|Why Adopt A Next-Generation
BY GREG ZWEIG
To succeed today, companies must understand that their purpose is
serving customers ï¿½ a group whose expectation levels are rising
constantly. We neednï¿½t look further than our own experience to recognize
this change. Consider your own reaction to a busy signal when placing a
catalog order or to waiting in line at the bank. Technology has made us
more demanding consumers. Today, managers in every business must question
if their organization has the technology and processes to meet clientsï¿½
needs. Would your business meet your standards if you were a client? The
reality is that todayï¿½s customer has immediate access to the competition
and can easily make a change. Customers are quite willing to sever
existing relationships as soon as service expectations are not met.
Conventional thinking says that small and medium-size businesses are
better equipped to keep pace with changing customer expectations because
they are closer to the customer and more nimble. However, this is not
always the case. Smaller organizations lack the full-time planning
resources and capital budgets that Fortune 500 companies can apply to new
initiatives. Smaller organizations often react to change faster, but only
when these changes are limited adjustments in employee behavior. If
changes in technology and processes are required, they are often stung by
the costs of complex planning, implementation, and ongoing support. It is
the role of technology vendors to fill this void by offering the
sophisticated technology and applications that produce best-in-class
customer service in simpler, friendlier packages and that dramatically
reduce the cost of planning, implementation, and ongoing support. This
will allow small and medium-size organizations to excel at all levels.
The next-generation phone system is one of the best examples of a
better solution that fulfills small and medium-size businessï¿½
requirements for better customer service. The IP PBX delivers on the
promise to provide simpler, more cost-effective access to the most
customer centric applications, including unified messaging, call center
applications, speech recognition, and a host of other tools. Some
applications are new, while others are adaptations of existing solutions.
What these applications share is the ability to take advantage of customer
information that is stored or displayed on a computer network. The ability
to gather and intelligently use that information is a critical difference.
A Better Fit for Changing Applications
Better suited to emerging and changing applications, IP PBX systems are
built to slip into Ethernet networks as easily as stackable Ethernet
switches. Since these systems are network addressable devices, they
operate as peers with PCs and servers and therefore can easily exchange
information with those devices. The ability of an IP PBX to provide users
with access and information exemplifies its value and is where return on
investment really hits home.
IP PBX systems are based on open architectures and standard protocols,
such as IP, Ethernet, TAPI, IMAP4, etc. The open architecture allows for
faster development of built-in capabilities, as well as access to
third-party applications. The result is a networked telephony system with
a richer application portfolio than a traditional PBX system. Often, IP
PBXs come equipped with many leading-edge applications built-in, such as
browser-based administration, on-screen dialing or PDA dialing, unified
messaging with automated attendants and voice mail, and call center
capabilities. The applications are easier to operate because they can
interoperate with the userï¿½s PC. Information is displayed simply so that
it can be understood easily, making workers more productive and customers
Since the IP PBX and IP telephone are part of the data network, the
concept of remote users or remote location changes dramatically. If a data
network reaches a location, the IP PBX also reaches that same location. At
the very least, this allows for remote configuration and maintenance of
multiple locations. However, it can just as easily provide remote or
teleworkers with the connectivity and feature functionality of an office
telephone in the home or the remote office. This type of connectivity is
taken for granted with remote access to e-mail ï¿½ why should telephone
calls be different?
Multi-site organizations can benefit further from installing an IP PBX
system. By creating a sophisticated, inter-networked location that appears
seamless to staff as well as outside callers, telephone calls, voice
mails, and faxes can travel between sites without an employee taking extra
steps or a customer realizing what has happened. This seamless
connectivity saves time, improves communications, and gives the business
control to the customer.
Moreover, networked telephony solutions are more economical. The
savings come on a number of fronts. The most significant is the
elimination of the cost of installing and maintaining duplicate
infrastructures. Additionally, maintenance of IP PBX systems is simpler.
Entering and updating system information is straightforward and can be
accomplished remotely, if necessary. Since networked telephony systems are
easy to use, companies can offload routine tasks (such as simple adds and
moves) from technicians to users without incurring administrative costs.
