It used to be that softphone deployments sat within the IT group. Today, softphone use is growing among all employees, with some 70% of organizations using softphones for an average of 22% of their employees.
Although that percent seems relatively small, the growth is significant. This year, an average of 430 employees at each company benchmarked has a softphone; last year, that figure was only 100. One reason for the increase is that softphones themselves have improved. Rather than keypads on a screen, as they originally existed, they now are more integrated into directories and call histories.
Softphone adoption also is linked to the increased pervasiveness of UC. As companies deploy applications such as Microsoft OCS or IBM Lotus Sametime, it becomes a natural extension to link the capabilities of a softphone — and indeed, in some cases, the OCS or Sametime dashboard is the softphone. Meanwhile telephony vendors increasingly offer their own UC dashboard applications that offer:
-Presence status awareness integrated with telephony, instant messaging, and sometimes video. This allows users to see when others are available, on the phone, or in a meeting
-Dial via name by clicking on a name in a buddy list or via a director
-High-quality voice communications through HD voice codecs
-Meet-me conferencing – the ability to click on a few names in a directory and instantly invite co-workers to a conference call
-Integration with instant messaging and video, enabling a user to start a conversation via IM, change to a voice call, or even start a video call.
Traditionally, one of the key problems with integrating softphones in desktop phone environments was that many users already had headsets connected to their desktop phones. However several vendors now offer a single headset that can support both integration with traditional phones as well as integration with softphones or other PC-based audio such as audio players or interactive web conferences.
Another key issue is softphone support. Older operating systems such as Microsoft Windows XP lack the ability to prioritize voice (and video) applications over other processes running on a PC. Support groups are forced to deal with CPU utilization issues on desktop or laptop computers – foreign territory for telecom personnel. Desktop virtualization, growing in popularity among many companies, may not support softphone or desktop video conferencing use, leading to potential conflict if telephony planners aren’t coordinating with those responsible for desktop operating systems.
Thus, a successful softphone implementation strategy requires plenty of advance planning on both the architecture and support sides of the house.