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Today we’re discussing an advanced iteration of a really familiar piece of technology: phone systems. Specifically, we’re taking a close look at Frontier AnyWare—a new VoIP solution for enhanced business communication. Frontier AnyWare goes far beyond a handset sitting on your desk by improving collaboration through unified, cloud-hosted communications designed for your business needs.
In this episode, Skip sits down with Frontier’s Group Vice President of Customer Premise Equipment Sales, Keith Blackmon, to talk about how Frontier AnyWare offers businesses more than just a phone system. With over 30 years in the telecom industry, Keith is an experienced telecom professional and an expert on communications equipment and solutions.
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Man: Welcome to Gain Your Edge, the podcast created for IT professionals, business owners, and leaders looking to sharpen their edge over the competition. Our ever-perspective host, Skip Lineberg, introduces you to industry thought leaders. Listen and learn from their insights as Skip gets inside the minds of our guest gurus, revealing new ideas, opportunities and insightful updates for you. It’s all sponsored by Frontier, your edge in success. Now, here’s our host, Skip Lineberg.
Skip: Welcome to another exciting episode of Gain Your Edge, your twice a month podcast on all things IT. This is episode 37 of Gain Your Edge. I’m your host, Skip Lineberg, Senior Marketing Manager with Frontier Communications. Our goal with Gain Your Edge podcast as always is to help you gain a competitive edge for your business. This week, we’re sitting down with Keith Blackmon, Frontier Communications’ own group Vice President of customer premise equipment sales. Keith is an experienced telecom professional and an expert on communications, equipment, and solutions. In short, he’s an all-around impressive guy. This morning, he’s joining us to talk about an advanced version of a really familiar piece of technology, the telephone. But this goes way, way beyond a handset sitting on your desk and it has some far-reaching implications for business leaders like you, who believe that maintaining a level of personal contact with customers and among employees is very, very important.
Good morning, Keith. Thanks for joining us on the show this morning.
Keith: Good morning.
Skip: Hey, Keith, before every show, we like to warm up the mics with a little starter question that’s just for fun. So here is my question for you this morning. The telephone has been around since the early 1900s and it must have seemed like magic to folks back then. I wanna know from you, if you could go back in time and call any person at any time in history, who would you call?
Keith: That’s an interesting question, Skip, and I gotta tell ya, the first person that I would call would be my father. And the reason for that is it’s very symbolic of what we’re talking about today. Number one, he passed away in 1981 when I was only 18 years old and… But what’s important is, to this conversation, is that he was in the telecom business working for Mobil for 28 years.
Skip: Wow, how about that? Oh, my gosh.
Keith: And so when you think about 1981 to today and you think about, you know, how information is moved, how we access information, how we share with each other and collaborate, I mean, cell phones were not invented. There was no such thing as a smartphone. Email and social media were possible ideas. Wi-Fi everywhere, almost everywhere, was not even on the rater. And so when you think about all those changes and the fact that I’ve been in the telecom business in some shape, form, or fashion for my entire career, since I was, you know, a young man at 24 years old, I believe that those conversations would be robust, entertaining, enlightening and a lot of fun because he used to share with me how important it was to be able to simply make a phone call and communicate. And you think about what’s changed since then, I believe it would be a wonderful conversation in addition to catching up on, you know, family and progress and all those kinds of things as well. But I believe it would be a fascinating conversation.
Skip: I love that answer, Keith. That’s a very real answer right away in the show. So thank you for sharing that. Hey, just to set a baseline on what we’re talking about, in terms of the show content here today, Keith, can you tell us what Frontier Anyware is and what sets it apart from a traditional solution for a company’s voice network?
Keith: Certainly. Frontier Anyware is pretty simple. It’s an affordable and it’s completely hosted system that can be designed for small, medium and most enterprise size businesses. So far today, we’ve been focused on small and medium-sized businesses. And what sets it apart really is the, you know, the call quality, the simplicity of the use and then the overall reliability, in addition to the overall upfront cost being much less than a traditional phone system.
Skip: Okay. Is this solution a form of VoIP, voice over internet protocol?
Keith: Yes, it is. It’s primarily just a voice application. But what this brings to the customer is a lot of flexibility and advanced collaboration applications that may not exist on certain VoIP platforms.
Skip: Okay, got it. Hey, when we talk about a phone system that’s fully hosted with the controls hosted in the cloud, what does that mean exactly, Keith? Could you contrast that to the old way or the prior iteration of what we’re talking about today?
Keith: Sure, sure. The controller primarily in the past or with a traditional phone system is housed on-premise. And what this does is it allows the controller to be hosted virtually. And again, I talked about some of the benefits but it allows for redundancy and gives the customers a tremendous amount of flexibility while lowering their overall operating cost.
