Parliant dials for success at Macworld

FordEdit.jpgBy Karen Secord
From SCAN's Print Edition

Best of Show really means best in the world at the Macworld Conference and Expo. And Parliant Corp.’s user-friendly product offering, Phone Valet Message Center, is the telephony system that everyone was talking about at the 2007 edition in January. In fact, PhoneValet made a big impression on the annual gathering of the clan right out of the starting gate, garnering Best of Show awards in 2004 for PhoneValet 1.0 and in 2005 for PhoneValet 3.0. This time around Parliant nabbed the closest thing the Macinotsh community has to an Oscar ─ the Editors’ Choice (Eddy) Award ─ for PhoneValet 4.0. Not bad for a company that didn’t begin carving out a niche for itself in the telephony marketplace until 2002.

More than 48,000 Mac users attended the Expo where Parliant’s biggest upgrade yet, the right-out-of-the-box PhoneValet 5.0, was on display.
A small Ottawa-based company with big convictions and an even bigger reputation for innovation, Parliant’s success is testament to the vision and endless enterprise of high tech entrepreneur Kevin Ford.
The PhoneValet is an always-on office assistant for Macs only.
“We use to have a PC product, but we dropped it,” notes Ford. “There were too many support calls not about our product.”
According to Ford, “Small organizations that can’t afford to have an IT department can’t afford to have computers crashing and reloading operating systems a couple of times a year. Smaller organizations that aren’t afraid to be different tend to buy Macs because they are more stable, more intuitive, and easier to keep running. The platform is more stable because you have one vendor who takes the hardware and the software and creates a system.”
He adds, “The biggest Mac fanatics are those who used PCs for years and then switched. They get it. They understand where they came from, what they had to live with and they know what the Mac offers.”
Four guys and website make up Ford’s virtual corporation. It is a company that has already won every major award in its market. Still, Ford, founder and CEO of Parliant, insists, “We’ve only just begun.”
Ford, who admits to being bored by repetitive tasks, left lucrative and often times stimulating jobs in both the public and private sector because, “I like to create things. I like to solve problems.”
A mechanical engineering technologist with a master’s degree in naval architecture, Ford left the federal government and worked for Apollo Computer and Hewlett Packard. But he says he “longed for long term technology customer loyalty. In the end I decided it was bigger to be a big fish in a little pool so I formed my own company.”
Ford formed Computer Active with a fresh approach. “Buy what you can. Write what you must was our philosophy, which was a very different approach compared to what everyone else was doing. We really bought into object-oriented programming earlier than most people.”
When eventually he decided to transition from making stuff for others to making a product of his own, the goal was to “create a real utility that was just there every single day and you would not have to think about it.”
Ford surrounded himself with a creative team and created a virtual corporation.
His team began by looking at speech recognition and text-to-speech technologies, discovering what would and would not work. They analyzed the concept of a “smart house,” but agreed that speech recognition in that context is problematic. However, they knew they were on to something when they were able to get the computer to pick up the phone and dial.
Phone Valet creates the appearance that businesses have an auto attendant, call transfer and multi-line. All of those features in a conventional Private Voice Exchange system would typically cost $5,000 or more. Parliant ships PhoneValet Message Center 5.0 for the small office for $170 via an online ordering process at
Apple is the number one manufacturer of laptops in the world, Ford says. He’s done his homework and he knows that “25% of all laptops purchased in North America are Mac. Apple sells about 1.6 million Macs a quarter.”
That’s plenty of room for Parliant to grow its client base.

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