Industry trends can be presented to put most any new technology in a favorable light. But the movement to enterprise IP telephony and the Session Initiation Protocol (News - Alert) (SIP) open communications standard is picking up steam for reasons that simply make good business sense.
On the SIP side, the protocolï¿½s interoperability enables networks, business systems, and communications devices to play nicely ï¿½ seamlessly ï¿½ and allows an enterprise to streamline voice and data and do things like ensure business continuity and support branch offices while protecting its technology investment over time.
Enterprises implementing IP telephony and migrating to voice over IP are realizing the efficiency and lowered operational costs of a single communications network. For business processes and customer service, theyï¿½re also seeing that tools such as desktop softphones and IMS have made employees more productive, and that Find me/Follow me, presence management, and other ï¿½agility-orientedï¿½ capabilities have made workforce accessibility and collaboration more convenient.
In fact, in a recent North American survey on IP telephony by Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Krithi Rao and Industry Manager of Enterprise Communication Applications Elka Popova (IP Telephony: Premises-Based or Hosted... or P2P?, June 22, 2006), decision makers in medium- and large-sized enterprises alike cited productivity/efficiency and convenience as primary drivers in planning a migration to VoIP. Yet, with 74% of the surveyï¿½s medium-sized enterprises and 59% of large-sized ones saying they plan to implement VoIP by the year 2012 or sometime thereafter, the issue isnï¿½t when... but how.
Your First Decision
With IP telephony and SIP continuing to hit the mainstream, enterprises are looking at IP PBX systems with a more focused microscope to anchor their VoIP initiatives. Many, however, are also weighing hosted IP telephony options, especially when business process integration and investment protection down the road donï¿½t weigh as heavily as a limited budget and short-term survival.
Of course, business principals know whatï¿½s best for their enterprise and its future, but thereï¿½s still one very viable rule of thumb to deciding between a hosted solution and a premises-based IP PBX: Whereas VoIP can enhance the value proposition of hosted services with certain levels of flexibility, an IP PBX at your own site can increase communications capabilities, security and control ï¿½ and offer a far higher return on your enterpriseï¿½s technology investment over the long term.
The Three Ps Shopping Guide
According to the results of Frost & Sullivanï¿½s survey, the enterprises they polled favored a premises-based IP telephony system over a hosted solution by a 2 to 1 margin. The reasons? Though hosted services rated higher in the flexibility category, survey respondents gave premises-based solutions a higher ranking in the categories for features and capabilities, control, and lower TCO. But beyond those factors should you choose to purchase an enterprise IP PBX, you should also consider the Three Ps ï¿½ Practical, Powerful, and Proven ï¿½ to find the best system.
Hereï¿½s a look at practicality first, how the power of IP telephony plays a role in business communications today and what best defines a proven IP PBX system and the vendor who sells it.
ï¿½The modern IP PBX or VoIP phone system is not your motherï¿½s Centrex anymore.ï¿½ Credit Owen Linderholm of voip-news.com for that observation in his online article Ten Features That Matter for Your PBX or Phone Systemï¿½No Matter Your Business Size (June 15, 2006). And heï¿½s right, especially in this age of information workers and the enterprise as an interaction center.
As business rules go these days, enterprises and their employees require a system like an IP PBX that can leverage open standards like SIP to integrate networked communications and business applications on the PC. After all, workers rely on computers and phone devices and an abundance of information every day to serve customers, process orders, track supply chains, collaborate, message, and generally keep a business running. But, with one system for telephone calls ï¿½ a Centrex, for example ï¿½ a separate one for messaging, and others for data, itï¿½s nearly impossible to make business processes more efficient and put employees in control to effectively do their jobs.
This, too, with practicality in mind: An IP PBX should give departments and workgroups all the tools theyï¿½d expect from a phone system, yet should also enable an enterprise to utilize VoIP for broadband services and features, such as conferencing, and provide convenient, anywhere access to corporate voice and data.
