A Suggestion To Asterisk Appliance Developers

I’ve made it very clear over the months writing this blog that I like the appliance approach to Asterisk, or any PBX, especially for SOHO/SMB applications. It’s just a good sensible approach. Over the past year there have emerged some really good product offerings in this area.

By combining the flexibility of Asterisk or Freeswitch with a well conceived user interface solution a vendor can offer a product that addresses a wide range of possible user cases. By leveraging some Web 2.0 technologies that GUI can be very intuitive.

In addition, one appliance vendor that I’m aware of even provisions ITSP services via a third party. This in concert with auto-provisioning of SIP phones gives them a truly turnkey device. It’s a great solution. If sufficiently well implemented it can eliminate the need for any on-site IT staff or consultants.

For all of the above I offer kudos to those in the space. But now it’s time to take it up a notch. I offer an idea on how to differentiate your device from the pack in a truly meaningful way; take advantage of the large LCD displays and XHTML/XML browsers in the better quality SIP desk phones.

The browsers in the better Polycom, Aastra, Linksys & Cisco phones can provide a very convenient way to turn the PBX into more than just a phone system. They can better integrate it into business processes and deliver a more complete solution to the end user.

Start simple, that’s ok. Download a bit map to the phone branding the phone for the end user. It’s trivially simple. Just do it as part of your auto provisioning. Heck, download YOUR logo to begin with and the let the end user swap it for theirs if they want.

Next, establish a simple application framework so that you can tailor the XHTML service to common end user needs. The first aspect of this is connectivity to information services.

All the manufacturers involved publish developer guides to aid in building browser based applications. Polycom gives away an example that includes display of random quotes, looking up weather reports online, and looking up stock values. If there was a fairly generic way to extend this into an inventory lookup that would be killer on a sales desk!

At present the overhead of getting such an integration rolling puts it simply out of reach of most SMB end users, and even many consultants. Not everyone is a code geek, nor should they need to be.

There are good odds that the various end-point manufacturers will help you in this task. After all, it serves to promote their higher-end phones. Anything that leverages an advanced feature in their device enhances their value proposition and entrenches them further into the end users site.

Next, consider the physical aspects of the site that might come into play. Almost every business needs some form of access control. You can provide hooks to drive a mechanism controlling an electric door release or gate opener. How I would love to let the Fedex driver in my gate when he pushes the intercom button. Why does that have to be so difficult?

Xorcom provides hardware interfaces in the Astribank USB channel banks. This is genius, but even these devices are larger and more costly than many sites require. A few contact closure interfaces (relays) connected should be easily implemented and not drive costs up too much.

What about the ability to bring up a security webcam image on the LCD of one of the newer color phones?

It’s time to start thinking beyond the obvious about what your prospective customer might need. As a telecom/UC solution your device is ideally positioned at the core of the end users business. Leverage that fact and it’ll bring you business.