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Interactive Communications

Connecting Employees, Customers and Affiliates Over The Internet

By Alan Rosenberg

 

Voice over IP (VoIP) has gone mainstream in recent years in both the consumer and enterprise markets. Consumers are adopting VoIP for economical, broadband-based home-telephone service and for PC-based calling applications. According to company statistics, Vonage boasts an installed base of more than one million lines and usage of more than 35 million calls per week. As of December 2005, more than 220 million PC users around the world have downloaded Skype Internet phone clients, this according to the companys Web site. Google, AOL, MSN and Yahoo! have all announced new or improved PC calling offerings in recent months.

PC calling services such as Skype are used almost exclusively by consumers. Concerned about potential viruses, security threats, and the chatty nature of PC calling protocols, many businesses and institutions prohibit the use of these services by employees and individuals within their enterprises.

But businesses are increasingly deploying VoIP to reduce operation costs and telecommunication carrier expenditures. Industry analysts report IP PBX line shipments have overtaken traditional PBX line shipments, and IP handset sales have outstripped traditional handset sales.

Enterprises are deploying IP PBXs as alternatives to traditional PBXs for office telephone services and to connect remote sites over private IP networks or Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Some organizations now offer Internet-based voice services to mobile users or telecommuters.

While enterprises have gained economic and administrative benefits by transmitting voice and data over the same physical media, they have not leveraged VoIP to fundamentally advance their business applications or to inherently improve communications with their customers or partners.

A new class of software product is delivering the next logical step in the evolution of converged voice and data services. The Interactive Communication Platform (ICP) integrates voice, video, and other services at the application layer. This enables organizations to add interactive communication services to software applications and to deliver integrated Internet-based voice and video services to customers and affiliates.

ICPs enable enterprises to leverage VoIP not only for cost savings, but also to boost the top line with new interactive business solutions that fundamentally improve customer, partner, and employee communications. In addition, ICPs allow enterprise users to enjoy features found in popular consumer PC calling programs while granting corporate IT staff the added control, security, and reliability of a trusted enterprise solution.

Interactive Communication Platform Overview
An ICP is a next-generation software platform for delivering interactive voice, video, and other communication services within an enterprise or extended community of interest. Unlike conventional circuit-switched PBXs and new IP PBXs that were designed to switch media flows between internal parties, an ICP is engineered to enable internal communications as well as to easily and flexibly extend communication services globally to employees and affiliates over the Internet. Additionally, ICPs can broker communications between external parties such as customers, partners, and suppliers.

In its simplest form, an ICP can be deployed as an economical software-based IP telephony system, either as a PBX adjunct or alternative. ICPs support any SIP phone as well as traditional analog telephone instruments, and support communication over private IP networks, VPNs and the Internet. An ICP provides a core set of voice/video calling features, incumbent PBX and PSTN gateway functions, and supplemental services such as n-way calling and voice messaging.

Enterprises can roll out ICPs today to deliver IP-based voice and communication services to new locations, employees, and applications in cap-and-grow scenarios; to extend corporate voice services to mobile users, telecommuters, or small offices; and to deliver voice services to customers and affiliates.

ICPs can also offer open APIs to integrate voice and video services with Web pages and various business applications. ICPs meld interactive services with Service-Oriented Architectures (SOAs), allowing voice and video services to be invoked as a program call that enables enterprises to fundamentally extend their use of voice, video, and other communication services.






Interactive Communication Platform Applications
ICPs are suitable for a variety of applications in virtually any industry or market segment.

Click-to-Talk Applications. Enterprises can utilize ICPs to integrate voice or video services with Web sites; back-office call centers and CRM applications; and other business applications. Businesses can improve customer experiences by routing calls to subject-matter experts or by diverting priority customers to dedicated service representatives. Flow-through APIs link call agents to customer database records so routed customers are not forced to repeat account information or transaction data.

Peer-to-Peer Communications. Businesses can install ICPs to deliver brokered communication services for clients and affiliates. Peer-to-peer communications enables customers to communicate directly with authorized partners or with other customers to exchange information or conduct business transactions. While the enterprise controls and initiates the session, the communication flows directly between the participants not over the enterprise network. Transporting media streams across the Internet provides massive scale advantages and minimizes enterprise network capacity and re-engineering requirements.

Traditional PBX or IP PBX versus Next-Generation ICP

Traditional PBX or IP PBX

Next-Generation ICP

Centralized monolithic architecture designed for intra-enterprise communications

Distributed modular architecture adaptable to intra-enterprise and peer-to-peer communications

Proprietary APIs aimed at conventional applications such as IVR and unified messaging

Services-oriented APIs adds voice/video services to Web sites and other applications

Hardware-based solution costly, vendor lock-ins

Software-based solution exploits general purpose computing platform economics and performance trends. Provides flexible deployment options.

Proprietary phone instruments limited choices, expensive

Standards-based SIP phones choice of instruments to meet feature, form, and cost needs; well suited for click-to-talk applications

Proprietary subscriber management redundant adds/moves/changes

Standards-based subscriber management unified adds/moves/changes via RADIUS, LDAP or Active Directory.

   

Internet Calling Services. Enterprises can leverage ICPs to deliver a controlled and trusted Internet-based phone service for constituencies and extended communities of interest. Organizations can offer basic PC calling services plus premium services such as public telephone network connectivity; personalized concierge or information services; or enhanced feature packs (voicemail, n-way calling, call forwarding, call transfer, call waiting, and so on). Internet-based users can enjoy features found in popular consumer PC calling programs with the added control and reliability of a trusted enterprise solution.

Conclusion
Interactive Communication Platforms enable organizations to deliver Internet-based voice and video services to employees, customers, and affiliates. They allow enterprise users to enjoy features found in popular consumer PC calling programs with the added control and reliability of a trusted enterprise solution. ICPs deliver a new echelon of voice/data convergence, empowering businesses to increase customer satisfaction and revenue by fundamentally improving customer communications. Finally, by melding interactive services with SOAs, ICPs will change the very nature by which enterprises deploy and utilize voice, video, and other communication services. IT

Alan Rosenberg is director of Product Management at BlueNote Networks. For more information, please visit the company online at www.bluenotenetworks.com (news - alerts).

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