Although those of us involved in telecom spending think we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, lack of budget, to no one's surprise, remains the primary impediment to moving forward with voice-over-IP implementations, according to Webtorials' just-released 2003 VoIP State of the Market Report (available for download at www.webtorials.com).One suggestion for breaking the logjam on spending is to reposition the VoIP business case to balance strategic benefits with tactical benefits. This would move VoIP from its traditional position as a tactic for toll bypass to being a strategic portion of the overall business plan, focusing on issues such as customer retention, staff effectiveness and infrastructure management.Significant progress has been made in moving the VoIP discussion to the strategic realm. When users were asked about the extent to which they view their voice and data networks as being strategic vs. tactical, there was a clear shift from 2002 to 2003 in terms of the voice networks being viewed as more strategic and less tactical. However, compared with last year, data networks also shifted to being more strategic and less tactical. The differential between the extent to which voice networks were viewed as being strategic as compared with data networks being strategic remained constant over the two years. So while voice networks are gaining in their strategic nature, they're still significantly lagging data networks.This balance between strategy and tactics also was borne out in several other areas. When users were asked to check off all that apply from a list of expected benefits, three benefits topped the list in a statistical dead heat with roughly 60% of the respondents choosing each. One of these, "ease of deployment of integrated applications," is clearly in the strategic realm. "Deployment of enhanced voice functions" also has a strong strategic component. At the same time, "controlling the cost of moves, adds and changes" is still in the tactical realm. However, other tactical benefits, such as toll bypass and reduced staffing, scored relatively low.With this two-year view, we can draw some conclusions. The move to voice is becoming a more strategic portion of the overall communications infrastructure. Voice is becoming more than simply a utility that's provided at the lowest possible unit cost. Instead, it's becoming a key portion of an integrated information infrastructure. However, especially in tight economic times, companies are not making wholesale swap-outs of traditional voice to VoIP purely for strategic reasons. The business case for the strategic gains is augmented significantly by some nuts-and-bolts tactical savings.So perhaps the ultimate convergence we'll see with VoIP will go beyond the convergence of voice and data. Instead, maybe we'll see the convergence of strategic and tactical concerns, with both contributing significantly to the business case for moving forward. And it's this tactical\/strategic synergy that ultimately will move the VoIP market forward.