This month Comms Business Magazine takes a look at the case for IP telephony. Who is it suitable for, what are the benefits. Are there killer applications that make a compelling case for users to buy?
Business today has to continually evaluate their business goals and their strategies to achieve them and the resources at their disposal. Do you have the right technology within your company to develop and help grow your business, increase turnover, reduce your costs and provide an improved service to your customers. Do you really understand what the latest developments in communications can do for your business?
Many observers say that of all the changes taking place affecting the way in which we conduct business those taking place in telecommunications are having the most profound effect. Significantly these changes have impacted on a global scale and many of the older technologies have been swept away in a very short space of time.
For many small to medium size businesses these changes present numerous challenges. Adopting new technology for the sake of it can lead to expensive mistakes. This, in turn, can lead to poor market positioning for these businesses. Faced with the bewildering array of communications products, applications and services on the market many companies opt to retain the status quo, put off by the fear, uncertainty and doubt of change.
VoIP, and IP Telephony are two of the most talked about, and most misunderstood, technologies available today.
Level Playing Field
The arrival of the intelligent PBX, able to integrate these applications and provide the connectivity to individuals and workgroups on a geographically wider scale is delivering a level playing field. Small to medium business can readily adopt the technology for a fraction of the cost a larger enterprise would need to invest and some observers would even say that given their traditional ability to be more responsive than their larger competitors the smaller business may even have the advantage.
Technology today opens up greater options and choice, the latest telephone systems whether they be ‘IP Enabled' or software based IP PBX's can enable business to implement new applications that could greatly enhance their business processes and subsequently, improve their productivity.
For many resellers IP telephony is viewed as a black art – ‘Why not stick to what we know?' For these resellers this strategy will continue to work for some time to come – after all, IP telephony has been around for some time and not too many people to date have been killed in the stampede to adopt the technology.
For business', IP telephony is a transition, or as the marketing people say, an evolution.
Siemens Communications channel marketing manager Dave Dyer would appear to be one such evolutionist, "We are starting to see customers across different market sectors including local Government, retail and business services, now driving to adopt IP telephony. Initially organisations are attracted to cost saving opportunities, particularly in the wide area, along with the associated savings linked to reduced administration.
"These organisations are also beginning to realise however that the benefits of IP Telephony can be far more reaching. IP telephony enables these companies to adopt new working practices, by removing the hurdles associated with working across different locations. It can be used to enable dispersed individuals to work and communicate together in effective teams which, in turn ensures the delivery of high customer service levels.”
"IP telephony is also the ideal delivery mechanism for high levels of integration with other network applications. We have seen voice messaging being enhanced to deliver One-Touch Call Recording and email notification. IP Telephony servers, located at the heart of the IP network can then deliver these voice messages straight into the email server. This technology is particularly effective in terms of sharing information within an organisation more effectively and ensuring customer's needs are responded to faster and more proactively.”
One size fits all?
Chris Harris, at Inter-Tel would argue that IP telephony should not be adopted for the sake of it. “Evolving technology is the best and most manageable way for businesses, especially SMEs, to review all technology and telecommunications. Resellers need to provide a flexible and scalable solution for clients if they are to maximise the long-term prospects of the sale. Indeed for the client this long-term prospect of finding a technology partner who provides what the business needs and not what it thinks it needs, should be a big plus when selecting new technologies.”
Wells at Aastra concludes that capital costs savings can be achieved through reducing the investment in multiple network infrastructure by converging voice and data communications on to a single IP Network, this can also reduce the cost of administration of the network, increase flexibility and scalability.
“The ongoing costs normally associated with ‘adds, moves and changes' on traditional telephone systems may also be reduced as the user has the possibility to make configuration updates using software installed on their own PC. Additionally, the physical task of adding new extensions to the system or moving desk could be as easy as plugging an IP phone in to an Ethernet socket on the local area network (LAN), thereby reducing the number of cabling ports required. This will allow a business greater control over their own communications network, enable hot-desking, provide faster response times and increased flexibility to the staff.”
