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VoIP Feature Article


March 08, 2006

Migrating to VoIP: Preparation and Justification

Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Associate Editor

Many businesses, both large and small, are either thinking about or have already begun the process of replacing their existing phone systems with voice over IP (VoIP) solutions.
While the apparent cost-savings and added functionality of VoIP systems may inspire companies to make this move, some important factors need to be considered if the return on investment for adopting new technology is to be realized.
TMCnet recently spoke about this topic with Bryan Cohen, Senior Telephony Engineer at CDW, a company that by its own estimation is the technology industry’s largest direct marketer of technology products and services.
Cohen consults with businesses interested in making the move to a VoIP system, and helps them select a customized package of products and services from providers like Avaya, Nortel, 3Com, and Cisco.
Any successful migration to VoIP, Cohen told TMCnet, involves first justifying the cost of the new phone system and then ensuring that the business is properly prepared to take advantage of a VoIP system’s benefits.
Cost of Moves, Adds and Changes
Ease of management is perhaps the biggest single reason IT managers—who often now are making decisions about phone system purchases—find VoIP solutions attractive, Cohen said.
Having on-site IT staff manage the phone system can translate to considerable savings for a business. Some of CDW's customers pay $350 an hour in service calls to maintain their existing phone systems. The money used to pay for several such calls a month alone could be enough to lease a VoIP system, according to Cohen.
There are other benefits as well. “If you have the ability to make changes yourself, you also have the ability to adjust the product to fit your needs,” Cohen pointed out.
VoIP systems can be appealing for all their bells and whistles. But, Cohen cautioned, not every business needs every feature. The more important question to ask when designing a new system is whether it will be more reliable—and therefore less expensive to upkeep—than the existing one.
Mobility and Portability
A buzzword often heard these days is “mobile workforce.” Executives typically are very excited about this idea, Cohen said, with good reason. Installing a phone system with features that enable employees to work remotely can significantly reduce capital costs.
For example, employees who work from home don't need space in a physical building maintained by the company. Also, because many people want to work from home, offering that as an option may result in a better candidate pool.
Another buzzword that applies to the justification list is “business continuity.” Cohen explained that in the context of justifying a VoIP system, this usually refers to connecting geographically dispersed company offices in order to create quality, seamless customer service.
VoIP systems can help achieve business continuity by using technology that inexpensively connects one office location to another. Cohen illustrated this with a fictitious example of Corp. XYZ that has two offices—one in Boston, one in L.A. With a VoIP system, customers who call the Boston office at 7:00 p.m. EST—after the end of business hours—are automatically routed to the L.A. office which is still open at 4:00 p.m. PST.
Extending hours for customers without having to add more employees is the sort of cost-justification that makes sense to CFOs and IT managers alike.
If designed properly, Cohen said, a VoIP system can be installed using existing data network infrastructure. Instead of replacing everything, businesses can take advantage of the investments they're already made. That can save thousands of dollars in recurring costs.
Toll Savings
In the early days of IP telephony, Cohen recalled, VoIP systems were usually seen as appealing simply because of their potential to reduce long-distance bills. For some businesses, this is still a compelling reason to switch to VoIP, but since traditional long-distance rates have dropped considerably, Cohen said toll savings usually end up last on the list of justifications for installing a VoIP system.
Quality of Service
When getting ready to install a VoIP system, quality of service (QoS) should be at the top of the preparation list, Cohen said. QoS ensures that voice calls traveling the network get priority over e-mail or other applications. This is important to prevent audio quality problems like latency delay, jitters and stuttering.
Network Redundency
Because VoIP systems use data networks to connect calls, it is important to have backup network infrastructure installed, in case the primary equipment fails.
VoIP systems provide many new features, and to make sure that they are being used effectively, it's important to invest in training, Cohen stressed. Having on-site staff that knows how to turn VoIP features on or off, or troubleshoot them, will save a lot of costs down the road.
IT Support
Directly related to training is support for the VoIP system. Businesses migrating to VoIP need to make sure that their IT staff is trained on how to use and maintain the system, and that there is adequate support manpower.
Vendors and Downtime
VoIP systems bring benefits, but they also introduce external factors that can affect usability, such as quality of service. It is very important, Cohen noted, to choose providers who understand how the entire system works. Taking the time to choose the right providers prevents adding new points of failure that previously didn't exist.
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.


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