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Keeping in tune with IP telephony

Jan 05, 20044 mins
IT SkillsNetworking

Columnist Johna Till Johnson talks about IP telephony advantages, misconceptions, where it’s being used most successfully and more

Network World embarks on its first Technology Tour of the year later this month, “Voice over IP: IP Telephony from Dollar One to Dollars Won.” Keynoting the seminars will be Network World columnist Johna Till Johnson, head of consulting firm Nemertes Research. Network World Events Editor Sandra Gittlen recently spoke with Johnson to get her take on where IP telephony stands.

What sort of momentum have you seen for IP telephony rollouts?

Five years ago, only about 25% of companies I spoke with were even considering IP telephony. In recent Nemertes research of midsize to large firms, more than 60% of companies I spoke with had already rolled out IP telephony – and the majority were planning to do so within one to two years.

Which industries do you see taking advantage of IP telephony the most?

Healthcare, retail, hospitality and manufacturing industries are leading. A big reason for this is that the biggest benefits come from increased productivity and mobility – something that resonates in customer- and process-centric industries. These companies measure productivity by how many patients they can care for, how many shirts or meals or hotel rooms they can sell, or how many widgets they can produce – and by customer satisfaction. IP telephony helps boost all of the above.

What’s making IP telephony easier to roll out?

There’s more competition now, so the quality of the products and the sound [quality] has improved immensely. Additionally, the vendors offer hybrid solutions, so IT managers don’t have to win budgets for forklift upgrades. Instead, they gradually can migrate to IP telephony as PBXs need to be replaced. IT managers also are more comfortable with the technology. There are enough [IP telephony] success stories – illustrating cost savings, technical achievements and new applications that leverage personnel in more productive ways – to convince more companies it’s real and here to stay.

What is the biggest misconception about IP telephony?

Many IT managers forge ahead with pilots, or in some cases, full-fledged rollouts, without performing a baseline [quality-of-service] analysis. They go into the project thinking they have an abundance of bandwidth already on their data network, so adding voice will be no problem. But in fact, they might need to add bandwidth, re-engineer portions of their networks, assess and buy new management/monitoring tools, and reconfigure routers.

What is the coolest or most offbeat use of IP telephony you’ve seen?

A health insurance company was having difficulty finding nurses to staff its call center. Rather than build a new center in a different city, the company began hiring nurses regardless of their geographic location. The nurses work from home. The IP-telephony-enabled call center routes calls and corresponding data to the remote agents via DSL lines and IP softphones. It was a low-cost way to resolve what could have been a costly problem.

Some IT managers say they want to wait until the industry settles out a bit before rolling out converged networks. Is this a sound strategy?

I wouldn’t recommend sitting on the sidelines entirely. The industry is beyond early-adopter stage, and many products and services are enterprise-grade already. Companies should assess vendors and test products now. They need to conduct a baseline QoS study.

What might network executives be surprised to learn if they attend the Voice over IP Technology Tour?

That the real benefits to IP telephony don’t come from ‘hard-dollar’ WAN service cost savings, but from the ability to ‘virtualize’ human interaction and voice-enable day-to-day applications (like e-mail and timecards). And that new services are rolling out that dramatically improve business performance and productivity.

Five burning questions

Johna Till Johnson recommends asking prospective IP telephony suppliers the following:
1Who are your  customer references?
2What’s your customer service/support policy? (This is especially important when dealing with value-added resellers.)
3What is your three-year plan for the product line? (Ask about standards support, management tools, etc.)
4What is your strategy for integrating IP with Wi-Fi?
5What’s the real cost of the product, including ongoing support costs and software upgrades?