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The New Rules of Enterprise IP Telephony

Say Goodbye to Your PBX, and Hello to Networked Applications and Open Standards Adaptability.


The only change.

No doubt you've heard that sentiment before when the topic is communications systems and the technology behind them. And it's never been truer than for business tools like the telephone and all the transformations PBX hardware has undergone over the last 40 years.

In their infant stages, before Private Branch eXchange systems became fully automatic, they were, as Newton's Telecom Dictionary refers to them, electro-mechanical step-by-step monsters that required callers to dial the phone company's operator to make an external call. Thanks to its Carterfone decision in 1968, however, the FCC broke up the local phone company monopolies, opened the door for new PBX development, and vendors including AT&T and GTE launched the first of roughly six legacy generations that have led to the digital PBX and auto attendant systems many businesses use today.

So where does PBX technology stand now? With the emergence of IP telephony and the move from traditional communications hardware boxes to networked software applications and open communications standards such as the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) for VoIP, let's just say PBX systems have run their course. In fact, the downfall of the PBX has been on industry analysts' projection boards for some time. As far back as February 2003, for instance, Gartner, Inc.'s Next-Generation: Enterprise IP Telephony report stated rather inauspiciously that by year-end 2007, traditional enterprise telephony system manufacturers will have ceased development of TDM-based PBX systems, and will have announced their intention to discontinue support within five years.

Life beyond the PBX, the "New Rules"

To many business owners and IT decision-makers, life without their trustworthy PBX phone system is a scary proposition as is the thought of migrating to new technologies like IP PBX phone systems and SIP for IP telephony. Yet, the IP-based convergence of voice and data on a single network has opened a whole new world of communications and is increasingly making businesses and their employees more effective at collaborating, serving customers, and generating revenues than any previous generation of technology.

In other words, the rules of business communications have changed, primarily in that IP telephony and its open standards approach make the enterprise itself more readily adaptable to constantly-changing customer and market requirements. That said, your enterprise can either continue to conduct business as usual with a PBX that's soon to be extinct, or it can play by the New Rules of IP Telephony to set groundbreaking trends for how your business, employees and customers interact.

Here are four such New Rules to think about if you haven't already said goodbye to your organization's PBX and made the move to IP communications.

Old Rule: Dial-tone is all you need.
New Rule:The value is in the applications.

Some businesses and their workforce still need little more than a telephone to open the pipeline to customers. But now that e-mail, Web chat, and instant messaging have joined the list of multimedia options consumers insist on, it's safe to categorize such businesses as the minority. Which is where the New Rule comes in for value-adding applications. Rather than one hardware box after another for a PBX, ACD, automated attendant, Web server, chat server, IVR system, and on and on, pre-integrated application bundles allow an enterprise to replace costly, inflexible multi-box equipment that doesn't always cooperate across media channels.

Moreover with data running closer than ever alongside voice interactions to speed business processes and transactions, the new breed of information worker who interacts with customers (as well as partners and suppliers) must be able to access information quickly while on the phone or in a Web chat. Product info, pricing, CRM data, a customer's account record, supply chain inventories that's where the New Rule comes in again both for data and voice applications.

On the voice side, several new IP PBX phone and communications systems such as the Enterprise Interaction Center (EIC) from Vonexus, offer pre-integrated client applications to manage queued calls and Web chats from the desktop, including client options for selected Microsoft Dynamics applications and Outlook. Choose an IP PBX system developed on an open standards software architecture and integrating the business applications your employees use most is also fairly seamless, which brings us to the next New Rule.

Old Rule: Applications are what they are: Disconnected.
New Rule:Pre-integrated functionality out of the box.

Imagine you're a customer contacting a business. All you care about is getting consistent quality service no matter what contact channel you choose and what transaction you want to perform. Because a PBX and other communications boxes aren't always fully "connected" themselves, an enterprise can't realistically leverage hardware to connect things like desktop business applications and customer databases.

Go back to many of the IP PBXs now hitting the market. Most enable an organization to unify data as well voice applications on a data network. In EIC's case, the EIC Server comes fully pre-integrated out of the box and fits directly on your network, where it's easily managed with other existing data and communications servers. Also reaching to the end-user level, pre-integrating to applications for IP telephony as well as for things like CRM, ERP, accounting packages, screen pop, unified messaging, conferencing, etc. greatly minimizes any chance of application disconnects when also integrating enterprise business processes.

Consider, too, that pre-integrated call queuing and routing in today's IP PBXs allow a business to more quickly and accurately queue calls, chats, and Web callbacks, and do so with no expensive external devices.

Old Rule: IP-enabled is close enough.
New Rule:Buy an IP system, not close enough.

If a proprietary vendor tells you their new PBX is IP-enabled to accommodate SIP and VoIP, run away as fast as you can. Besides PBXs being on the way out, the truth is they were never designed, and have never been redesigned, for open standards like SIP without having to bolt on more hardware. And even that approach isn't close enough for an effective IP solution.

If your enterprise is committed to finding a true IP communications system, look closely at its back-end architecture with regards to a SIP carrier environment for IP telephony. Does the system converge data and voice networks into a single IP-based network to reduce access? Does it sufficiently compress IP voice packets on the network to send more calls over a single circuit? Must you purchase gateways to convert VoIP traffic to TDM just to hand it to your telco? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, it simply isn't an IP system.

Old Rule: To get more, you have to pay more.
New Rule:Greater functionality, cost effectively.

Ah, the age-old rule of proprietary vendor lock-in. You want an IVR system and a CRM connector to supplement your customer service processes? No problem. But you have to buy a few more boxes and maybe some middleware, which only we can provide... When it comes to adding features and functionality to a communications system, wouldn't it be much easier to simply activate a pre-integrated application via licensing and be done?

Perhaps more than any other benefit of a pure software IP communications system is the ability to activate applications virtually on-demand with a license for users. Again in EIC's case as a complete, pre-integrated IP PBX phone and communications system (phones included), licensing is all that's required to activate features such as desktop faxing via the system's fax server application. Same thing for EIC's IVR application if that's what you need.

And if expanded functionality via licensing isn't cost-effective enough, just think about how much your enterprise can save with a software-only approach to IP communications. Centralized station device administration. In-house moves, adds, and changes, often in minutes and with no need for vendor maintenance contracts. And a single application server on the network instead of a bunch of high-priced hardware and proprietary devices. Most of all, your enterprise gets the cost-saving ability to purchase media services as you need them, without some proprietary vendor dictating your spending decision.

Business as usual? Or the "New Rules" of IP Telephony?

While the New Rules of Enterprise IP Telephony aren't set in stone, they do provide a good gauge of where the telecom industry is headed and how business communications technologies have changed. Whether your business decides to follow them, of course, is up to you. But one thought as a final word of wisdom: Business will always be about gaining an advantage, and IP telephony gives your enterprise the advantage of rapid adaptability for constantly changing market and customer requirements. Conduct business as usual with your age-old PBX, however, and you can kiss that advantage goodbye. IT

Joseph A. Staples is Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing for Interactive Intelligence Inc. For more on their suite of enterprise IP telephony and IP contact center solutions, contact Interactive Intelligence at 317.872.3000 ( (news - alerts) and Vonexus at 888-817-5904 ( (news - alerts).

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