Thinking Phone, Seeing Big Opportunity in Cloud Communications, Is Amping Up Headcount

3/21/11Follow @xconomy

Imagine if your business phone system could track your employees’ sales actions, help you consolidate offices, connect you with offshore manufacturing facilities, and make your mobile phone act like an office landline.

Cambridge, MA-based Thinking Phone Networks is aiming to do that (and more) with its cloud-based communications platform. It’s a somewhat crowded space, but Thinking Phone says its price point, analytics technology, and target customers set it apart from expensive, incumbent technology (from providers like Cisco and Avaya).

The Thinking Phone technology offers elements like enterprise phone systems that allow any phone, even a mobile, to act as the four-digit extension of a corporate line, eliminating the need for expensive hardware and providing an automatic disaster recovery service by enabling phone calls to be rerouted in the case of a shutdown at a corporate office. The company built its software platforms from scratch, with the intention of deploying on the cloud, rather than having to rework its entire infrastructure once cloud computing really took off among business service providers.

Thinking Phone also integrates the phone systems of a company’s workforce with other business applications, like Salesforce.com, and applies analytics technology to the activity. So management can know just how long it takes for an employee to act on a sales lead—which is handy for businesses like real estate agencies whose physical offices have largely diminished in favor of online lead generation.

“It gives a realistic view into what people are doing every day,” says president and CEO Steve Kokinos. “We’re analyzing all the calls that are made and correlating that data with the appropriate application.” The analytics give management an explicit look at things like how much time salespeople are interacting with potential customers, and how those calling into corporate help desks are being handled.

The technology has been deployed at roughly 2,500 offices to date, with an average size of 25 people. Thinking Phone typically serves companies with employees of 1,000 to 1,500 customers, who are squeezed by the big price tags of incumbent technology in the unified communications space, says Kokinos.

Thinking Phone touts its cloud communication system as costing one-third as much as traditional enterprise hardware and communication equipment, and it charges companies on a per-user per-month basis, as if the system were a software-as-a-service application (which it is). And customers can use all offerings that go into the platform, or only pieces of it, depending on their needs.

Beyond phone tracking and analytics, the Thinking Phone platform also offers video conferencing. One law firm customer of Thinking Phone was able to cut a staffer who had formerly had a full time job facilitating video conferencing among different offices. Healthcare firms, medical technology developers, and financial services firms are also big markets using the Thinking Phone software.

The company has helped one corporate customer gain a better portal into the activities of its manufacturing facility continents away, according to Kokinos. “The team can work directly with people on the manufacturing floor,” he says. “Because they’ll be able to collaborate more readily, they’re hoping to shave months” off product development.

Thinking Phone also boasts of slicing travel costs for customers who use the technology for videoconferencing rather than flying employees out for site visits. “Telepresence and videoconferencing gets people off planes,” says Kokinos.

Thinking Phone, a 50-person company, has been doubling in headcount year over year for the past few years, and looks to have 80 employees by the end of this year, he says. Thinking Phone raised $1.7 million last year from Boston investment bank Capstone Partners, it’s first outside funding since launching in 2005.

“There’s tremendous opportunity in the unified communication space in general,” says Kokinos. “We see growth happening in the cloud.”

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