Marrying UC and Virtualization Drives App Growth, Reduces TCO

By TMCnet Special Guest
Sid Rao, Chief Technology Officer with CTI Group
  |  December 01, 2010

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Unified Communications Magazine

The economic downturn has led to increasing demand from organizations across the globe to look for communication and IT solutions that reduce costs without negatively impacting a business’s vital operations. As a result, we have increasingly seen unified communications solutions replace traditional telephony systems. In addition to anticipated cost savings, UC has promised a fast return on investment through the freeing up of resources by reducing the amount of time needed for staff to analyze data.

However, an article in the August 2010 issue of this publication cited recently released data from Network Instruments (News - Alert) that reveals a vast majority of organizations keen to deploy UC and virtualized technologies lack the tools required for monitoring and troubleshooting performance. It is within this context that the rapid advancements in VM-ready telemanagement applications are providing businesses with the platform to optimize their business processes.

By eliminating the need for significant capital expenditure investment on multiple pieces of hardware, virtualization has allowed organizations to invest in business intelligence and business process management applications such as call accounting, call recording, and data analytics. It is through the deployment of these applications that the promises of UC are being delivered by integrating, centralizing, and analyzing the data that flows through a business.

With recent advancements from Cisco, Avaya, and unified communications application vendors such as CTI (News - Alert) Group, the synergy of virtualization and unified communications delivers the promise of both worlds: the ability to deliver strategic value through the use of unified communications while still being able to control and drive efficiency in information technology costs.

The Business Problem
Unified communications is about deriving value from the integration of many different constituencies – the content provided from business operations, the communications capabilities traditionally left in the telecom closet, and the ever powerful data center. Within each of these constituencies there are many different stakeholders, all with different objectives. The most diverse set of stakeholders are the actual operators of the business, who have strikingly different objectives.

Business agility
This position is perhaps the most difficult to monetize when building a unified communications business case, but it is the most highly touted. In 2008, Gartner surrendered by stating that the main objectives of unified communications had little to do with cost containment, but rather had to do with a significant increase in business agility. Steve Blood, vice president of research at Gartner, bluntly states: “We recommend that organizations build a business case based on enabling mobility and agility rather than reducing IT department costs.”

Business continuity
Communications is at the heart of a majority of our economy. Any disruption to the communications capability will at the least hurt the brand of the organization, if not fatally harm it. Imagine if during the credit crisis of 2008 traders and investment bankers lost or overflowed vital communications capabilities – the global economic condition could be significantly worse. That being said, business continuity traditionally has been a significant source of capital and operational expenditure. It has therefore not always been trivial to create the optimal continuous environment while reducing expenditure.

Diverse content
Application diversity has exploded in the IT data center yielding an ever increasing universe of organizational content. Whether they are packaged applications provided by independent software vendors or in-house developed systems, application diversity leads to a desire for further communications integration to deliver on the agility promise of unified communications. The challenge is that the usage and utility of these applications is not constant and predictable. Yet to each stakeholder, their application is the highest priority.

Apart from these competing interests, there are two other major considerations for unified communications. The first being worker mobility – it is becoming a common human resources consideration. With around 60 to 70 percent of all information workers asking for remote access and mobile work environments, mobile application access to voice and content is an obvious requirement.

The second consideration is not as obvious; it is the political anxiety between the IT data center owner operator and the telephony managers. The monolithic design of traditional TDM telephony environments has bred a distrust of agile IT-style hosted telephony facilities, even if these facilities can provide more cost-effective and highly available environments.

How Virtualization Addresses the Problem
At the heart of virtualization, the benefit is directed purely toward data center management and efficiency. By eliminating the need for on-site physical infrastructures, such as storage, processing power, and network topologies, higher efficiencies are achieved, not only in data center utilization, but in the agility of application deployment.

Virtualization technology, however, directly addresses the shortcomings of a monolithic information and communications infrastructure.

Applications are easier to deploy and integrate
The typical lifecycle of telephony and business application development requires applications to have dedicated hardware and maintenance infrastructure. This monolithic approach is circumvented in a virtualized environment. In a virtual environment, small amounts of seed capital can be invested in a potential application, which can easily be vertically or horizontally scaled when application demand increases. This means application diversity and integration opportunities increase, leading to a more agile business environment.

Higher availability for fractional cost
In a virtualized environment, since the physical infrastructure is abstract, applications and services can be migrated to a remote facility quite easily – without significant investment in data replication. Consider the costs associated with a highly available geographically redundant telephony application server – easily crossing $250,000. With the ability to virtualize a Cisco (News - Alert) Unified Communications Manager, a telephony manager can now virtually transition services from one location to a hot-standby for a fraction of that cost. This leads to business continuity without the high capital expenditures.

Application diversity and management
The ability for new applications to share the hardened and secure infrastructure that critical business infrastructure applications use leads to success in application deployment. As stakeholders realize the benefit of a platform, they often expand the capabilities of the underlying platform – which is trivial to do in a virtual environment.

Democratizing Business Intelligence
By reducing the total cost of ownership as well as the capital expenditure required to deploy a virtualized UC system, BI applications such as call accounting and speech search and analytics that were once the domain of high-end contact centers, have become available to a broader range of organizations. These applications are key to providing the performance monitoring and troubleshooting tools that were lacking in early UC technologies. Their expanded benefits for any business, regardless of form or size, include the following.

Compliance and regulations
For businesses within the legal, trading, and banking sectors, new and forthcoming regulations are going to impose stricter rules on the recording and archiving of calls that deal with advice, transactions and agreements. Virtual store rooms will have obvious cost benefits, but taking advantage of speech analytics as well can save an even greater amount of time and money. Take the example of a law firm, which will record hours of depositions that will have to be revisited. Speech search and analytics technology means that all relevant conversations can be brought up immediately, saving hours of staff time on analysis and research.

Training and performance monitoring
The ability to monitor and review closely all call activity has been proven to have significant impact on improving an organization’s quality of service. Having the call logs and records available through a single, network-based platform offers managers the opportunity to use real customer conversations for training new and existing staff. These can show how to manage customer expectations, deal with inquiries, or handle problematic issues in real-time and in review.

Sales and marketing
Capturing the voice of the customer cannot be undervalued in any circumstance. Analytics technology provides a solution for securing advanced intelligence on customer interaction. This ability allows businesses to identify vital trends that could have a significant impact on future sales as well as ensuring compliance and consistent corporate messaging. The end result of utilizing call recording, analytics and call accounting is a significantly improved customer experience.  

Finally, with the embrace of virtualization by traditional telephony application servers and vendors, the age-old political debate between the telephony manager and the traditional IT application manager is being settled. With Cisco, Avaya, and IBM (News - Alert) creating virtualized computing system infrastructures, the typical political divide is being settled. The telephony manager should note, however, that this infrastructure is likely to be hosted in a cloud they cannot see or control in the very near future.

The key takeaways for all organizations are simple. Virtualization of unified communications applications is a foregone conclusion It yields to a deeper and richer application experience while reducing operational and capital expenditures. Any organization that does not consider or adopt this mechanism for its telephony environment will be, in the long-term, less agile, less efficient, and frankly non competitive.

Demand and expect virtual-ready applications from independent unified communications application vendors. It is in their best interest to support this type of environment as it will lead to easier initial adoption and growth within their served constituency.

Sid Rao is chief technology officer with CTI Group (News - Alert) ( ).

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi