VOIP apps branching out, panelists say

VoIP-data mashups will be tailored to specific industries, they say

There was a time when vendors billed VOIP primarily as a money-saver. But according to some companies attending this week's VON Fall 2007 conference, VOIP's ability to mash up voice with other data applications could be its biggest asset for businesses.

During a VON break-out panel, representatives from VOIP platform providers described how digital voice services could be incorporated into data applications that are tailored to specific businesses and occupations.

Iperia, for instance, showcased a demo application that runs on its Iperia VX platform that would give real estate agents real-time updates of when prospective buyers are showing interest in particular homes.

Essentially, the application would kick in after prospective buyers call the direct-dial number displayed on the "For Sale" sign of the house they're interested in. Because every house has its own individual DID, the software would recognize the house the buyers were looking at. It would then give them the options of taking a virtual tour of the house that would be displayed on their cell phone screens; of getting information about the house's size, cost and features; or of directly calling a real estate agent.

If the prospective buyers choose to call the broker directly, then the agent receives a message on his computer notifying him of the buyers' number, as well as the house the buyers are interested in. He can then click their number directly to call them back and arrange a live tour of the house.

Iperia CEO David Jodoin said during the panel that real estate companies are just one of the many different businesses that could benefit from this kind of application. Others that could use the IperiaVX platform for similar services include travel agents, doctors and lawyers, he said. Panelist Kevin Nethercott, the founder and COO of LignUp, said his company was interested in making a similar application that would act as a VOIP-based portal to provide brokers with updated data for individual clients.

Panel moderator Thomas Howe, CEO of Thomas Howe Co., noted that VOIP applications could also be used to automate services that have traditionally drained time and resources from IT departments. Howe said that one of his company's projects was developing a VOIP-data mashup for a large Texas IT company that had previously used 10 employees solely to work at a helpdesk and reset employee passwords. With the new mashup program, employees would simply have to make a call and enter their ID numbers to have their passwords reset automatically, thus freeing up helpdesk resources for other activities.

"This is a problem that we're solving using both Web services and voice," Howe said. "We have traded a $10-an-hour technician for a 10-cent phone call."

While panelists touted the benefits of their VOIP platforms, they acknowledged that many of the new VOIP applications have yet to really catch on in the marketplace.

"Fundamentally, the question is not how creative we can get with these services, but how willing you are to use them," Jodoin said. "It's been a struggle to get something as simple as click-to-call to be considered valuable by customers."

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