VoIP is perhaps the fastest-growing segment of telecommunications and perhaps even the hottest segment of technology in general. Is that a bold statement? Maybe, but a quick perusal of trade magazines and mainstream publications alike is all that it takes to realize that VoIP is on everyones mind.
Several segments of the VoIP market show more promise than others. Enterprises and contact centers are at the forefront of those companies making the move to VoIP and are deploying IP-based phone systems in ever increasing numbers. The first thing most people realize about VoIP is that it can save their business money by reducing or eliminating the toll charges for long-distance and even local calling. Indeed the cost of calling between and among far-flung branches of an enterprise can be completely eliminated.
However VoIP is much more than simply an opportunity to lower your companys phone bill. There are many so-called soft benefits enabled by VoIP, such as increased worker productivity, the ability to collaborate among multiple branch offices, lower operational expenditures as a result of simplified management schemes, and more.
One oft-overlooked key benefit of VoIP in the enterprise is the ability to leverage IP to integrate tightly with the applications and business processes already in use at your company. Imagine the advantages of being able to integrate your phone system to work hand in hand with your CRM or contact center applications. What about the benefits associated with tying your voice platform to your companys audio or video conferencing platform? And what about deploying these advantages to your remote offices and home-based employees? It seems obvious, doesnt it?
Combining a companys VoIP system with CRM and contact center applications can lead to a number of benefits, including the ability to better deal with customer queries and the ability to provide superior customer service. Access to a customers history and other pertinent information is critical, and IP helps facilitate the transfer of that information direct to the agent in both formal and informal contact center settings. When integrated with CRM solutions, VoIP empowers every employee to deal with any and all customer inquiries.
CRM delivered on an IP Platform allows companies to follow a more distributed call center environment, scaling up or down headcounts in many different geographically disparate centers, rather than operating a few large centers, allowing companies to take advantage of the labor cost benefits in more rural areas, or the time zone spread for more extensive customer care hours, while still sharing the same workforce management system, call recording facilities, e-learning system, database and CRM apps among all employees.
Skills-based routing can be vastly improved; both call and customer data can be transferred to the most appropriate agent in the most appropriate center much more seamlessly, and invisible to the customer. Better skills-based routing improves time-to-answer, first-call resolution, and customer satisfaction metrics.
Many of these advantages were simply heretofore not possible. And by leveraging IP phone systems that are integrally tied to CRM applications and other business processes, the benefits are indeed enticing.
Working from home used to be a frustrating experience, fraught with slow connection speeds and a lack of truly integrated applications that would enable people to be productive. Today, with broadband pipes extending to most any place an employee might set up shop, and the availability of tools such as presence and conferencing and collaboration applications, working remotely has taken on a new meaning.
Market research tells us of an increase in remote, distributed and mobile workers and therefore there is a concomitant need to fully integrate them and enable them to access all the applications theyre used to in an office environment including integration with voice. Increasingly were seeing these products and were seeing companies integrating them to offer solutions to enterprises.
According to Taylor Collier, senior director for product management at Microsoft Corp.s Real Time Collaboration business unit, integrated conferencing solutions, such as Vonexus Live Conference and the Microsoft Office Live Meeting product, will help organizations better communicate and collaborate with geographically dispersed employees, partners, and customers - leading to better business decisions and better business results.
And after all, isnt that what VoIP is all about? Better business decisions? Better results? VoIP enables enterprises to better integrate business processes with voice with the end goal of becoming more efficient and more productive.
Greg Galitzine is the editorial director of Internet Telephony magazine.
Building Upon the Value of Microsofts Integrated Approach
Microsoft Doesnt Offer an IP Phone System. Finally, However, Enterprises and Contact Centers
Can Integrate IP Telephony to Their Microsoft Platform.
Read the name Microsoft and data is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Or talk to an IT director and youll likely hear integrated, as in Microsofts integrated approach to managing data, using solutions from the software makers integrated server platform and distinct product families.
What you dont normally read or hear in mainstream Microsoft circles, though, are phone system and IP telephony even though Microsoft has long been a proponent of the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) that supports voice over IP, and continues to boost VoIP functionality in its Windows CE operating system for IP-enabled client devices.
Now, however, Interactive Intelligence has made phone calls possible on the Microsoft Windows Server System platform with an IP contact center application suite and open software architecture that welcomes Microsoft integrations. Furthering this effort, Interactive Intelligence launched its Vonexus subsidiary in June 2004 to introduce the only 100 percent Microsoft-based IP phone and communications system available today, the Enterprise Interaction Center (EIC).
Any contact center or business that relies on Microsofts solutions can therefore get a single pre-integrated server to manage voice interactions as well as data using a SIP-driven network for VoIP. The same server also gives them plenty of room and power to integrate their existing Microsoft applications, along with any new ones down the road. Better still, this single-server approach is applicable for corporate offices as well as branch locations and remote and mobile workers.
Moreover for the most critical part of any business the bottom line building upon the value of Microsofts integrated approach with Interactive Intelligence and Vonexus lets you:
Leverage your current Microsoft investment. Rather than deploying a PBX that doesnt integrate with anything else or is soon to be obsolete, simply build upon the Microsoft investment youve already made by integrating IP functionality to your Microsoft server system.
Add telephony to your Microsoft applications. Desktop Business Client integrations from Interactive Intelligence and Vonexus let you add call management capability to Outlook, Microsoft Business Solutions Great Plains, and Microsoft CRM with no need to add new applications. A .NET "thin" client strategy also lets you universally deploy Client functionality to distributed and remote users with zero-effort while reducing bandwidth requirements and eliminating the need to install software at each desktop.
Utilize Microsofts full range of products. The IP solutions from Interactive Intelligence and Vonexus integrate with Microsoft Business Solutions applications, products from the Windows Server System, and integrate Exchange Server and Outlook for unified communications. EIC also integrates to Windows XP, Office Online applications, and Windows Mobile devices.
Reduce customization and implementation. Integrations to these broadly deployed Microsoft applications are out-of-the-box, meaning there are no long, drawn-out, expensive integration projects. Implementation and deployment times also are reduced, and your return on investment improves dramatically.
Stick with what you know. Or more specifically, what your employees know. Reduce training costs by letting workers continue to use the Microsoft applications theyre familiar with, and make training time almost non-existent with intuitive point and click telephony capabilities for calls, Web contacts and other interaction functions.
Reduce overall costs. By allowing your business to deploy fewer desktop applications while increasing functionality, Interactive Intelligence and Vonexus give your business the advantage of an established technology partnership plus ongoing integration efforts between Microsoft and two companies that bring unmatched innovation, experience and value to your Microsoft platform.
Moreover, Interactive Intelligence and Vonexus let you deploy a proven telephony solution with the backing and cooperation of the largest software company in the world. So mention Microsoft now, and say "phone system" and "voice over IP" right along with it.
Peggy Gritt is Senior Director, Product Marketing for Interactive Intelligence Inc., a global developer of software for contact centers and the enterprise since 1994. Interactive Intelligence integrated out-of-the-box IP functionality into its lineup of business communications software solutions in 2002, and launched its Vonexus subsidiary in 2004 to offer the only Microsoft-based IP PBX available anywhere.