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November 2006, Volume 9/ Number 11

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How’s Your IPT IQ?

By Richard Zimmermann

 


IT departments are facing a barrage of information in the marketplace about the benefits of deploying IP telephony. There seems to be a groundswell of advice in technical and commercial magazines trumpeting the benefits of IP telephony, and it’s easy to feel that you are getting left behind if you haven’t yet deployed IP telephony in your environment. But is there sufficient substance behind the hype to justify a serious look at IP telephony (also known as IPT)? What are the business and economic drivers for deploying IPT? And what factors need to be considered during the implementation process to ensure a successful deployment?


Test your IP Telephony Intelligence Quotient (IPT IQ) by reviewing the following statements about IP telephony and comparing your answers. Then read the explanation below each question to see how well you understand the subtleties involved in a successful IP telephony deployment.

1. The primary economic driver for deploying IP telephony is reduction in long distance charges. True or False?

While it is true that toll avoidance was a key factor in driving the deployment of IP telephony systems a number of years ago, the economics around toll charges have changed significantly. IP telephony systems still allow companies to reduce long distance charges by carrying voice traffic over their corporate data networks. However, long distance carriers have responded by drastically reducing corporate toll charges in an effort to maintain revenue and avoid stranded capacity on their installed networks. Consequently, the potential savings in this area have been reduced, but not eliminated. For instance, in a recent business case justification, a major medical equipment manufacturer identified a total of $5.9 million in cost savings attributable to the deployment of an IP telephony system over the five-year planning period, but only about 13% of these savings were due to toll avoidance.






2. Telephony manufacturers are not developing any new features on traditional TDM PBX (News - Alert) systems. True or False?

Most industry analysts agree that 2005 was the year that, for the first time, the value of IPT equipment shipped was greater than the value of traditional legacy phone, also known as TDM (Time-Division Multiplexing) PBX (Private Branch Exchange) equipment shipped. This trend is expected to accelerate in future years so that by 2009, 98% of all telephony equipment shipped will be IP telephony equipment. Not surprisingly, manufacturers’ research and development dollars are being invested in IP telephony equipment, while feature development on analog PBXs has been frozen. In addition, a host of third-party application developers have sprung up in the past few years and are bringing innovative, vertical-specific features to market that operate across IPT platforms. These features are helping companies realize additional business efficiencies through the use of their IPT systems.

3. IP telephony is just another application on the network. True or False?


The primary rationale for deployment of IP telephony is still true—it is more efficient to run voice and data over a single, integrated network than it is to maintain two separate networks. However, due to its time-sensitive nature, adding voice traffic to an existing data network brings complexities that traditional data applications do not. Consequently, additional care must be exercised in planning and deploying IPT networks. A thorough assessment of the underlying data network must be undertaken to determine its ability to handle the additional voice traffic. This network assessment is a standard component of an effective deployment methodology. In fact, it is commonplace for experienced, high-level service providers to decline to participate in IPT engagements with customers that will not agree to an assessment of their underlying network before deploying IPT. Repeated experience has indicated that a thorough validation of the underlying data network is essential to a successful IPT deployment. Too often, a service provider is called in to troubleshoot an IPT network after the fact, only to find out that the customer neglected to do an assessment of their data network prior to deploying IP telephony. Typically, problems with the performance of IPT systems are not technical issues, but design issues. IPT networks that are designed with the appropriate Quality of Service (QoS) parameters on a properly provisioned data infrastructure generally provide the satisfactory end user experience and financial return expected by customers.

4. Realizing the promised financial benefits of IPT implementations requires a heavy reliance on soft costs. True or False?


In conservative ROI analyses, the economic benefit is derived solely from hard, identifiable cost savings. These cost savings generally come from reduced depreciation expense, lower maintenance costs, lower cost of Moves, Adds and Changes (MACs), and toll avoidance, all of which can be quantified and validated. However, this is not to say that soft costs or anticipated increases in business efficiencies should be ignored. In many cases, the enhanced capabilities enabled by IPT provide companies with opportunities to drive significant reductions in cost or increases in efficiency. For instance, studies (e.g., Sage Research, 2005) have shown that unified messaging systems, where users can access voicemail, email, and fax messages through a single, unified mailbox, save business users an average of 45 minutes per business day. Similarly, integrated conferencing systems, which combine audio, video and Web conferencing into an integrated email interface, have enabled customers to significantly reduce travel expenses by providing an “almost like being there” conferencing experience. Take the example of a mid-sized national company that has used this system internally for its quarterly sales reviews for the past two years. Instead of flying sales teams from several dozen locations into headquarters four times a year, three of the meetings are conducted via an integrated conference, and sales teams travel to headquarters once a year.

