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Haven't We Been Here Before? A Case for IP Telephony

Contents

  1. The PBX as a Convergence Platform
  2. The IPT Difference
  3. Convergence: The Business Case for IPT
  4. Issues to Ponder

Chapter Description

Integrating voice and data into a single platform is not a new idea. In this sample chapter, Kevin Brown explains why a PBX, despite its high reliability, is not a solution for convergence. He also examines what makes IPT different from earlier approaches to convergence, and discusses application development as the key to successful IPT deployment.

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Convergence: The Business Case for IPT

IP telephony is more than just reduced Moves, Adds, and Changes (MAC). It has become more than simplified or reduced cabling. It transcends reduced maintenance costs. All those are important, and they can help control costs. However, to truly appreciate the potential of IP telephony, telephones must be seen as new clients. Look past the handset and dialing pad, and envision a workstation running on the network and talking to applications—applications that are used to assist companies in running their day-to-day business operations. So the challenge facing businesses today as they look at IP telephony is to understand the technology in its capacity as a client. To do this, businesses need to ask key questions:

  • How will deploying IPT bring about change in the way I do business?

  • How will deploying IPT enable me to better control costs in my organization?

  • How will deploying IPT enable me to more easily achieve the business objectives and corporate initiatives my company has in place?

These three questions represent the fork in the road for companies investigating IP telephony. Asking these questions raises the stakes considerably by forcing businesses to consider the impact that IPT will have on the company's operations, and on its budgets.

The early attempts to integrate voice and data in the 1980s certainly provided productivity gains. They also provided cost savings through simplified wiring, sharing of resources, and a reduction in the cost of data workstations. Yet these integration attempts did so at a cost most organizations found too steep (in response time and availability of host resources, as previously noted.) The point of any technology, and IP telephony in particular, is to enable companies to achieve business results, to impact business processes. As Maurice Ficklin, IS Manager at the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff notes, technology should level the playing field between companies, regardless of size and/or scope.

In this respect, IP telephony fits the bill. From the small company to the large enterprise, IPT can truly positively impact business process—if that is the desired goal of the company. Companies are looking for new ways to generate revenue, to control costs, to satisfy their customers and employees, to drive productivity, and to competitively differentiate themselves.

How IP telephony impacts these key initiatives in your organization is up to you—and your vision of this technology. You will find that based on your paradigm (an often overused word, but applicable here), IPT is either a new telephone system, or a network-based business model designed to drive change and improvement in your business processes.

Throughout the remainder of this book, I will elaborate on this key point, as I discuss the benefits that entice companies to converge, as well as the potential obstacles to convergence.

Convergence as a Change Agent

Convergence will change many aspects of your organization. It will change how you deploy voice, data, and video solutions and also change how you view these technologies. Convergence will change how you manage these technologies in your environment, and how you organize yourself to take advantage of this new model. It will also change devices at the desktop, applications on the network, the expectations of reliability of the network, and the expectations that voice will have in your organization. In addition, it will facilitate change in the empowerment of desktop users when it comes to voice, and change how you cost-justify new technology solutions. Finally (and most importantly), convergence will bring about change in organizational responsibilities.

IP telephony might not be well received by the telecom engineer who sees the network engineer as somewhat of threat. Similarly, the network engineer might not be too enthusiastic about adapting to the different culture of supporting mission-critical voice communications. In the end, how comfortably your organization embraces change goes a long way in determining the success of an IPT deployment.

The best definition I have seen of convergence, as it relates to IP telephony, came from Cari c'deBaca, a product manager within the business unit at Cisco Systems responsible for their IPT solutions. "Convergence brings previously disparate networks together with the specific goal of impacting business in ways previously unimagined using applications previously not considered." Now, whereas this might sound like marketing fluff, in fact, it truly describes what I have witnessed in the past two years alone—new applications, developed by customers and third-party developers, that have redefined the role voice (and voice instruments) play in the enterprise.

Figure 1-5 is a screenshot of an actual application used at Cisco Systems in 2001. It was a Monday morning, just over a year after the Cisco Systems acquisition of Selsius Systems by which Cisco entered the IP telephony market. As employees of the business unit walked into their offices and cubes that morning, they saw this alert on their phones. This was an excellent way to let users know about the new voice-mail system, because it eliminated the need for lengthy print-out notices, e-mails, and training flyers—all which cost money. When users saw the notice, they were reminded of the new voice-mail system, and by depressing the "Details" soft button, they were given details on how to use the new system, thus eliminating expensive training program requirements. This is an example of new-world IPT applications in action, impacting business processes.

Figure 5Figure 1-5 IP Telephony Application Reminds Users of a New Voice-Mail System

NOTE

The true test of IP telephony is this: How has IP telephony changed the way your company conducts business?

The bottom line: Convergence is all about change, and your organization might put up a fight against convergence. There are factions within every organization that inherently fight against change.

The manager responsible for mission-critical operations has been known to resist IP telephony for fear of introducing the unknown into the equation. In reality, this person cannot be blamed for resisting change because he will be held responsible for up-time and ongoing availability. Asking him to embrace and implement a new technology, such as IP telephony, is somewhat far-fetched (especially considering the horror stories proliferated by many publications regarding IPT in recent years).

Equally, the telecom manager has been known to resist IP telephony for fear of the abrupt end to a career. After all, it will mean IP clients and IP applications running on an IP network, obeying the rules of the IP network, managed by IP management platforms. What is overlooked here is that although these are indeed IP clients and applications, they are also voice clients and applications. If nothing else, the last three to four years have shown that the role of the telecom department becomes even more critical with IP telephony. Yet, on the surface, it does not seem so.

The end users, who have seen the same telephone on their desktop for likely the last decade, may certainly resist a new instrument unless new capabilities are introduced at the same time. Asking employees to learn how to use a new phone, and potentially a new voice messaging solution, are not tasks that organizations take lightly.

Obstacles to Convergence

Additionally, technological obstacles might rear their heads against your convergence journey. I refer to these obstacles as "the usual suspects." They are predictable in nature and, with the proper planning, these issues can be anticipated and addressed easily:

  • How do you interface your new IP telephony deployment to your existing legacy PBX environment?

  • How do you retain full integration with voice mail, particularly message-waiting integration, if not all of your users migrate to IP telephony at the same time?

  • How do you ensure that your IP network has the capacity to handle new voice users and their applications?

  • When do you pilot the technology and, more importantly, what should be the purpose of a pilot?

  • Are your processes for supporting the IP network consistent with the level of support your users are accustomed to receiving with their PBX phones?

  • Have you identified all the features your users require?

  • Have you identified new business-changing applications? If so, who is going to create them?

  • Who supports the overall solution?

These are just a few of the questions that will be tackled in the following chapters. Rest assured, many of these issues are lurking in your organization. In fact, the one key that has been well proven in this industry is simply this: Don't rush into this technology without a plan. Develop a plan, execute the plan methodically, and avoid short-cuts. With proper planning and vision, the potential obstacles are easily overcome. Technology does not solve all problems. In fact, technology without a concrete blueprint for deployment can cause more problems than it solves.

Clearly, this sounds so obvious it almost should go without mention. Surprisingly, however, the majority of IP telephony installations that have had challenges were the results of poor planning rather than poor technology. Later chapters detail examples of this.

4. Issues to Ponder | Next Section Previous Section