End users in the SME space are now hearing much more about IP telephony and not just from resellers trying to ‘sell' new technology. The press has recently had mass coverage of the eBay aquisition of Skype and the Google launch of a VoIP service – we even had a VoIP article on the ITN news so questions are being asked about if and how they can deploy VoIP.
For many end users the option to purchase a complete new IP PBX and the required infrastructure is just not viable as often their existing system was purchased a relatively short time a go so users want an option to ‘overlay' VoIP technology on to their existing network.
Alan Doyle of Iridiacom the UK distributor of Boscom VoIP gateways told Comms Business Magazine, ‘We have seen a sharp increase in sales of the Claro gateways to customers wanting to implement IP Telephony without making a big initial investment. Take for example a recent project we are working on where a customer has 10 sites worldwide, every site has a system from a different manufacturer, for them to implement a one manufacturer IP PBX offering would be a substantial initial investment. They already have an established IP data network with spare capacity and they can overlay a VoIP gateway network very easily and maintain their existing voice systems. One very key point is that in the future they may want to migrate gradually to an IP PBX platform and they can protect their investment because the gateways can be used in SIP mode to provide local trunk access in each location.”
|Mike Ballantine, New Business Development Manager, Aastra Telecom says “Let's keep it simple. How many ADSL lines are now installed in the UK? How|
many people are teleworking at the moment? How many are therefore able to combine the reality of ADSL with the promise of working at home – it's a huge number. The ability to embrace the home worker and give him/her the same model of handset with the same features as his office bound colleagues is IPT's simplest solution so the widespread adoption of ADSL and teleworking really is a golden opportunity for the channel.”
Ballantine concludes, “Make it simpler by using an ISP who is going to deliver an end to end managed solution, including QoS, and it just gets better. Aastra has created strong relationships with ISP's who can provide Business Class broadband telephony and are keen to work with our resellers to develop the right network requirements alongside our IntelliGate IP PBX range . The teleworker is part of the PBX, his calls are via the PBX incoming DDI and outgoing, he has the same CTI tools as his colleagues
This is IPT, let's not argue over semantics, I don't know what it is supposed to mean, pure software PBX, IP enabled PBX, IP centrex, the list goes on. This is about delivering cost effective communications for the majority of customers who want it. This is the growth area!”
Back to Basics
Following on from Ballantine's ‘keep it simple' approach, Simon Longhurst, channel marketing manager at distributor IDL, is going back to basics, “Before we start talking about IP telephony, applications and business, let us ask ourselves one question: To you, and me…. what is technology for?
The answer should be – to make life easier . Once this occurs, and I can do more in less time, find information in one place and people can reach me more easily and only when these things are achieved, will there then be business benefits.
So, unless a business is opening new sites, the one single driver for IP Telephony on its own is simple – geography. Why? Because unless we sell other applications, a customer would only buy IP Telephony to:
• Reduce costs in their multi branch network
• Provide cheaper and more effective telephony to small branch site
• Enable better mobile working for existing field workers
• Provide home working to those previously excluded
Even if the business does have these geographic challenges, the costs of new QoS networks, VPNs and the IPT technology, may provide a slim business case for moving to a converged network.
Longhurst says that the other challenge facing IT decision makers is a simple, yet startling one. “The end user doesn't care whether his dial tone is provided via IP or TDM. They had a phone on the desk that performed perfectly well for seven years. Someone then came along, with little or no consultation, and changed it for something else that had a big screen on it. Now they have to learn a new set of buttons, the new menu in the voicemail, and it actually may not be able to do some of the simple things that they used to use it for (i.e. a group pick-up by pressing *8, that was always really, really useful.)
So, the ICT manager has to justify his purchase not only from a financial and infrastructure standpoint, but also by giving users, and the business, things to make life easier . This is where IPT comes into its own, by using open standards to finally allow telephony devices and applications to be integrated into other business applications.
