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
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.
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].
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
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
Network Manager: A VoIP application used to configure and monitor
a VoIP network.
Collaboration Server: A server that enables Web-based data
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