Skip: Yeah. And Keith, that old controller you described, I think I’ve seen a few of those. That’s the big box that sits in a closet somewhere on-premise. In the past, all the traditional phone wiring circuits would run in and out of that, right?
Keith: Correct, correct.
Skip: And we don’t need that today with Frontier Anyware, is that correct?
Keith: And today… Right, exactly.
Skip: Keith, help us understand a little deeper, paint a picture for us of what someone who has Frontier Anyware sees on his or her desktop. Is this a traditional handset or… What’s different? What does the physical device look like that the user interfaces?
Keith: Yeah. So the physical device on someone’s desk may look very similar to what some of the more advanced premise-based systems look like today. In fact, the systems that we sell are…you have the capability of using them with Frontier Anyware but also, they’re the same devices that we would use on a premise-based system. So the devices look very similar. In fact, they are the same. And they range in, you know, basic capability, basic phone set to some more advanced executive desk sets with, you know, easy feature-rich advanced applications. So to the layman that walks in and sees a device on someone’s desk, they’re not gonna think it looks too much different.
Skip: Okay. Is there a system component for the user that also resides on their computer screen?
Keith: Yeah. There’s a desktop client that allows for many of the applications to come alive and that you can view and make changes, you know, to office directory, Outlook, Unified Messaging or IM. A lot of people use the term IM instead of Unified Messaging. But it gives you those capabilities on a desktop that many of us use today in our corporative environment.
Skip: Awesome. Okay. Now, what about when I get up from my desk and I walk away from the phone, how easy is it for me to configure Frontier Anyware to integrate with my smartphone so I can move my calls with me?
Keith: Yep. It’s a simple programming. Program it in once and then it’s stored. And then you can transfer to your mobile phone relatively easy. And then you can also set it up to where you call one number and you can dictate where you want that number to ring, be it your mobile phone, your desk phone or even your home. So again, you have the flexibility to set where you want that phone to ring and move back and forth.
Skip: Keith, I’ve heard something like that. I wanna make sure that I’m accurate. Is it fair for me to call that a one number reach?
Keith: Yes. Yes, it is.
Skip: That, for me, is sort of a dream come true because I am frustrated with trying to coordinate three phone numbers. I have my desk phone. I have my business mobile phone. I have my personal mobile phone. And for a long time, I’ve wanted to just be able to give all my contacts, my customers, you know, my friends and acquaintances, my business connections, I wanna just give them one number so they can always reach me. They don’t have to make multiple attempts to try to get me on a phone call. So this would do that.
Keith: Yeah. It gives you the flexibility to do that and takes that noise of call your office, call your home, call your mobile phone. Just call you and you can dictate what number is.
Skip: Well, that’s a very, very powerful benefit right there. Keith, let me ask you this, is Frontier Anyware primarily a small business solution or does it scale to meet the needs of larger enterprises?
Keith: Yeah, ideally, today, it’s…we’ve been selling to small and to medium-sized customers. Now with the advanced applications being rolled out, we’re going to be able to sell to some larger enterprise customers. It’s not gonna be a fit for all enterprise customers but there is definitely a play for enterprise businesses that have certain requirements and needs that this would fulfill. But prior to today, we’ve been focused on small and medium-sized businesses.
Skip: Okay, got it. Hey, folks, we’re gonna pause here for a short break but I encourage you to hang with us because when we come back, we’re gonna ask Keith a key question, which will be, what’s the benefit for your business as it regards Frontier Anyware? We’ll be right back.
Man: The best edge in business is inspiration. If you’re inspired by this podcast and today’s topic, Frontier is ready to help you put that inspiration into action. For a free consultation and to learn more about communication solutions that give your business an edge over the competition, call us at 888-200-0603. That’s 888-200-0603. Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Frontier, the edge you need to succeed. Now, back to the podcast.
Skip: Welcome back to Gain Your Edge. Let’s continue our discussion of cloud-based voice solutions, specifically Frontier Anyware, with Keith Blackmon of Frontier Communications. Okay, Keith here’s that question that we set up before the break. Here goes, what’s the top reason you hear from customers that companies today are moving voice solutions to the cloud?
Keith: Thanks, Skip. That’s a question that we ask ourselves frequently. We always come back to… It seems like the majority of the answers that we get from customers and through selling solutions is that their number one priority, customer’s number one priority today is looking for ways to lower their operating costs, while not giving up, or the ability to gain, advanced applications compared to what they’re using today. So a feature-rich solution while lowering operating costs continues to be the number one reason why we’ve been able to position Frontier Anyware successfully in the market.
Skip: That’s quite a nice value proposition right there. Are there any other benefits that we hear about?
