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Reality Check
May 2000

Lior Haramaty Self Service or Full? You Make The Call

BY LIOR HARAMATY

Go Right To: Glossary

What's the best approach for e-commerce VoIP -- owning the equipment or signing up for a service? Many companies today want to communicate live with users browsing their Web sites, with sales or customer service agents able to guide these would-be customers by talking and sharing graphics, text, and data. Previously, I've discussed some applications and the technical implementation of such solutions. Here I will discuss the two major ways to secure such solutions -- either by purchasing the equipment and installing it in-house or signing up for a service.

There are many different ways to integrate systems that connect your Web site with your sales or customer care system. Integration depends on the specific system used, features required, and intended usage of the system (technical support, sales assistance, upselling, etc.). For the purposes of this analysis, I will assume a system that includes PC-to-phone voice capabilities and data collaboration capabilities, which are integrated with the call center switch.

EQUIPMENT PURCHASE OPTION
To install equipment in your facility, a basic list of needed items should include the following:

  • VoIP gateway;
  • VoIP gatekeeper;
  • Data collaboration server;
  • CTI server;
  • Switch-side CTI connectivity and software;
  • Network monitoring station with failure alarm;
  • Connectivity to the Internet, so customer can connect to the system.

The main benefit of the buy option is control over the system -- everything is in-house, and there's no dependency on any third parties during ongoing normal operation. Needless to say, this requires dedicated resources in-house to be familiar with the system and to be ready to support it 24x7.

Problems might occur when there's an equipment malfunction, or when equipment or software must be upgraded. This will need the manufacturer's information and a technician, and usually has a substantial cost associated with it. Also, considerations must include the cost of bringing the system down for routine maintenance.

Opting for purchase means a large up-front investment and associated risk. The initial cost of the equipment itself, the installation and training of the maintenance personal, and the annual maintenance and support contract must likewise be considered. Certainly, the cost of recruiting and training the technical staff to maintain the system must be taken into account. The cost of ownership also includes the time to deploy, and the redundancy that must be built into the system. With the equipment purchasing option, regardless of the potential risks, your fate essentially rests in your own hands.

SERVICE OPTION
When considering outsourcing a service for the same functionality, some benefits are clear -- very low entry price, very little initial investment or deployment time, minimal financial risk factor, and no infrastructure changes. Services can be added as needed with little or no additional investment, and upgrades and maintenance are transparent to the subscriber. There are also the savings on the staffing side, as there's no need for dedicated system technicians. With such a service, the initial investment and the financial risk associated with it are minimal. The only downside would seem to be a dependency on a third party to supply the service, although this can also be looked at as a benefit, since the company can invest its time and resources to focus on the core business, and not on the tools that are used to implement it.

The decision whether to buy or subscribe should be made with a combination of factors in mind, primarily financial and logistic issues. It's a competitive Web out there and everyone needs the extra edge in order to succeed. Live customer/agent contact online is fast becoming that necessary edge. My recommendation is that you make the decision to purchase or subscribe sooner than later.

Lior Haramaty is a co-founder of VocalTec Communications, currently serving as Senior Vice President, and belongs to the original group that pioneered the VoIP industry. Haramaty has a multidisciplinary background in the business, technology and marketing fields, is a co-inventor on VoIP patents, and has initiated and spear-headed standards activities in the industry. Requests for future column subjects are welcome. Please write to [email protected].


GLOSSARY

PSTN: Public Switched Telephone Network -- the 100+ years old telephony network we all grew up using. It is the network referred to when discussing telephone calls transmitted the "traditional way" over regular phone lines.

IP: Internet Protocol, the protocol used to transmit data over the Internet and managed IP networks.

VoIP: Voice over IP, a term that originally described the transmission of real-time voice calls over a data network that uses IP, but increasingly used to describe "anything over IP," including voice, fax, video, etc.

Black Phone: A regular telephone (probably originating from the days when phones, as Model T Fords, came in any color you wanted provided it was black).
LAN: Local-Area Network, the computer network at your office or at home, to the part where it connects to the outside world.

PBX: Private Branch Exchange, the telephony switch used at your office to connect between the telephones and the outside world.

Gatekeeper: A VoIP server that controls the VoIP network.

Gateway: A VoIP server that bridges the PSTN and an IP network for voice calls.

Network Manager: A VoIP application used to configure and monitor a VoIP network.

Collaboration Server: A server that enables Web-based data collaboration functionality.

CTI server: A server used to bridge between the switch and the collaboration server, to transfer information about phone calls.

Web-Based Client Software: Software applets that enable the surfer to call and communicate (with voice, graphics, text, and data) with a call center agent







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