Microsoft has announced a phone system with speech recognition technology, designed to give small businesses a flexible alternative to a public branch exchange (PBX), the company said.
The Microsoft Response Point phone system is being launched at Microsoft's second annual Small Business Summit, held in Washington and online. Microsoft expects about 30,000 small businesses and partners in all to participate.
The system includes both software and phones, and was designed to be easy to install and manage, said Jeff Smith, a senior product manager at Microsoft. Also included in the Response Point system is a PC-based management console so anyone familiar with a PC environment can make changes or manage the system.
Phone calls on the system are designed to be easy to make by pressing the "Response Point" button on the phone and telling the system who you want to call. For example, a user could say "Call Jeff at work" and the system will dial that number based on the contact information entered into the Response Point directory, Smith said.
Response Point can be set up either as a Voice over IP (VoIP) system or one that uses traditional phone lines, he added.
The team that built the Response Point system acted as an independently funded startup within Microsoft, which gave it the advantage of developing the product "from the ground up" for small businesses without having to work with other product teams, Smith said.
According to Smith, only about one-third of small businesses use PBXs or phone systems because they are expensive and difficult to install and manage. "You need a lot of technical expertise," he said.
Microsoft saw an opportunity to make phone systems as accessible to small businesses as PCs are, Smith said.
The Microsoft Response Point system will be available this year. Microsoft is not yet disclosing the pricing, but Smith said it would be "competitive." He said typical small-business PBXs cost from about US$5,000 (£2,500) to more than $10,000 (£5,000).