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Framework for an IP Telephony Decision

As organizations strategize for infrastructure consolidation, IP telephony discussions are compulsory. Guidelines for a decision in favor of IP telephony must include infrastructure readiness, geographic considerations, process requirements, benefits anal
Written by Elizabeth Ussher, Contributor

As organizations strategize for infrastructure consolidation, IP telephony discussions are compulsory. Guidelines for a decision in favor of IP telephony must include infrastructure readiness, geographic considerations, process requirements, benefits analysis, and staffing readiness.

META Trend: During 2003-07, IP voice will be considered as an alternative in WAN applications (toll bypass and access reduction) and campus implementations where high voice costs, unique phone-based applications, and in-house management are primary drivers, but will not catalyze wholesale PBX replacement through 2007. IP centrex will suffer from minimal user functionality and unattractive pricing. Speech-enabled applications (e.g., speech recognition, text-to-speech) will enter the mainstream in 2003/04, expanding to incorporate multimodal (speech and non-PC) clients, and resulting in more intuitive and flexible information access during 2005/06.

Although many enterprises strategically planned for a converged voice, data, and video infrastructure to be in place by now, few have holistically undertaken the task. This can be attributed to the global economy, missteps in initial implementations, and the lack of financial substantiation for anticipated productivity applications. However, with a glimmer of promise in recent economic reports (and concomitant loosening of budget entitlements), enterprises are once again revisiting the option of transitioning to an IP-based voice infrastructure. Most are using a migratory approach, though a small percentage of large global enterprises are migrating more quickly than others. However, a small percentage of enterprises that are replacing traditional PBX equipment have made the decision to stay with digital and not migrate to IP telephony at this time.

During 2003/04, technology professionals will continue to evaluate the deployment of IP for voice applications. Because technologies have been proven, we expect users to continue voice over IP deployment in the wide area, where savings justify equipment and training costs (e.g., International toll bypass, converged access). Access costs will continue to rise through 2006, making single versus multiple access lines to the enterprise site to carry all communications (e.g., voice, data, and, increasingly, video) enticing to offices or business partners (e.g., outsourcers). Planning for any IP migration must include a study of the required security controls (i.e., special VoIP-aware firewalls and mechanisms for preventing denial-of-service attacks), particularly as implementations transition from closed intra-enterprise to inter-enterprise scenarios, leveraging publicly available IP trunking and access points. Although IP telephony (defined as IP-based telephones on a corporate IP network) has made considerable progress for basic voice connectivity, business features, and reliability, wholesale enterprise requirements will not be sufficient for PBX replacement through 2007.

Step 1: Infrastructure Readiness
As enterprises revisit current data infrastructure, building voice and, increasingly, video-ready requirements into the needs assessment has become routine. In addition, many enterprises are expanding network monitoring tool suites to include voice assessment applications (e.g., NetIQ, NetScout, Concord) to monitor real-time reaction of their networks to voice simulations and live traffic. A positive result of these tests becomes an integral part of the business case. An unacceptable test becomes the foundation of a gap analysis.

Step 2: Geography The Most Versatile Influencer
The ability to provide immediate, seamless, and headquarters-like functionality to remote sites both smaller-scale corporate and telecommuter (fixed remote) is extremely attractive from a customer, management and financial perspective. Indeed, telecommuters and networked voice mail continue to rate high on the client list of desired convergence-influenced applications. Although audio messaging interchange specification (AMIS) has served many of these clients well in the past, not only is it prohibitively expensive in many cases for users in global organizations, but these users are also more functionality savvy utilizing more than just global mail lists. This has also caused voice mail security to resurface after a 10-year hiatus and is currently included in many more generic information security audits.

Step 3: Process There Isn’t One
Because IP telephony is neither pure voice nor pure data, the current processes for simple activities such as internal telephone user moves must be revisited. Flexibility comes at a price. For example, current voice processes require a request to move a telephone (though most PBXs have a station relocation feature, which would enable users to do this themselves and it is usually turned off), which, in turn, sparks additional information such as corporate directory (e.g., for physical information), emergency services (e.g., 911 in the domestic US, or equivalent), local calling permissions (e.g., class of service), and site-specific voice mail lists). IP telephony enables users to move themselves, and users will do so not understanding the domino effect of obsolete data left behind, plus the potential disruption of corporate dial-plan management due to direct inward dial (DID) numbering plans from the local telephone company. An in-depth study of secondary information gathered and generated by current telephony processes will assist in preparing the new processes to be used by data, voice, and video.

Benefits: User Perspective More Than Just a Phone
Numerous circumstances exist where server-based IP telephony platforms provide additional flexibility such as management of smaller remote offices from a centralized corporate location or applications (e.g., regional retail inventory checking from the phone). However, the business value of the application must be substantiated and obvious to end users. Most users are aware of when a new telephony system is installed and question the validity of the expense versus the value of the replacement if it is not readily apparent.

Our research shows a significant increase in the percentage of clients who have converged their voice and data staffs. We also find that most data technologists tend to gravitate toward the physical layers of the open systems interconnection (OSI) model and voice personnel toward the application layers. Training still remains an issue. Although enterprises are considering professional organizations that offer courses, current budgets do not allow for superfluous training. Therefore, non-core training for either genre has to be justified. To combat this, many enterprises have utilized loaner pilot equipment as a training opportunity for both voice and data trained technical staff. The catch is to have a matrix organization install and test, as opposed to having the “voice” side implement the system (e.g., Alcatel, Avaya, Nortel, Siemens) or the “data” side implement the system (e.g., Cisco). We also recommend that the shortlist of these systems be tested side by side instead of installing one candidate and testing, de-installing; and repeating with the alternate choice. Concurrent testing facilitates a true comparison.

Underestimating or assuming the infrastructure is solid has been the most common misstep. Following directly behind, remains the requirement for satisfying cost avoidance or reduction with no confusion about the assumptions made. It is imperative that realistic return-on-investment numbers are established and tracked as a deliverable. The most common confusion has been the differences in accounting for voice equipment and services versus data equipment and services. Although applications are interesting to users, none that are IP-specific have yet been identified as having powerful enough impact to create a ”user pull" environment as previously mentioned.

Business Impact: Providing additional value via cost reduction is imperative for any technology transition being considered during 2003.

Bottom Line: Enterprises considering IP telephony must assess the actual value versus risk for the particular site being considered and adjust resources (technological and human) to accommodate the internal customer.

META Group originally published this article on 16 August 2003.

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