Keith: Yeah. I think some of the other things that when you dig a little deeper around the operating cost, it’s not only the fees, the monthly fees, but it’s the ability to make changes and streamline, you know, routing of calls at the stroke of a keyboard versus having to have a “phone guy” or an IT consultant or a director of IT on staff to make those changes. It makes the process much easier and it gives them flexibility much faster than what they’ve ever had in the past.
Skip: That’s great too. And it’s a perfect segue, Keith, into my next question. A big part of the conversation for any business is the bottom-line. I’m thinking about the financial aspects, some of which you’ve touched on a little bit, about how a company would pay for Frontier Anyware. This is more like a subscription service, isn’ it, where the customer pays by the month, by the user? Could you elaborate on that for us, Keith?
Keith: Yes. Think of the service as being sold on a per-seat basis or a per-user basis within a business environment. Yeah. The basic seats start at around 19.99 and go up. We have three different packages that go up to 29.99. And the differences are as you move up stream on one of the three packages that there are many more features and applications added as you move up in the monthly service fees. As far as the equipment goes, you know, you still have the ability to lease or purchase the equipment over time. So when you combine them together, you can even stretch out the capital cost of the equipment into a true operating expense environment.
Skip: Perfect. Yeah. So in the past, you know, contrasting like we did before, going back to the old way with the big box that you buy in the closet and you hope that it’s not gonna be obsolete in a couple of years, this is a whole different proposition. Talk a little bit, Keith, about how this helps a business mitigate the obsolescence risk.
Keith: Yeah. So in the past, you’re right, you know, the hardware and the solution that you purchased was pretty much fixed if you will. What this does is as…since it’s software-based and not hardware-based, the applications can be developed and integrated into the current environment down the road, which takes the risk away from technology obsolescence or lowers the risk because you’re able to upgrade features and functionality via software instead of hardware. So it certainly gives you an advantage over time that, you know, your investment will have a longer shelf life and be more adaptable to your changing needs as a business.
Skip: Perfect. And you know, it makes me think, Keith, about the smartphones. You know, I’m an iPhone owner, user. And gosh, I would hate to have to buy a new phone every time Apple put out a new version of iOS. You know, instead of that, I just go for the iOS upgrade, which takes a few minutes and it’s pretty easy and it’s free. So this is kind of the way things work nowadays, right?
Keith: Yep. Absolutely.
Skip: Keith, could we summarize that to say that Frontier Anyware is really a smarter business strategy nowadays than owning traditional communications gear?
Keith: Well, it certainly can be for small and medium-sized businesses where your resources, both people resources, and your capital expenses are constrained. It certainly can be. There’s still an adaption, you know, ramp that we’re on as far as the acceptance of giving that up. And as you move upstream into your larger businesses, they have…although they’re adapting a cloud strategy, certainly, their acceptance and willingness to give up control starts to diminish a little bit. But it is increasing as time goes on. And we expect it to accelerate over the next few years.
Skip: Perfect, Keith. You know, you and I have both seen a stat recently, a statistic quoted from this research-based article where 78% of small and medium-sized businesses are gonna be utilizing the cloud by the year 2020. So I think this topic today punctuates that and is emblematic of that whole trend.
Keith: Absolutely. And it positions Frontier, you know, to deliver those services and accelerate, in parallel, with those growth expectations.
Skip: And Keith, let’s talk about availability of Frontier Anyware. This is a bit of a bold move for Frontier Communications in that we are selling this very widely, aren’t we?
Keith: Correct. Recently, we just announced that we are launching Frontier Anyware nationally. And so what that really means is, is that we have the ability and some distribution, some added distribution channels, that we’ll be selling, not only in our footprint but also talking to customers out of our Frontier footprint. So you need to think of this product versus some of the traditional Frontier products and services. This one… The limitations are not as narrow from the standpoint of we can sell this out of our footprint. And it doesn’t mean that our direct sales channels are gonna be selling in markets that we’re not in. But what’s important about this is that if a customer has five locations in Tampa in our footprint and has two locations in Miami, we can sell them a solution.
Keith: It’s that simple. So that makes the offering, you know, it expands the ability to reach customers that prior to, we may have not been able to reach and provide a solution for.
Skip: Very good. Very good. Keith, I wanna ask another question as we are discussing a cloud-based solution here with Frontier Anyware. Callers might be wondering what that means physically, tangibly, where does the instance of the software, the controls of the system, where does that reside in our Frontier Anyware configuration?
