Cisco and Microsoft drive targets SMEs

Microsoft and Cisco Systems are teaming up to offer advanced call centre capabilities to small- and medium-sized organisations.

Microsoft and Cisco Systems are teaming up to offer advanced call centre capabilities to small- and medium-sized organisations.

The deal will offer multipurpose server software and CRM software from Microsoft, and networking gear from Cisco.

The partnership is also intended to lift the companies' channel partners, with system integrators and resellers taking advantage of architecture blueprints, system verification by the suppliers and packaged offerings.

SMEs will be able to set up a server more easily and get on the internet safely, claimed Rex Bloesser, director of business development for the US midmarket at Microsoft. They will gain CRM functions integrated with converged voice and data communications, improving productivity and customer experience, said Peter Alexander, vice president of Cisco's Worldwide Commercial Market Segment.

Many of Microsoft's smaller business customers are also Cisco customers, and many channel partners offer both companies' products. The companies aim to provide incentives for channel partners they have in common to offer such systems; they also want each supplier's partners to join up to offer complementary products.
Many SMEs can benefit from these kinds of integrated systems but lack the in-house expertise to implement them; this is where channel partners are needed and where they have their opportunity to add value, Cisco's Alexander said.

The companies' plan includes the following immediate steps:

  • Develop reference architecture blueprints to provide channel partners with guidance for planning, building, operating and supporting sets of technologies for customers.

  • Introduce a joint product offering that combines the Cisco 831 Broadband Router and Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 Standard Edition software, a unified server that includes file, application and other servers in one platform. Microsoft CRM 1.2, released in December, can run on Small Business Server.

  • Work together to further integrate Microsoft CRM software with Cisco's Call Manager Express IP telephony platform. This work, which is still going on, is intended to give SMBs advanced call center capabilities, Bloesser said.

The router and server joint product offering will ship in March and represent a 20% price break versus purchasing the products separately. The software reference architectures will be available to Cisco and Microsoft channel partners in the second quarter of this year.  

The convergence of existing technologies as well as the emergence of new ones may help bring about more deals like this one, according to Gartner analyst Michael Haines. For one thing, traditional communications suppliers want to tap in to channels, which they have not used in the past and which are key to reaching small and medium-size customers.

"I'm surprised we haven't had more of these types of announcements," Haines said.

Stephen Lawson writes for IDG News Service

Read more on IT strategy