Selecting An Enhanced
BY FRANK CHILDERS
One of the most critical decisions facing CASPs is choosing the platform
that can reliably deliver the enhanced services that will distinguish one
CASP from another. Platform choices and related confusion will only
increase, with growth in the CASP market projected to surge from $250
million in 1998 to more than $7 billion in 2003 (US Bancorp Piper Jaffray).
How can you strategically select the mission-critical platform and inherent
system architecture that best matches your business model? What can help you
stand apart from marketplace frenzy, confidently evaluating your platform
options? Carefully answering the following three questions can guide you. At
least, it will help you narrow your list of potential platform providers to
those companies best equipped to help your CASP succeed.
Who can best offer the core services and functionality that are most
important to your business model and targeted customers?
A clear understanding of your exact needs and points of differentiation
will be your greatest aid in selecting the right platform. Start by
articulating exactly what you mean by "converged communications."
Ask potential platform providers to share their definition. You'll learn
this simple phrase means different things to different people. Negotiate
common terminology up front and you'll avoid a basic misunderstanding that
can throw off your entire selection process.
Next, construct a detailed technology road map of where your company
needs to go. You're unlikely to have all decisions made at the beginning.
Usually the review process itself helps clarify your needs. Identify where
"voice" will impact your business offering. Define where your
customer relationship management (CRM) requires IP telephony or applications
such as unified messaging. Will you be revolutionary or evolutionary in
adding voice to your ASP model? By pinpointing whether voice needs should be
available first or activated later, you'll help platform providers more
specifically define their solutions.
With such a wide range of voice applications, you must understand how
advanced and complex the requested applications are. For instance,
interactive voice response (IVR) alone can enhance a CASP's offering,
although it is the low end of the voice application spectrum. Voice over IP
(VoIP) is mid-range in complexity. Initially deployed as toll bypass, VoIP
now often means "click to talk." In other words, while visiting a
Web site, a user may get "stuck" and need human assistance, and
offering "click to talk" to a human at a point of need can be an
invaluable tool in keeping Web visitors engaged. Very advanced applications
such as voice portals, or voice enablement of the Internet, are still in
development and will enable voice commands to activate and direct Web sites.
As you weigh the importance of voice in your CASP model, also review a
platform provider's heritage. Many companies have a bias for either data or
voice that will impact their recommended solutions. Prioritizing required
services will also help you make cost/value judgments. While you may be
willing to pay a premium for core services, you may decide to eliminate some
other unimportant, costly functions. Set a goal of investing in important
services without overspending, and your pricing decisions are very likely to
be on target.
What platforms support your core functions while offering the greatest
For CASPs, fast-paced change and demand for new capabilities are
certainties. Whether your interest is NGN or application development and
customization, your platform must incorporate advanced technologies in order
for you to remain a competitive and viable CASP. To meet the demands for
change, you must strongly consider standards-based platforms in your
selection. Only platforms built on an open architecture will allow the
flexibility and scalability to incorporate fast-changing technologies that
are driving development of the CASP marketplace.
Open platforms should mean scalable, beyond mere software-driven
scalability. The easiest-to-scale platforms will be modular and
rack-mountable. Their board capacity must be sufficient today and able to
accommodate future, additional boards. Also, ask for specific examples of
how customers have customized applications on their platforms.
Which providers have the best experience in providing robust,
standards-based platforms including voice and multi-network applications?
A platform company with relevant, successful experience can be a powerful
ally as you're navigating the uncharted waters of the CASP industry. Ask for
platform recommendations from value-added resellers (VARs) and integrators
who work daily with standards-based voice and data systems. You'll
repeatedly hear leading names - potential partners worth checking out. Also
look for experience across all platform sizes -- in range of power, type of
chassis, and capacities. Get customer references to learn how platforms have
scaled as business needs have changed. Evaluate each company's equity in the
open systems industry -- a leadership company will have meaningful
relationships with other key industry players, and access to the collective
learning of experienced companies can prove priceless in the emerging CASP
Be sure to verify which companies have a good track record of taking
responsibility for their integrated solutions. As 2001 brings the
expectation of toll-quality VoIP, CASP platforms must be engineered to match
PSTN quality of service (QoS) standards. Determining how much responsibility
platform providers are willing to shoulder for VoIP QoS can be a huge
differentiator. To ensure a partner with staying power, confirm that
companies have withstood the test of time, and can drive revenue, make a
profit, and stand behind their solutions. Selecting a recent arrival may put
your company at risk when you need future platform support. Make sure
potential partners also offer reliability without compromising innovation.
With today's communications industry all about solutions and services, the
strongest companies have moved beyond mere products to also providing a
complete package that includes solutions and services.
Using this outlined criteria and your good instincts to objectively
review enhanced services platform options, you are much more likely to
select a platform that is well suited to your CASP -- today and in the
Frank Childers is vice president of sales at Alliance Systems, Inc.
Established in 1992, Alliance designs, develops, and manufactures
communication platform products that enable voice communication applications
such as network signaling, switching, IVR, unified messaging, and VoIP. For
more information, visit their Web site at www.alliancesystems.com.
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