Rule #1 for upgrading your enterprise communications system: Don’t waste time with an RFP and wading through responses. Instead, the best way to successfully choose and implement a new system is by preparing a system roadmap first. To make an informed decision when preparing such a roadmap, it’s vital to know what systems currently exist, the justification factors for a new system, what’s coming by way of next-gen solutions, and recommended planning guidelines to help you move your communications system forward.
For most of the past decade, the trend for enterprises has been to migrate from traditional circuit-switched PBX (News - Alert) phone systems to those based on Internet Protocol (IP) communications standards, which have been developed for the transmission of media communications and control signaling requirements over an IP network. Though IP systems offer various design options, including IP-enabled and hybrid TDM/IP configurations, the most utilized model is a softswitch based on a traditional client/server architecture topology.
Today’s softswitch design leverages industry standards, primarily Session Initiation Protocol (News - Alert) (SIP) and Services Oriented Architecture (SOA), to enable compatibility between the system and third-party applications. Current softswitches, likewise, use standards-based hardware, including a centralized control server, IP-based endpoints, and media gateways that support traditional TDM endpoints (analog station and PSTN trunk interfaces). Unlike the proprietary equipment required for IP-enabled and hybrid designs, softswitches utilize non-proprietary standards-based hardware often available off the shelf.
With the continuing emergence of unified communications (UC) and in ideal configurations, the softswitch control server supports fully integrated UC services, along with traditional telephony requirements — an all-in-one design that simplifies system configuration and provides optimal communications capabilities.
A new IP communications system should be viewed as a business asset and not an expense item. Therefore, effectively justifying the move to an IP system comes down to hard cost savings, productivity and peace of mind, mainly in the form of:
· Reduced hardware costs, owing to fewer hardware elements; the use of nonproprietary third-party servers, media gateways and SIP telephone instruments; and PC-based softphones in place of more expensive desktop devices.
· A single shared voice/data IP network infrastructure, which reduces installation costs, ongoing maintenance expenses, and time-consuming move/add/change (MAC) operations.
· Enhanced system survivability and resiliency, based on fewer points of potential system failure; fully redundant geo-distributed control server options; pooled media services and gateway resources; and alternate transmission signaling paths among servers, gateways and endpoints.
· A centralized data center system, meaning more efficient administration, more manageable growth and network expansion, shared application resources across locations and greater user mobility across the network.
· SIP trunk services that provide significant cost savings through a reduction of PSTN TDM hardware interfaces and fewer off-premises trunk circuits for local, long distance, and E911 transmission requirements.
· Teleworking from anywhere, which can reduce costs for office space and overhead, and increase the production of road warriors via connections to the enterprise system using a PC softphone, Web portal or smartphone.
· Unified communications for cost/time savings and productivity features such as presence management, IM, calendar access, unified messaging, self-managed audio conferencing, Web collaboration, and desktop video communications.
A unified all-in-one IP solution lets an enterprise easily make all system subscribers available to support contact center operations. Beyond a formalized agent group configuration, co-resident enterprise users with unique work/knowledge skills can offer expertise for customer service, or simply provide back-up whenever call volumes spike and agent staffing isn’t sufficient. All call scenarios also get the benefit of things like monitoring, reporting and an analysis of each call, regardless of who participates or how the call is handled across the enterprise.
If an IP system is configured on a SIP-based network for contact center operations, an added advantage is multi-modal functionality and the ability to collaborate and exchange information among dispersed call participants. Networked unified communications tools also are easily applied to contact centers: presence/IM helps agents determine the availability of other agents or experts to address a specific issue; conferencing services facilitate connectivity among multiple parties; mobile solutions support roaming or off-site agents; and teleworking options let you support home agents virtually anywhere.
Several enterprise communications innovations are now in the development or just-released stage, and one such solution worth note is business process automation, or BPA. In essence, BPA is the automation of multi-step people-centric processes (document management included) using enterprise telephony, unified communications and contact center technologies and practices to distribute work. An IP communications system is actually a sound platform for BPA with its inherent SIP/SOA capabilities, interoperability with third-party applications, and ability to support BPA’s objectives of reducing the latency, human error and costs associated with communications contacts and the flow of information.
Before ever launching your new IP system, it’s just good business sense that a comprehensive communications strategy be well-defined and in place — and that it addresses the objectives of your enterprise’s overall business thinking. To identify how a new system can contribute to objectives, such as revenue enhancement, cost reduction, competitive positioning, market expansion and improved customer service, following a few key guidelines can help.
Avoid a “one size fits all” system approach by specifying the distinct communications needs of different system subscriber communities. At a minimum, evaluate station user requirements based on individual user roles, work functions and responsibilities, plus cross-relationships with other users. Weigh the needs for traditional telephony, unified communications and contact center capabilities across lines of business, too.
Educate and gain the support of all stakeholder groups at the beginning of the planning process. Establish a task force to identify existing communications issues and collect users’ input for desired features in a new system, and to determine how the system will correct or improve current shortcomings in the communications/business process.
Plan an incremental implementation approach across the enterprise network for manageability, and to avoid too much change at once. If possible, avoid a flash-cut conversion of a multi-system network into a single virtual system design. And for large networks, plan to utilize a mix of old and new communications system platforms while gradually migrating on a site-by-site basis based on communications needs.
Conduct group (user) trials for new applications and capabilities, phasing in a few features at a time such as presence/IM and web collaboration. Along with each “feature launch,” ensure sufficient training and help desk support for system interfaces (telephones, soft phones and mobile clients), at the station user level, executive level, and for administrators and contact center personnel.
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A Customer IP Communications System Roadmap
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi