Siemens expands OpenScape line

Siemens tries to raise its profile in the unified communications world

As unified communications moves from the bleeding edge to the mainstream, Siemens Communications is set to expand its OpenScape platform into a line of three products, including a less expensive one with a focused set of features.

Systems that combine voice, text-messaging, videoconferencing, and other forms of communication over IP (Internet Protocol) networks are being tuned by vendors as they gain traction with actual enterprises. Both Microsoft and Cisco Systems have rebranded and upgraded their unified communications lineups within the past 18 months. OpenScape, which came out in 2003 as a tool for large enterprises, is being tailored to different types of needs.

On Tuesday, Siemens is set to introduce OpenScape VoiceLink, which leaves out some of the broad functionality of the original OpenScape to focus on integrating a desktop phone with the Microsoft Office Communicator client on a user's PC. The vendor will also roll out OpenScape Enterprise -- a new version of the original OpenScape product -- and OpenScape Enterprise Hosted, a relatively quick-to-start system that carriers can use to provide a subscription service.

VoiceLink is designed for employees who take a lot of calls but spend most of their time at their desks, said David Leach, presence solutions evangelist at the Siemens subsidiary. It works with the Siemens HiPath 8000 IP PBX (private branch exchange) or with analog phones, letting users receive pop-ups on the PC when a call comes in and pick up the call by clicking on an icon.

With OpenScape Enterprise Hosted, Siemens will provide carriers with server hardware and a provisioning platform from Ensim so they can deliver OpenScape as a hosted service. Siemens previously had sold its software and left much of the other work to carriers, but the service providers found it took too long to set up -- nearly two years in the case of Telstra Corp., according to Leach. A group of partner companies could sign up with one carrier's service in order to ease collaboration among themselves, he said.

For its main OpenScape product, now called OpenScape Enterprise, Siemens is adding a toolbar that sits on the Windows desktop so users can get to the communication tools of OpenScape without their IT staff having to integrate those tools into applications. The company also made its software development kit easier to use so more developers can do integration work, and introduced special add-ons for putting communication functions into certain applications. Among them are Salesforce.com's Salesforce and Microsoft's SharePoint, and more of these "accelerators" are coming later, Leach said.

A hosted service might play a role in an enterprise's unified communications system, said IDC analyst Nora Freedman. Many companies will piece together those systems from the features of their PBX, a hosted service and a collaboration environment such as Microsoft Exchange or IBM's Lotus Notes, she said. But having to synch up with one carrier's hosted service might not work for a fast-growing group of small partners, she said. Siemens has a relatively low profile in the unified communications world, she added, going up against giants such as Microsoft and Cisco.

OpenScape VoiceLink costs $65 per user. Siemens expects service providers to charge between $30 and $50 per user per month for services based on OpenScape Enterprise Hosted. Pricing for OpenScape Enterprise begins at $75 per user plus an $8,000 server license. All are available immediately.

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