Many working teams today require two distinct solutions to manage their communications workflow. The first is a traditional PBX or UC solution for basic phone calls, and the second is one of today’s new generation of persistent team messaging (PTM) solutions. I recently had the chance to review Thirdlane Connect, a complete solution that covers both needs.
Thirdlane Connect is powered by an enterprise ready, full featured, PBX platform However, it has the appearance, UI, and workflow of a PTM solution. Basically, it adds messaging, voice, video applications, file sharing, and powerful CRM integrations to Thirdlane’s successful Asterisk based business and multi-tenant PBX offerings.
I started my evaluation/trial of Thirdlane Connect by going to the login page on my browser. I used the browser based version of the solution, so I did not have to download an app. It is notable that the solution does not behave as conventional browser window. What I mean by that is that it appeared more app-like than browser-like. Specifically, it doesn’t get added as one of the many tabs that I keep open in Chrome. It exists in its own separate browser window. As a result, it felt like a separate app, without the burden of downloading and running another program.
Thirdlane Connect can also be downloaded as a conventional app for Windows, Mac and Linux, and is available for Android devices on Google Play. While many may appreciate the convenience of the browser, others may prefer to download the conventional app for a more consistent experience when it comes to desktop notifications and other features.
The initial view of the UI is very clean and not at all intimidating. While the solution offers a wide range of features and options, most are carefully hidden in the settings menu. As a result, the main view only presents 8 very easily understandable and approachable tabs/options. These can be seen in the left margin of the screenshot above, and they are as follows:
- My Profile/Status: From here you can change your profile image/information, change your status (Available, Away, Busy, Custom), and set the solution to forward any incoming calls to a different number.
- Recent Activity: This tab provides quick links to recent calls and discussion channels with new activity.
- Contacts: From here you can access your contacts’ profiles, initiate direct calls, or open a window to send an email.
- Channels: This is, as expected, a “Slack-like” interface. Users can create new channels, share files within a channel, and start group audio and/or video meetings for channel participants. Note: the offering’s application and CRM integrations make their channels particularly powerful.
- Dialpad: This access Thirdlane’s underlying PBX functionality.
- Call History: This tab offers standard PBX call history functionality, including access to call recordings.
- Voicemail: This tab offers standard PBX voicemail functionality.
- Settings: The setting options are extremely robust. Fortunately they are well organized and include enough explanatory text so that users can navigate and modify them effectively. Features that can be activated via the settings menu are grouped into sections including, but not limited to, the follow: call recording, call forwarding, audio and video settings, integrations with external chat applications and contact sources, notifications, voicemail, and more.
My team used Thirdlane Connect for several weeks much in the same way as we generally use Slack for our ongoing workflow conversations. While it is different from Slack in look, feel, and feature set, it follows the expected PTM workflow so that any user of Slack, Spark, Hipchat, etc., will have no problem adjusting.
Unlike many of today’s messaging solutions, Thirdlane Connect is supported by a full featured PBX solution. It should be noted that the PBX functionality is not an “add-on”, but part of the underlying structure of the solution. Another significant enterprise facing differentiator is the fact that Thirdlane is not only available as a service, but as product for service providers or enterprises to purchase and install on their own premises. While many organizations prefer to simply use a hosted service, others still need to keep communications running through a local server, on-site, for added security and privacy.
A few additional Thirdlane Connect features are worth noting. The first is its integration with CRM solutions. This allows users to pull contacts from their CRM (such as Salesforce, Zoho, SugarCRM, Zendesk, etc.) and dial them directly from Thirdlane Connect. Even more significantly, it can recognize incoming calls, match them to your CRM contact list, and then pop open the appropriate page from your CRM app so you can take notes or update your CRM records. For those that live in Salesforce or other CRMs, this will be a huge timesaver.
Another powerful Thirdlane Connect capability is its support for applications integrated with other persistent team messaging solutions. If your team is already on Slack or HipChat, it can be hard to get them to transition to a new solution. Thirdlane Connect makes this process easier with webhooks that make Thirdlane a drop-in-replacement which can receive messages from most applications integrated with Slack/Hipchat/Jira/etc., and display them in the Thirdlane Connect channels. Once your users realize they aren’t missing anything when they are in Thirdlane Connect, they will be a lot more comfortable with their new communications tool. Integrations with Google workflow products and Office365 will be available to users in the near future as well.
Finally, Thirdlane Connect integrates with your traditional office desk phone. If you prefer the feel of the old fashioned phone, but want the access to your digital contact list, you can initiate a call from Thirdlane Connect, and pick up your desktop phone to continue the call. Thirdlane understands that some businesses still like to do things the traditional way, it even supports faxes!
There are an ever growing number of offerings in the persistent team messaging space. However, these solutions are generally viewed as ideal for small to medium business as many of them lack the traditional PBX functionality required by enterprise. If your organization is looking for a solution that supports the new productivity focused workflow, while supporting your existing need to make standard phone calls, you might want to give Thirdlane Connect a try.