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Interview: Vladimir Butenko of CommuniGate Systems
22 April 2010
Vladimir Butenko’s CommuniGate Systems offers hosted unified communications services via telecoms operators to 150 million users worldwide
White-label offer brings UC to 150m consumers
Let’s start with a question about the
history of CommuniGate Systems. When was the company set up and
how has it evolved?
Vladimir Butenko: The company was started in 1991 in
Cologne, and in those days we were making communications tools
for sharing files and devices on the German cable networks. We
moved the company HQ to the San Francisco area in 1994 and in
late 1998 we moved to developing the first generation of our
Can you summarise your main product lines —
and the company’s main route to market.
Butenko: CommuniGate Systems provides a hosting
platform for delivery of unified communication products. This
platform enables operators to deliver communication solutions
to small business user in the software-as-a-service
Having grown from selling directly to the small and medium
business, we have an incredible worldwide reseller and partner
network that continues to deliver solutions directly to the SMB
Additionally, over the last five years we have signed up more
than eight tier-one operators, and more than 250 tier-twos
around the world.
Much of the company’s expertise appears to
be behind the scenes. How many end users are aware of the
company’s service offerings?
Butenko: We are essentially a white-label offering,
so it is unlikely that many of our 150 million end users
actually know they are using a CommuniGate Systems product. We
believe in providing solutions that improve our
customer’s brand, positioning and ultimately drive
Unified communications is a term that many have used
over the past few years. How would you explain it, simply, to a
potential customer and what are its key advantages?
Butenko: The industry is quite confused when it comes
to what unified communications actually is. If you speak to one
vendor, they will tell you unified communications is an IP PBX
with presence and mobile extensions, and another will tell you
it’s combining email with instant messaging,
file-sharing and groupware, and another will tell you
contact-centre or call-centre software is an example of
This approach is less unified and more patched-together
We take a pragmatic approach and believe unified communications
should be just that. Our solutions integrate messaging,
groupware, IP telephony, social networking, video, mobility and
much more into one platform. We like to say that our products
integrate all forms of communications apart from smoke
Have you been tempted to resume selling direct to
enterprises or to SMEs, via an app store or through another
channel, or are you settled on your approach via telecoms
operators, resellers and partners?
Butenko: We actually do still sell directly to the
SME. Our SME-focused products, MessagePlus and VoicePlus, are
available for purchase directly from our website, and in some
places we distribute our products directly to the business user
through software retailers.
Maintaining a direct relationship with SMEs is important for
our business, as it ensures the products we deliver are aligned
with requirements and not solely on the views and opinions of
analysts and market research companies.
What advantages are there for a tier-one or tier-two
operator in coming to you for the product?
Butenko: Our products have been designed from the
outset to deliver against the SME requirements, in an easy to
manage, easy to grow solution.
Instead of starting with a system designed for the large
enterprise with a large IT department and scaling down to the
SME, we’ve started by making a platform that is
commercially and technically viable for an SME that can scale
up to support millions of customers on a very low hardware
Our solution is one piece of software, with one set of hardware
requirements. Compare this to some of the other vendors which
require six-to-eight server products, and that’s
not even a complete solution.
Our footprint for the entire UC experience is smaller than that
of the set-up instructions of others.
Do you host the applications for them, or can they host
the platform on their own infrastructure?
Butenko: We are very flexible with deployment
options, and can support both models. A number of our customers
have decided to work with our own hosting offering to reduce
their risk exposure and time to market, and then migrate the
service in-house at a later date. We find this approach to be
quite pragmatic and it helps our customers to prove the value
of our solution quickly and easily.
Does the service integrate with other
software-as-a-service offerings — and if so can you
give examples or details?
Butenko: We provide various open APIs that can be
used to integrate our products with virtually any other service
you can imagine. To date we have integrated with many different
services, including billing, invoicing, CRM, social networking
— to name just a few.
These rich and open APIs allow for the all types of clients,
from web and desktop, to mobile, IVRs and we’ve
even seen set top box applications too. The UC client we ship,
called Pronto!, is fully modular and has an open API that is
limited only by the imagination. GTB