The essential tools used by a typical business person have undergone tremendous change in the past several decades. The mainframe computer gave way to the desktop computer, which evolved into the laptop and is now becoming supplanted by the tablet. Paper memos and answering services evolved to email and voicemail on the way to becoming today’s unified communications.
And the introduction of the cellular phone transformed enterprise communications through the widespread use of mobile voice, and later data, services. It is ironic that the earliest of business tools, the telephone tethered to the office desk, is the least evolved. This seeming stagnation in form and function has led to the oft-repeated prediction of the desk phone’s imminent demise. But time and time again, the office phone has proven to be more resilient than its critics. It’s not dead…it’s just boring. Enterprise users are overwhelmingly choosing to retain their desk phones, while continuously upgrading their underlying network from PSTN PBX to IP PBX to hosted VoIP services. This conversion to IP-based communications dovetails with a trend away from proprietary systems. SIP has emerged as the communication standard for IP phones, making it possible for a single phone platform to serve multiple systems and markets. Adoption of SIP trunking services grew 220% worldwide in 2010 (Infonetics Research, April 2011).Taking a cue from the burgeoning demand for mobile and cloud-based apps, enterprise users are demanding similar functionality from their office phones and vendors are taking notice. Phones that combine large touchscreens with an intuitive graphic user interface are the future of desktop communications. Not exactly a computer, but much more than a phone, these ‘Smartphones for the desk’ meet a huge gap in the office environment, especially among key verticals such as law, manufacturing, and professional services. Combined with an enterprise-focused app store that makes finding and downloading popular and relevant business applications easy (no more wading through dozens of Angry Birds clones!), the office phone is transformed into a flexible, scalable communications platform.Key to this transformation is the integration of everyday business productivity applications that the enterprise user is not likely to use his laptop or mobile phone to access. Functions include integrated contacts with one-touch dialing, instant screen sharing where anything displayed on a user’s PC can be instantly shared via the office phone’s Web browser, and hosted conferencing which allows the conference call host to view a pop-up display that lists all conference call participants and enables the host to manage the call by muting speakers, splitting calls into subgroups, or even removing disruptive callers.

By providing a better and more productive experience for enterprise users, the smart office phone presents a key opportunity for carriers seeking ways to maintain their high-value enterprise customer base. Carriers and their distribution channels can now reach these customers with an easily-integrated, future proof solution which appeals to corporate IT decision-makers who no longer need to place a bet on a system that will become outdated before a healthy ROI is realized.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of the office phone’s death aren’t greatly exaggerated, they’re just plain wrong. The office phone, that indispensable enterprise tool, is alive and well and about to become very exciting.

Anthony Gioeli is the CEO of CloudTC.

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