Linking telephony and data gives users more control over the different communications services they use. Now large businesses can link their voice and messaging services with various office devices using iobi Enterprise, a software and service package that Verizon Communications unveiled this week. Iobi integrates caller ID, voice mail, E-mail, and instant messaging with office phones, cell phones, computers, and other communications devices.
Verizon introduced the iobi application platform last year. The enterprise version enhances communications for businesses that have employees who travel or work remotely, have multiple locations, and deploy different communications services, says Edward McGuiness, senior VP of marketing at Verizon's Enterprise Solutions Group. The iobi Enterprise call-management, unified-messaging, personal-information-management, and productivity tools are linked to an existing voice and data network and can be accessed via a PC client, Web browser, or voice portal.
Having telephony link to data communications lets employees remotely answer calls coming into their offices or forward the calls to another device from any location. They also can retrieve voice messages via their PCs.
Farleigh Dickinson University in Madison, N.J., has tested iobi Enterprise for three months. With 11,000 students, more than 1,000 employees, and about 3,500 phone lines, the university needs control over multiple communication services and also must preserve its investment in the existing network infrastructure, says Neal Sturm, Farleigh Dickinson's associate VP and CIO. "What's magic about iobi is that it's an application and service in one neatly bundled package that brings all communication together for us," he says.
Farleigh Dickinson plans to deploy iobi Enterprise at its residence halls, which will make it easier for the university to contact students. The majority of students have migrated to cell phones and "we need to look for ways that will bring students back to telephone lines," Sturm says. Additionally, the service will be used by the university's crisis-management team, where calls will automatically be routed to the team instead of manually forwarded as they are today. Iobi will make it easier for administrators who travel between campuses to have calls automatically forwarded from their office phones to their cell phones or other devices, Sturm says.
Verizon is entering an emerging market to compete with IP-telephony equipment and software vendors such as Avaya and Siemens, voice-messaging vendors such as Lotus Software and Microsoft, and even the major networking players such as Cisco Systems, says Rob Rich, executive VP at research firm the Yankee Group. What differentiates iobi Enterprise is that it's a managed service as opposed to software and hardware that a customer has to string together, Rich says. "There are pieces of this kind of capability in the different voice-over-IP offerings from other service providers and software vendors, but I haven't seen anybody that has the breadth and the flexibility of what Verizon is offering," he says.
Iobi now comes in three flavors: iobi Home for consumers is available in six states, iobi Professional for small and midsize businesses is offered in New York and the Northeast, and the latest iobi Enterprise is available in areas between Virginia and Maine, where Verizon provides Centrex voice services. The service is priced between $7 and $8 a month per user.
Current Verizon Centrex customers can sign up for iobi Enterprise on a contract basis with Verizon Select Services, Verizon's long-distance affiliate. Centrex customers can reap long-term benefits by signing up. "As they move from a traditional switched Centrex service to an IP Centrex service, iobi will bridge the gap and give them a common interface," Rich says. "Iobi also has the potential to enhance the service portfolio that Verizon delivers to its customers in the future."