5. IP telephony deployments impact all areas of a customer’s IT environment. True or False?

Many customers underestimate the impact of the loading voice traffic onto their data network. Perhaps the most obvious consideration involves security. It is possible for Denial of Service (DoS) attacks to be launched against the signaling protocol used with IPT, resulting in forced disconnects or false busy signals. Users also need to be alert to toll fraud, identity and information theft, and service disruption. The components of IPT systems, such as call managers, IP telephony switches, routers, and gateways need to be protected from viruses, worms, DoS attacks, and unauthorized access. Another less obvious impact of IP telephony is on the enterprise’s storage requirements. With unified messaging, voice, fax, and email messages are contained in a single store. Based on the size of the enterprise, this dynamic can have a significant impact on the company’s storage requirements. A comprehensive IPT implementation plan must take into account and properly plan for storage requirements. Finally, the customer’s server environment must also be taken into consideration. Although the implementation of an IP telephony system impacts all facets of a customer’s IT environment, careful planning of the implementation will properly take all of these factors into consideration to deliver the full business benefits of the technology.

6. Maintenance of IPT systems is easier and less expensive than that of traditional PBX systems. True or False?

It is true that IPT networks typically offer significant maintenance savings for multi-site customers by consolidating distributed applications like contact centers and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) into a single, centralized component. It is also true that IPT networks offer significant savings by reducing charges for Moves, Adds, and Changes (MACs), since much of this work does not need to be performed by specialized technicians. For instance, relocations of telephone stations no longer require a visit to the wiring closet, since any phone can be plugged into the network at any location, and it will register itself with the network to accept calls at the new location. However, the effort and skill required for ongoing maintenance and administration of the system should not be underestimated. The legacy staff responsible for maintaining a TDM PBX may not necessarily be qualified to support an IPT system. Most corporations are wrestling with issues associated with the inevitable merging of their voice and data departments. Many have successfully educated their staffs to be able to administer and maintain their new IPT systems. However, given the rapid advances in technology, these employees will require ongoing training to ensure that they remain capable of administering the system to its full potential.

7. IP telephony systems enhance an enterprise business continuity/disaster recovery environment. True or False?

The distributed architecture inherent to IP telephony lends itself well to business continuity and disaster recovery planning. Call managers are typically deployed in clusters to provide for maximum redundancy, so an outage at a single location will not have an impact on the performance of the system. In addition, survivable remote architecture enables individual branches to maintain full connectivity even if the connection back to the call manager cluster is interrupted. Finally, the ability for users to access centralized system applications from any corporate location provides additional flexibility for the rerouting of traffic and employees in the event of a localized interruption.

8. Customers can reap the financial benefits of IP telephony by “IP-enabling” their current PBXs. True or False?

Industry studies have shown that the basic financial savings that are attributed to IPT are not realized by IP-enabling a traditional PBX. Traditional PBXs, by nature, require a higher capital outlay and more operational costs to maintain. Simply IP-enabling a PBX perpetuates a more costly operating model and fails to exploit the financial benefits offered by a true IP telephony solution.

Well, how did you do? Hopefully, you were able to sort through some of the hype and learn some of the underlying methods and procedures required for a successful deployment of IP telephony.

Much of the hype around IP telephony is well justified — it is a technology that holds the potential to enable almost unlimited increases in business efficiencies while lowering operational costs. However, the benefits do not necessarily come easily. They require a systematic design and implementation methodology, and comprehensive management of all facets of the IT environment. But, if managed properly, the business payoff can be worth the effort. IT

Richard Zimmermann is vice president, network and security solutions of Forsythe Solutions Group (www.forsythe.com) and has more than 20 years of experience in the IT communications industry. He also serves as chairman of the board of the Enterprise Communications (News - Alert) Association (ECA), an industry forum promoting the deployment of converged voice, video, and data communications solutions in the enterprise.

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