Why Make Changes?
The reality is if you stand pat, youï¿½re going to get less of your
customersï¿½ business, not the same amount. Change isnï¿½t inevitable: Itï¿½s
So why not keep an existing PBX and add to it? The fact is that change
is a challenging issue for PBX systems. PBX systems optimize voice
communications and cannot support new applications easily. PBX systems
were designed to move calls, but not data associated with a call. Basic
information about an incoming call, such as Caller ID, is not available to
most office employees. Furthermore, if the PBX provides the information
via the telephoneï¿½s display, there are few ways to get that information
out of the PBX so that it can be used to make decisions. The PBX is a
closed, proprietary system, and this is why adding an application is
complicated and expensive. Too often, businesses forego the expense, and
eventually customers pay the consequences.
The limitations of traditional PBX systems are often evident when
customers use a call center. Customers are required to input data multiple
times because the calling information is stored in the PBX and the
customer information resides in databases on the data network. These two
environments donï¿½t communicate well. The problem could be solved but
only at a significant expense.
Making The Selection
Firms migrating to networked telephony systems are best advised to start
the selection process by examining the robustness of an IP PBXï¿½s
Reliability is a core requirement. While employees may be accustomed to
PCs occasionally crashing, the expectation is that the phone will operate
all of the time. When examining reliability, focus on the systemï¿½s
software. Robust hardware is certainly desirable, but experience shows
that software disruptions are far more likely than hardware failures. Look
for a solution with a dedicated real-time operating system, designed for
24/7 uninterrupted service. A standard PC operating system is great for
applications like voice mail or call centers, but the core telephony
server should offer greater reliability.
In addition, the solution has to be simple to administer. Look for
systems that minimize the quantity and variety of hardware needed to get
the system operational. For example, browser-based management helps
administrators quickly pinpoint problem spots, even from remote locations.
In addition, ensure the solution allows individual users to configure
their phones easily to meet personal communication needs and to optimize
Seek out a solution with built-in applications. Not only are they less
expensive, they make deployment and support easier. Multiple, independent
applications are inherently more challenging to manage.
Look for a true Ethernet/IP telephone. Donï¿½t be fooled by some
products that use older digital phones or single line phones with
complicated ï¿½bolt-onï¿½ gateways to mimic some of the capabilities of an
IP PBX. These solutions are merely complicated facades. They lack the real
functionality, built-in applications and ease of use of an IP PBX.
Ask for references. Are there five or 5,000 of these products in-use? A
skilled reseller with experience installing the solution makes a big
difference. There is nothing wrong with pursuing a great new solution, but
be certain that the reseller and the manufacturer have real experience
with IP PBXs.
Compliance with common telephony standards, such as T1 and T1/PRI as
well as typical analog lines, is an absolute requirement. In addition, itï¿½s
important to note that E1 and BRI connectivity are necessary for deploying
product outside North America, and be aware that analog connections
outside North America may be quite different. Donï¿½t assume anything. Ask
your vendor if they support connectivity in your required geographies.
During the past few years, there has been a great deal of talk about
the benefits of IP PBXs. With voice communications so crucial to daily
operations, certain corporations have been hesitant of embracing the
technology. This should no longer be the case. Networked telephony has
moved out from the early adopter stage into the corporate mainstream. That
means that a growing number of companies are deploying this technology
with the expectation that they will improve customer service and lower
costs. If your company has not already closely examined these
next-generation phone systems, maybe your competition has and is planning
to use them to transform your customers into theirs. Can you afford to
take that risk? c
Greg Zweig is product manager, Networked Telephony Solutions at 3Com
Corporation. 3Com is a worldwide leader in functionally rich, easy-to-use
networking products that connect businesses to their employees, customers
and suppliers ï¿½ anytime, anywhere. 3Com is also a leader in Internet
protocol (IP) service platforms and access infrastructure for the network
service provider market. For more information, please visit them on the
Web at www.3com.com.
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