Despite the smoke and mirrors of all the new, funky applications, users need easy ways of using the new technology that they now have at their fingertips. Providing help such as screen based voicemail access is a way of achieving this, especially if the new voicemail uses a completely different menu structure, which is normally the case. Corporate directories can also be added to the telephone using LDAP, providing not just extension number, but also mobile, home and car registration numbers. Boring, but useful.
Most business users now use Microsoft applications such as Outlook, so we need to ‘telephony enable' such products, to make it easier for a user to dial from their contacts, and manage their interactions all in one place.
While we are integrating the display phones into applications, what about providing all of our staff, wherever they are, with an update on the day's business, or to remind them of an event. This could be particularly useful in some vertical markets such as hospitality, business centres or retail, where there simply isn't the business case for maintaining a pc at that point, just to provide some finite information to the user, or customer.
What about the company that bought a new telephone system only to find that it was unable to page through the handsets? This loss of ability to let the employees know when the Sandwich Man was in reception caused uproar. So again, integrating applications to not only provide those new features, but also to ensure that key, traditional features are also retained, is vital when deploying IP telephony.
So, while we discuss CRM, SIP, thin client and LDAP, let's just remember that we are here to do one thing for the guy on the end of the plastic – to make life easier.”
|Andy Bills of Swyx, “ For many businesses, VoIP still means cheap calls…”|
applications on their own, such as the demand for mobile or remote working that can easily justify a move to IP. The demand for flexible working is just one challenge that is affecting more and more businesses, from supporting field-based personnel to ensuring that key members of staff are always available, wherever they are. With software-based IP systems you can route inbound calls to any location, whether it's in the office or on the move. The same principle applies to making calls - it really doesn't matter where you are, you simply log on with your user ID to any laptop or PC to make a call, whether it's over broadband or Wi-Fi connections."
"The richness of IP telephony solutions provides unlimited sales opportunities for the channel, far more than traditional PBX offerings. We have customers that are really exploiting the other benefits that true convergence can bring. For instance we have several customers that are saving ten of thousands of pounds simply by using the built-in digital call recording.”
The IPT market has a massive amount of potential, and with the right knowledge and the right solution, there is no reason why resellers can't be successful.
According to Tim Webb, general manager at Toshiba, “IPT is more complex than the traditional telephony market due to the networking considerations that need to be taken into account for successful deployment. Resellers need to be aware of this, and need to be educated in successfully testing and configuring the network to handle VoIP and IPT.
Resellers certainly need more support in the IPT market than in a traditional telephony market, again because of the network considerations. Vendors must ensure that their resellers are fully supported in evaluating the network and, in some cases, providing the solution sale to the end-user. This is why Toshiba are ensuring that resellers have the knowledge that they need to succeed in this market.”
Webb concludes, “ VoIP and IPT provide valuable benefits to customers. Whilst the initial outlay may be more expensive than a TDM system in some configurations, the return of investment comes from the management of a single network for both voice and data, and the reduced total cost of ownership that IP telephony provides. It also removes obstacles to growth, making it easier to add more lines as the company grows, and allowing much more flexibility in employees working location, either at home, on the road or in the office, whilst retaining the feature set they require to do their job.”
Business considerations for IP Telephony - Check list:
Does your business or organisation…?
• Have distributed locations needing only one centralised PBX
• Wish to network multiple offices using PBX-to-PBX communications
• Have one infrastructure that can support voice and data between two or more locations
• Want a smooth migration towards VoIP and investment protection
• Want centralised cost control and management across multi sites
• Want remote workers to become part of the centralised telephone system and share common functionality
• Need a major upgrade to your existing data network
• Lack expansion capacity with your current voice network
• Have a need to add business applications
Additionally, are you…?
• Building a new office or moving to a new location
• Nearing the end of lease of current PBX or support contract