BT has promised to accelerate its rollout of internet-based services for small businesses after sealing an alliance with Microsoft.
Under the terms of the $7m deal, Microsoft will provide the telco with .Net-based software and service packages, including BizTalkServer 2004, designed to provide enhanced connectivity and to streamline operational and billing processes.
BT will use this software framework to roll out email, shared calendar and contacts and other software applications to small and medium-sized firms.
Ovum research directors Neil Macehiter and Mike Cansfield issued a report stating that, with the corporate market increasingly saturated, it is only logical for BT to expand by moving into the relatively untapped SME segment.
"So whilst this announcement may look unexciting, it is good for SMEs and the companies that plan to serve them in the UK. Success for BT and Microsoft will depend on the development and support of an effective indirect channel to market," the Ovum report stated.
"BT's choice of Microsoft as the basis for service delivery in the SME market is very pragmatic, given that Microsoft is the dominant provider of application solutions into that market.
"It will of course be interesting to see whether BT expands the role of .Net for delivery of other services, which would be the ultimate validation of the platform."
The first service in BT's 'à la carte' menu will be an enhanced email offering for smaller businesses based on Microsoft Hosted Exchange, which provides email, messaging and collaboration services.
"Using the Microsoft .Net-based framework as the core of this infrastructure, we will be able to deliver a 'plug and play' facility for launching internet-hosted software services, initially to smaller businesses in the UK," said Duncan Ingram, managing director of BT Openworld.
"Our aim is to offer these businesses a way to reduce or eliminate the initial capital outlays and ongoing maintenance costs associated with managing IT in-house."
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