Most of all, on the practical front, an IP PBX system should come complete, as in ï¿½all-in-one,ï¿½ including pre-integrated applications, IP phones and desktop softphones, and ACD and automated attendant for call routing ï¿½ along with the flexibility to integrate third-party applications, such as CRM. Add everything up and it equates to usability, which is what Linderholm cited as the #1 ï¿½featureï¿½ on his Top 10 list. Besides, gains in efficiency and productivity have to start somewhere, and the most practical place to start is with a premises-based IP PBX phone and communications system.
It used to be that more headcount manning the phones gave an enterprise all the power it needed to increase revenue. However, multimedia communications have now made adaptability the most powerful way to conduct business, and offering customers multi-channel avenues for the phone, e-mail, fax, Web services, and data access is crucial. Also, extend those touch points from the main office to every department, branch office, and mobile employee in your organization, and revenue streams multiply accordingly. The trouble is, market and customer requirements change constantly, and adapting to them ï¿½ rapidly, before your competitors do ï¿½ is nearly impossible with a bunch of non-integrated communications systems and technology silos.
Getting back to the new breed of all-in-one IP PBX systems, your enterprise should look for a system that provides a single platform and adaptable, pre-integrated multimedia applications to support changing business processes. Conversely, look out for ï¿½integratedï¿½ proprietary IP telephony systems that still come down to one piece of hardware after another, say for a PBX, ACD, automated attendant, chat server, and IVR system ï¿½ with the promise of VoIP capability mixed in after adding another hardware box or two.
Beyond their higher potential for business continuity breakdowns, multi-box systems can actually rob power by putting barriers between multi-channel touchpoints and causing inconsistent service levels across media channels.
In our previous article for this series, we talked about an old rule of IP telephony and VoIP that says ï¿½IP-enabledï¿½ is close enough and that the New Rule is to buy an IP system, not ï¿½close enough.ï¿½ We also said to run away as fast as you can when a big-name proprietary vendor or some unheard-of new one says its PBX/VoIP phone system is IP-enabled to accommodate SIP and voice over IP.
No mentioning names, but to press the point about offering a proven IP PBX solution, we found some telling comments in another article by Owen Linderholm at voip-news.com, this one titled the Top 5 Upstart IP PBX Vendors (February 7, 2006).
ï¿½On its own, [a certain system] isnï¿½t simple to set up and isnï¿½t completely standards-based...ï¿½ And, ï¿½You wonï¿½t get Fortune 100 level support...ï¿½
If we say anything about a vendor and its solutions being proven, itï¿½s this: Do your homework. As we pointed out in this space before, if your enterprise is committed to finding a true IP PBX system, look closely at its back-end architecture with regards to a SIP carrier environment for IP telephony. More importantly, research the vendors youï¿½re targeting to see what their track record is by way of industry experience, implementation practices, support, and so on.
Unfortunately, many vendors now in the IP telephony arena remain unproven, primarily because theyï¿½ve only recently jumped on the VoIP bandwagon and have yet to work the bugs out of their IP PBX products. On the good side, though, a number of vendors are, indeed, reputable and offer significant industry knowledge along with the solutions they sell.
Proudly, Vonexus is one such vendor, bringing more than a decade of innovation and experience from its parent company, Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert), which has provided a complete SIP architecture and VoIP capability in its product suite since 2002. Moreover, in offering the pre-integrated all-in-one Enterprise Interaction Center (EIC) IP PBX, Vonexus has built EIC using the same multimedia software platform that Interactive Intelligence has implemented in thousands of enterprises and contact centers around the world since 1994.
Thatï¿½s why we take the meaning behind Practical, Powerful, and Proven seriously. Hopefully youï¿½ll take the same Three Ps approach to finding the best IP PBX for your enterprise. IT
Joseph A. Staples is Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing for Interactive Intelligence, Inc., and the companyï¿½s wholly-owned subsidiary, Vonexus, Inc. For more on their suite of IP PBX and IP telephony solutions for the enterprise and IP contact center, contact Vonexus at 888-817-5904 (www.vonexus.com) and Interactive Intelligence at 317.872.3000 (www.inin.com).