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Beyond White Papers And PowerPoint Slides...

The Challenge Of Picking The Right IP Telephony Product


Rewind to just a few years ago. Most IT organizations were still only getting their feet wet relative to IP telephony products by reading, surfing the net, going to tradeshows and seminars in essence trolling for information on this emerging technology that promised to carry voice interactions over the Internet. And once they gathered what they felt was sufficient data, it was time to begin looking at product options. Unfortunately, most IT chiefs found back then that the only solutions were partial ones. They also found that such incomplete solutions made it difficult to meet 100 percent of their organizations communications requirements.

Today, the "incomplete" IP telephony/voice over IP solutions problem isnt as much of an issue. Instead, the problem is how to sort through the substantial number of products that seem to do everything needed for a successful IP telephony deployment. Or more precisely, how to choose the best IP telephony product for your organization.

Our experience with thousands of deployments suggests there are three distinct factors that any IT chief and business enterprise should consider throughout the decision-making process.

When linked with technology like IP telephony, the term innovation can easily be overused and watered down. But innovation is still a critical assessment, as in: How forward thinking is the product being evaluated? Most likely, youre evaluating an IP telephony product because your organization is using an outdated telephone system that needs to be replaced or upgraded. Therefore innovation questions should go like so:

Does the new offering support the latest open communications standards, such as SIP?

Does it include an application suite strong enough to extend the functionality my employees and customers need?

Is it flexible enough for multi-site offices and mobile workers, and scalable enough to add more?

Does it easily integrate with other products that are already deployed?

Essentially, will the product youre gauging keep your business out in front of the technology curve?

Making your evaluation with an innovation factor in mind will ensure that you wont be repeating the process again anytime soon.

Industry knowledge and business experience relates as much to the company youre buying from as it does to the products they sell. How long have they been in business? How many IP telephony installations do they have? Do they have the support infrastructure to complete a successful deployment? Ignoring the experience factor will raise your risk level, oftentimes beyond your comfort zone.

Value really is a bottom-line evaluation. Based on the total cost of buying and owning the product, are you getting the best value for the money your business is spending? In other words, consider all system costs as a whole and not just the purchase price. In fact, youll find the vendors who score high in the areas of innovation and experience are also typically leaders when it comes to the value factor.

With these three factors guiding the overall selection process for any IP telephony solution, here are some more specific items to include in your evaluation. Note that some are business related, some are technology related, and that both aspects must be considered.

What is the reason for replacing the old system? It seems like such an obvious question (with many possible reasons), but there often are differing internal views to the answer which can cause consternation and misjudgment in selecting a new IP telephony system. Arrive at the core reason, ask this question, and then be sure every person involved in the decision-making process is in agreement for the answer.

What are the size requirements for the new system? Can the system scale to meet current well as requirements eight to 10 years from now? If so, is its scalability simple and straightforward?

Do remote employees need greater access to the communications system while out of the office? It can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for some IP telephony communications systems to let remote employees and mobile users work as if theyre in the office and serving as an integrated part of the organization. Or essentially, provide Always In capability to a growing mobile workforce. Look for a system that offers features such as remote access, Follow-me and Available Forward to make mobile employees available, and responsive, at all times.

Do you require increased coordination between teams, customer service and field services? Across departments? Many organizations have difficulty synchronizing between departments, workgroups and distributed offices to constantly know whos available, who can help with a pressing issue, what department can respond to customer inquiries and so on. Any IP telephony system worth its weight should include real-time presence management, across all locations and departments, for all employees whether in the office or away from it.

Do you need to manage telephony resources for multiple locations, and have your current systems been cumbersome and expensive to administer and maintain? If this is important to your organization, recognize that proprietary multi-box phone and communications systems generally have multiple administration interfaces. That is, no single point of administration. Conversely, a single box solution, or one that can be deployed and managed as a virtual single box solution, is essential to managing telephony resources across locations and reducing admin time and costs.

Do you have several high-volume interaction groups and/or informal call centers, such as Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Technical Support, etc.? Many vendors find it both complex and expensive to offer screen pops and big call center functionality for small groups of 10 to 40 agents within an enterprise. Other vendors who can provide such capabilities simply cant offer them at an affordable cost. Products like the pre-integrated Enterprise Interaction Center (EIC) IP telephony and communications system from Vonexus provide more than ample call center functionality for small workgroups and informal call centers.

Are you planning an initial blend between IP telephony and traditional TDM resources? An IP telephony system should provide options for voice over IP that offer maximum flexibility down the road. Translated, your organization should be able to install the new system on traditional telephony interfaces and migrate to voice over IP later with no costly forklift upgrades. A strong contender for your business should also offer voice over IP for the telephony interface using SIP for all incoming calls and stations, or using SIP only for stations leaving traditional trunk interfaces connected to the PSTN.

What other applications do you plan on deploying in the future? Screen pops, unified messaging, call recording, screen recording even if your organization doesnt require and deploy applications like these at implementation, planning future needs for such applications as you research new IP telephony systems will help you zero in on the right system. In what should be a major red flag for application flexibility and adding new features later, many IP telephony systems simply are not architected to handle expanded applications without adding more hardware boxes. And adding more boxes only makes any IP telephony system more difficult and expensive to administer.

Some offerings, however, such as the EIC product from Vonexus, allow you to seamlessly integrate new applications and functionality whenever your employees and customers require, all to EICs single platform and pre-integrated environment.

Consider The Right Factors
While this list isnt all-inclusive it would take far more space to include every possible consideration it does provide several key questions and considerations to include in selecting an IP telephony product. More critically, by combining prudent questions and in-depth research with general measurements against a vendors innovation, experience and value, these factors will help ensure that the IP telephony solution you finally choose will meet your organizations needs for years to come.

Joseph A. Staples is Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing for Interactive Intelligence, Inc., and the companys wholly-owned subsidiary, Vonexus, Inc. As 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 along with Vonexus is a leading industry innovator in the IP telephony, VoIP, and SIP movement. For more on their suite of IP telephony, contact center, and enterprise solutions, contact Interactive Intelligence at 317.872.3000 ( and Vonexus at 888-817-5904 (

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