Keith: Yeah. So, Skip, you know, as most businesses would tell you, if they’re not thinking about it, they should be, and that is that business continuity is critically important. And so with Frontier Anyware, just in case there’s a power outage or a natural disaster or something beyond control where the business is taken out, the nice thing about Frontier Anyware is that it’s backed up by class four data centers. And the data centers are geo-dispersed if you will on each of the coastlines, which allows for failover and backup. If something goes down, the system can automatically pick it back up and make sure that we as a business or you as a business is not down and you can still manage your calls and get the data that you need. So there’s little to no disruption in your business. And the other thing, I think, that’s really important is the reliability and standards of these data centers have been recognized and are unparallel in their service reliability along with ensuring that they’re also, and have to be, HIPAA compliant, which basically makes the data…they can pull up the data and the history of the records that are going on during such times. So, you know, what it provides is continuous backup and support in case of like we said, those challenges that a business may face.
Skip: So really, a premium reliability, right?
Keith: Absolutely. Yes.
Skip: Good. Keith, I wanna sort of wrap up this with a real-world example or a success story. Can you talk us through one of your favorite Frontier Anyware case studies if there’s one you think that our listeners might enjoy relating to?
Keith: Yeah. When you think about what we’ve talked about so far and how it plays out in the real world, one of the customers that kinda comes to my mind is one recently sold and serviced down in Florida in one of our new markets, Tampa. And the name of the customer was Don’s Travel World. Now, Don’s Travel World is a couple of different businesses tied into one. So there’s five locations. Of those five, four of those locations are travel agency offices and one is a ski resort booking location dedicated only to skiing.
So when you think about some of the pain points that that customer had and you think about some of the advantages that we talked about, we were able to give him a solution that integrated those five locations. He was able to share those resources amongst all five, take care of and mitigate, if you will, a bad customer experience with a much, much better, a much more improved customer experience because during peak times, these locations could take each other’s calls without any disconnect or any break in their business continuity at all.
So sharing that call flow across the locations was critical because prior to, they were one location, single-driven. The other thing is, is that the…this system provided a redundant, reliable outcome much more so than what the customer had before. And then we spoke highly of this last benefit that we’ve spoken a lot about. And one of the other things that his business was able to do was he flat out just lowered his operating cost and his monthly expense compared to his other systems. When you tie it all together, it made for a value proposition that was better for customers and better for his bottom-line.
So, one of the things that was discussed when we were talking about the solution, he kinda drilled it down for us and made it pretty simple, as he wanted to grow his business. He wanted to simply make sure that he had the flexibility going forward that a system could adapt to those needs and that it would be simple, without having to make major changes and upgrades going forward. And so this system that we provided for Don’s Travel World is, again, scalable, it can grow. Right now we’re talking about five locations and 28 seats. But his long-term vision for his business over the next couple of years is to substantially grow that. And this system will allow him to do that, as well as add-on additional locations.
Skip: Wow. That’s a terrific example, Keith. And thinking about the five locations, one of them being focused on skiing. There’s a tremendous seasonal element there. So I would have to imagine during peak skiing season, that one location in the past would have just gotten slammed to the point where calls couldn’t get through. But with the new system and the way you described the network configuration, those calls are free to flow about and find an available agent in one of the other locations. So that’s a tremendous benefit to that customer.
Keith: Yeah, Skip. And so just, you know, one thing that we didn’t talk about is the added value to the Anyware solution is the service can also provide some business analytics and some performance analytics for him to be able to track, not only the seasonality that you discussed around call volumes, but he can also track that and tie that back to different advertising that he does, call to action, you know, direct mail, whatever he uses. He can track the call volume back to when those promotions and advertising campaigns were ran, making his business much more effective and efficient and predictable going forward when they do certain activities.
Skip: Oh, perfect. Keith, thank you so much for joining me today on Gain Your Edge to talk about this Frontier Anyware solution, which is a better way, clearly a better way for voice solutions. Somewhere, I’m sure Alexander Graham Bell is just wowed. And Keith, before I let you go, I wanna ask you the wrap-up question that I ask every guest, which is this question, what do you do when you need a break from the world of technology and the busy world of work? Specifically, what’s your favorite way to spend a relaxing sunny Saturday afternoon?
Keith: Well, it’s an interesting question. It’s pretty simple for me. With both kids up and away now, a relaxing Saturday afternoon, for me, is sitting on my bicycle, riding it somewhere. It doesn’t matter where, but I’m on two wheels trying to put one pedal in front of the other and to the point where I’m not capable of doing it anymore. That’s a relaxing Saturday afternoon for me.
Skip: Outstanding. Keith, thank you so much.
Keith: All right. Thank you, Skip.
Skip: That’s all the time we had today for this episode. You can download this podcast at frontier.com/gainyouredge. Please join me next time on Gain Your Edge. Until then, I’m your host, Skip Lineberg, saying, have a great week.