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September 21, 2007

Mitel: Voice is a Mission-critical Application in a Data World

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Associate Editor


Things have changed a lot in past five years when it comes to how businesses provision and manage telephone services. It used to be that, especially in large enterprises, phone and data services (both elements of communications) were managed separately—the first by the voice department, the second by the IT staff. But, with the introduction of IP telephony, the landscape has been altered significantly.
Stephen Beamish, vice president of business development and strategic alliances at Mitel (News - Alert), told TMCnet that, in large organizations today, there are two typical scenarios in terms of the relationship between voice and data/IT departments: the voice manager reports to the IT manager, or the voice manager is gone completely, with the IT department running the entire communications infrastructure.
Because of this change, voice has become not so much a matter of phones and telephone service but a matter of applications.
“We used to refer to telephones and phone calls; now we talk about the richness of applications,” Beamish said. “What's changed is that it's no longer a fixation on end-point anymore but rather on voice-related applications like collaboration, Web conferencing and extending calls from desktop phones to mobile devices.”
Mitel takes the approach that voice is best regarded as just another communications applications—albeit a mission-critical one.
Voice as a Mission-critical Application
Treating voice as an application means recognizing its mission-critical nature and then helping businesses solve communications problems by enhancing voice applications with new capabilities.
“No company today can survive without voice,” Beamish stressed. “It is an instrumental part of every organization. It is so crucial that people are realizing they need to have voice backup as well as data backups.”
In the old days of telephony, there wasn’t usually a good way to do voice backups. With the advent of IP communications, such backups became possible and are becoming standard practice along with data backups. The criticalness of voice dictates redundancy.
“Even a single day of lost business can cost millions and millions of dollars,” Beamish said.
For Mitel, treating voice as a mission critical application is part of a larger philosophy—to help enterprises solve business problems and operate more efficiently.
“We're not here to come out with cool technology; we're here to improve the way people do business by making it more cost-effective and by providing more applications that allow people to work better, smarter, faster,” Beamish told TMCnet.
Voice on Industry Standard Servers
Mitel takes the stance that a big part of delivering voice as a mission critical, efficiency-boosting application is making it possible to run voice on industry standard servers from companies like Sun. Mitel has partnered with Sun Microsystems (News - Alert) to put voice capabilities on that company’s servers.
The relationship between Mitel and Sun—established almost a year ago with a global OEM agreement—is mutually beneficial to both companies. Mitel wanted to extend the reach of its IP telephony solutions and Sun was looking to branch out into applications.
“There was a real marriage in bringing together the strengths of both companies,” Beamish said.
The goal here was to help businesses cut down on the number of hardware boxes they need to run in order to provide the various communications applications needed. Instead of running a Mitel PBX for voice and a separate server for teleworking, plus a Sun server for data, all these functions now live on one box—the Sun server. This increases efficiencies and cuts down on costs.
“If the company can avoid putting in another box in the data center, that's going to save hardware costs, management costs and troubleshooting costs,” Beamish said.
Centralizing applications on a single server also helps companies leverage their existing hardware investments—infrastructure which tends to have a pretty long lifecycle. Moving voice to a data infrastructure significantly cuts down on the number of managers needed to run the IP system.
“You can have one pane of glass and one person behind that pane of glass managing all these different pieces,” Beamish explained.
Enabling Mobility for Voice Applications
When voice is treated as an application, it becomes possible to look at how this particular application can be used to empower mobile business practices—enabling people to access communications applications from any location.
For example, Beamish said, one of Mitel’s clients is a global consulting company that performs audits on-site for its customers. Whenever an auditor goes to a site and starts performing an audit, that person becomes very valuable by obtaining knowledge that is of use to other employees. Another auditor at another location could, for example, tap the expertise of his or her co-worker in order to operate more effectively.
Mitel offered this particular consultancy application that provides each employee with a single phone number so that he or she can be reached regardless of location. In this scenario, the first auditor could call the second auditor, and the call would be automatically routed to the second auditor’s mobile phone.
Another example goes back to the partnership with Sun. One of the applications Mitel and Sun partnered on is voice for  the Sun Ray virtual desktop thin client. This makes data and voice services on a central server in the data center easily accessible by users equipped with a Java card. The Java card lets the user hot-desk into the server from any terminal, thereby gaining access to both data and voice applications.
“When users put the Java card in, they end up hot-desking not only into the thin client but also into the telephone system,” Beamish explained.
This type of setup could be used by a call center agent to access the system securely from any location. Also, thin-client hot-desking saves money on energy, which is good for the budget and the planet.
“A Sun Ray client uses 4 watts of power, and an industry-standard PC typically uses 80 watts,” Beamish said.
The Business Case for IP Communications
Mitel’s focus on voice as an application comes from the realization that businesses don’t need new, shiny technology; they need technology that helps them solve problems and be more competitive. IP telephony, or VoIP, is often touted as being advantageous because it can save money on toll charges and is based on the newest, cutting edge technology.
But, as Beamish said was brought home to him during a particular client meeting, the business case for switching to IP telephony isn’t about replacing one type of voice technology with another; it’s about the types of voice applications IP makes possible and how those applications can improve business processes.
Beamish and Mitel’s CTO were meeting with the CTO of a very, very large global company to discuss Mitel’s IP communications solutions. They’d barely walked in the door when the corporation’s CTO told Beamish that, if Mitel’s reps were there to talk about the business case of moving from TDM to VoIP, there was no point in meeting. If, on the other hand, Mitel wanted to talk about voice applications that help people work smarter, faster and better, then there was something to talk about.
“Just going to voice on IP versus TDM is not where the business case lies,” Beamish said.
Instead, return on investment lies in applications that let people do things like collaborate on a project at any time, regardless of the time zone the participants are located in or whether business hours have begun there.
These types of applications proved very beneficial to Kuepers, an architectural firm that is one of Mitel’s clients. This company has employees at many different locations. They picked Microsoft (News - Alert) Live Communications server as a collaboration tool, and added voice using a messaging and presence solution from Mitel. Beyond just providing voice, the Mitel application gives Kuepers phone operators access to powerful information that lets them make better decisions about routing calls.
When a call comes in to Kuepers now, the operator can look at a screen and see the presence and availability status of subject experts; this lets the operator direct the call quickly and easily to the best person. Further, Mitel Mobile Extension lets individual architects give out a single phone number to their clients, which follows the architect making him or her accessible from any location.
These capabilities of Mobile Extension enable revenue opportunities for Kuepers, because customers don’t have to wait for experts to return to the office; instead, the architects are available at any time from any location.
“Our philosophy is to develop not products but solutions,” Beamish said. “We look at the business challenge the customer is facing and come up with applications that improve business processes and lead to creating a competitive advantage for that customer.”
To learn more about how IP telephony and IP presence applications can help businesses be more competitive, please visit Mitel’s TMCnet.com channels, IP Telephony and IP Presence.
Mae Kowalke previously wrote for Cleveland Magazine in Ohio and The Burlington Free Press in Vermont. To see more of her articles, please visit Mae Kowalke’s columnist page. Also check out her Wireless Mobility blog.

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