Microsoft and Aspect Team on Unified Communications

Microsoft and Aspect Software Inc. today initiated a global strategic alliance focused on better enhancing communications between contact centers and the broader enterprise. Under the agreement, Chelmsford, Mass.-based Aspect will integrate its contact center software into Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, a unified communications platform that supports instant messaging, voice over IP (VoIP) and Web conferencing for the enterprise.

The five-year deal is not exclusive but it is renewable, explained Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of the Unified Communications Group at Microsoft. However, Microsoft considers Aspect's contribution to be a leading option for new and existing enterprise customers, he added, speaking as part of a teleconferenced meeting with the press.

In addition, Microsoft is investing in Aspect as part of the deal, although Pall refused to say how much.

"Contact centers are an extremely important category when we talk to customers," Pall said. "And more and more decisions around voice depend on a very rich contact center solution also being available. So we are very excited about this alliance, and we also believe that the innovation of unified communications with contact centers is a great way to realize the target value that lies there."

Specifically, Aspect will integrate its .NET-based Unified IP contact center solution with Microsoft's software-powered voice (or VoIP) engine, according to Jim D. Foy, president, CEO and director of Aspect Software. He added Aspect will also recommend Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 as "the leading option" to Aspect's customers.

The integrated solutions will aim to solve a basic problem: enabling better communications between contact center personnel and experts within an enterprise. So Aspect's solution will add an "ask-an-expert" capability to make that happen.

"More than 10 percent of all contacts within the contact center do not get resolved inside the contact center," Foy said. "In fact, they require the involvement of other parts of the enterprise. What the 'ask-the-expert' or 'click-to-the-expert' mechanism does is provide that instant access to experts while maintaining the whole context of the customer call to the contact center."

Microsoft already has a relationship with Nortel called the "Innovative Communications Alliance" that addresses the integration of Nortel's PBX solutions with Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007. Pall characterized Microsoft's server product as an open solution that enables any vendor to add enhancements.

Aspect, in addition to having a strategic alliance with Microsoft, is also a competitor with Nortel in the unified communications space.

"We already are competitively competing with Nortel in the context of this space, and we would expect that to continue," Foy said. "And the competitive advantages that we at Aspect believe we have against Nortel would apply within both the UC [unified communications] environment and the more conventional environments that exist today."

Foy identified Aspect's focus on enhancing communications between the contact center and the enterprise as one of those competitive advantages.

Sometime this year, Aspect plans to release a new version of its Unified IP product that will interoperate with Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007. The company also will provide services and systems integration associated with Microsoft's solution.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.