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Customers find different VoIP benefits

By Phil Hochmuth, Network World
February 14, 2005 12:04 AM ET

Network World - LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. -Network executives who shared voice/data convergence stories at last week's VoiceCon show described VoIP as a new kind of juggling act for IT departments, one where both technical and managerial issues must be handled delicately.

As companies such as American Express, Bank of America, Delta Airlines and New York Life bring voice onto their LANs and WANs, their network executives say the right processes and organizational changes made in the beginning of a project are as important as the choices of IP telephony gear, architecture and applications.

And as for reasons to converge, they are as varied as the businesses involved: cost savings from administration and pared-down telco bills, improved productivity, deployment flexibility and disaster-recovery capabilities are big drivers, they say.

The show drew more than 4,500 IT and telecom managers, which show organizers said is the biggest crowd the event has had.

As has long been the case, many VoIP adopters said the thorniest issues in convergence involve personnel instead of technology.

"Voice and data people don't speak the same language," said Jeff Denecke, vice president and chief architect at New York Life. "Voice engineers don't want to go to IP; it feels dangerous to them."

New York Life last year deployed Cisco IP phones and CallManager IP PBXs to support all its Manhattan employees. This year, the firm will roll out unified messaging to desktops and connect branch offices to the VoIP network. But before a single IP phone was put on a desk, Denecke said he had to get the insurance firm's voice and data teams on the same page. This involved many "locked-in-a-room" team-building meetings.

"When we got done holding hands and singing 'We Are The World,' everyone got it and the project went great," Denecke said.

There was no singing at Bank of America when it set out pilot sites for what will ultimately be a 180,000 Cisco IP phone network. But the bank did draw clear lines of responsibility for IT staff as the project's very first step.

This "allows you to draw a line in the sand," said Craig Hinkley, Bank of America's senior vice president of network architecture and strategic design. "And that's what people want."

This line was drawn between two areas of responsibility for the rollout: VoIP infrastructure services (involving switches, routers and QoS) and VoIP application services (relating to telephony features and support).

The IT staff "wants to know that they are responsible for something and to know their role," Hinkley said. Drawing that line "lets them know their role and know that there is job security through the project's process. The structure has helped put some tension at ease in that area."

VoIP veterans say another important area of prep work for a successful rollout is assessing the readiness of the LAN and WAN - infrastructure that might appear to be humming along fine but that might need tweaking and upgrading.

"You need to make sure the data network is ready for voice," said Allan Rubin, manager of network engineering for Delta, which converted to a VoIP-enabled call center architecture last year. "We had what I considered a high-end data network," he said, but when a network assessment was performed by Avaya (Delta's vendor for IP call center gear), "it was a little dicey. They found configuration errors that running normal traffic - TCP, HTTP traffic or even SNA - didn't bring to the forefront. But [simulating] voice traffic did" make the network problems stand out.

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