between u1,500 and u5,000.
Using Telephony Toolbox, developers can write a TAPI or TSAPI-compliant application to mesh with their existing Windows applications within 10 minutes, the company claims.
Although simplicity of use was an essential criteria in the design of the software, according to Exepos, the package is a powerful and sophisticated system that supports more than 25 technical functions, events and sound functions.
Michael Gray, a representative of Dialogic, says the downloadable version of the new 16-user edition of CT Connect does not come with documentation.
For that, users of CTI hardware must dip deep into their pockets for $400 to obtain the full set of documentation. But this price is significantly less than that of an equivalent retail price package, according to the company.
The aim of the free download/documentation-only pricing on the 16-user Windows NT version of CT Connect is to get the package better known in the CTI community. Dialogic claims that the package is unique in the CTI industry, since it supports TAPI, TSAPI and DDE standards.
To put the offer in perspective, Dialogic claims that licences are available in three tiers, supporting various configurations of CT Connect, with list prices ranging from $3,000 to $15,000.
'At $400 for the documented version, this is tremendous value for money.
We expect a number of CTI users will look into our offer,' Gray says.
He adds that the $400 price is unmatchable by any other CTI software supplier.
Bosch is another company that is actively seeking CTI-savvy resellers.
The Uxbridge-based firm has been marketing Plus Phone, its advanced Windows CTI applications software in the channel for six months.
Bosch claims that the $349 software is revolutionary since it offers users a PC-based telephony system based on TAPI. This offers resellers a Windows application that integrates communication and data processing in a single environment. That makes the software ideal for phone-based marketing, order taking and internal communication.
With Plus Phone, users are able to direct-dial from Windows applications and can program database applications so the appropriate file is opened as soon as an ISDN call carrying caller line identification is received.
Existing databases can be incorporated using the open database interface.
There is also an integrated telephone book feature which means that listed names are displayed on receipt of a call. Bosch Integral Plus Phone is also billed as compiling detailed records of incoming and outgoing calls in a database format. At the click of a mouse, claims the company, calls can be diverted, connected or a conference-call activated.
Bosch claims that when combined with an ISDN board and its software, the PC becomes an answering machine, recording digitised messages on the PC's hard disk, and even making it possible to leave individual messages for specific callers.
The Bosch Integral Plus Phone can be used with Bosch Telecom's Integral T1 digital telephone range. The T1 forms part of the Bosch Integral 33XE, a digital telecommunications system which uses ISDN technology to create an intelligent or virtual private network. This, the company claims, offers an organisation all the benefits of a private circuit without the normally high costs.
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