Cisco Targets Call Centers, Unified Messaging

SAN JOSE, CALIF. (05/26/2000) - Cisco Systems Inc. has organized a new division called the Internet Communications Software Group to expand its product line in two areas: customer-contact centers and unified messaging.

The division's Customer Contact Business Unit in Lowell, Massachusetts, brings together two companies Cisco purchased. These companies are WebLine Communications, which specializes in software for Web-based customer service, and GeoTel, which markets software for routing incoming customer phone calls to appropriate customer service representatives.

The second business unit, dubbed the Unified Communications Software Business Unit, has its roots in Cisco's acquisition of Amteva, which developed what is now the Cisco Unified Open Network Exchange (uOne) voice-messaging product.

In the Customer Contact Business Unit, Cisco plans to build a software platform that will be able to integrate Web-based e-mail, chat, IP-based voice and collaboration capabilities with the phone-based customer-relationship management applications found in call centers. The applications frequently found in call centers are from vendors such as Siebel Systems Inc., Clarify Inc., Oracle Corp., PeopleSoft Inc. and Baan Co. NV.

According to AMR Research Inc., those vendors' total sales reached $1.57 billion last year and are expected to climb to $2.5 billion this year. That's hardly the total market, though, because a category of "others" - including Web-focused start-ups such as Cisco's WebLine - accounted for another $2.2 billion last year.

These established application vendors face a formidable challenger in Cisco.

However, Eugene Lee, vice president of marketing for the Internet Communications Software Group, is emphasizing a strategy in which Cisco expects its products to co-exist with products from Oracle and PeopleSoft in the call center.

However, Cisco does plan to compete with Lucent Technologies Inc.'s PBX and Nortel Networks Corp. automated call distribution equipment, and any vendor that makes the time-division multiplexers used in call centers. Upcoming Cisco products will offer a platform for converging voice and IP, Lee says.

In the arena of unified messaging, Lee says Cisco plans to extend the capabilities in the uOne voice messaging product to provide universal access to Web content from a phone. "Our uOne software platform will eventually support XML on the back end to enable transactions on the Web," Lee says.

Cisco isn't publicly setting a delivery date for that kind of functionality yet, though.

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