IP Telephony: Combating Buyers Remorse

It’s an all-too-common story. Hearing the buzz about speed, efficiency and handling, available options are chosen and good money spent to purchase what seems to be the perfect vehicle.

But even before the first payment is due, signs of serious trouble loom on the horizon. For many CIOs, the highway is voice, the vehicle is IP telephony, and the scenario is all too real.

The ongoing integration of voice and data technology has led to advantages hardly considered a few years ago. However, benefits of an IP telephony system should be weighed carefully against implementation and day-two support costs.

Maintaining an IP telephony environment can be complex. Therefore it is critical that businesses sift through available service options to arrive at the most cost-effective and reliable solution based on their communications environments.

The Evolution

Traditional PBX systems in the United States are aging more gracefully than expected. Although much of the associated hardware is approaching or has passed its 10-year anniversary, many of the systems are every bit as reliable as the day they were installed.

For that very reason, migration to IP telephony has been slowed as companies choose to preserve older systems to keep costs down.

While most clients are introducing some degree of IP into their voice network, they aren’t simply discarding the older TDM technology in its entirety.

In fact, many are taking “baby steps,” replacing aging TDM systems one piece at a time without realizing the benefits that an all-at-once migration provides.

Regardless of how and when a company migrates is less important than making sure an effective day-two support plan is in place prior to implementation. Failing to inquire about and fully understanding all available services prior to executing a contract can result in a less than smooth transition.

Day-Two Issues

Day-two support involves understanding the long-term costs associated with IP telephony, which if not planned for properly, can be significantly higher than traditional systems.

Because IP telephony is dynamic, training should be an ongoing consideration. Also, many of the IP telephony solutions on the market are Windows server-based, so they pose new and different security challenges than traditional TDM systems.

These systems demand more attention than traditional TDM networks and while most applications are somewhat forgiving on older systems, IP telephony applications are not.

These support strategies should be solidified prior to system implementation. Failure to finalize a strategy can compromise potential ROI and lead to a great deal of frustration the day after the new system goes live.

Whether a company opts to outsource day-two service or utilize its internal staff is a difficult decision. However, it’s important to develop a detailed IP telephony contingency plan to make sure problems don’t arise.

Existing Resources

Companies often assume they simply can hand the new system over to the IT department and call it a day.

But IP telephony technicians need to be highly skilled and can be significantly more expensive to hire and train than traditional IT staff. In addition, the continual expense to keep them current on the technology must be considered.

Existing internal IT departments should implement effective policies and procedures from the beginning. They must also ensure the support team understands how to effectively secure the IP telephony environment and monitor voice quality and traffic as well as associated alarms.

This is the perfect time to reevaluate existing strategies and revise them to encompass IP telephony technology.

Once procedures are in place and monitoring has been outlined, the company should conduct a gap analysis. Most internal staff members will not be proficient enough to handle all of these new tasks immediately, so trial runs during off-peak hours can prove invaluable.

Most importantly, a company must examine existing in-house skill sets honestly before making any final decisions.

Companies planning to handle maintenance internally should follow proven practices and provide adequate training for maintenance personnel. Another option to consider is entering into a maintenance contract with systems integrators or other outside vendors.

Outsourcing Support

In many circumstances, companies realize it’s cheaper and more effective to outsource than to train, support and retain employees needed to maintain their new system. Companies, regardless of their core business, may have neither the budget nor the need for a full-time VoIP expert.

Companies opting to outsource day-two support should select a partner familiar with its needs. In many cases this requires a little research prior to installation.

Several companies that design and install IP telephony systems also provide managed services, data monitoring and maintenance. Using the same company to provide these services means they have detailed knowledge not only about installation but also about how to optimize and integrate specific applications.

Many managed services — especially those that are security- or disaster recovery-related — cannot be handled in-house and on-location. In effect, a company with the new IP telephony system actually can benefit from its off-site management provider’s experience guiding previous clients through similar crisis situations.

Working with an implementation partner who lacks an adequate network operations center (NOC) or comprehensive managed service offerings means the company will be primarily (if not solely) reliant upon internal resources over the long haul.

With mission critical applications like telephony, one wrong move can be very expensive. You can’t just walk into the wiring closet and start rerouting cables. Unplugging wires from an IP telephony server can lead to serious problems that can confound even the best IT employee.

Regardless of which support option companies choose, IP telephony systems require careful planning, design and implementation. Daily operation of VoIP is no minor undertaking. Deployment and management is much more demanding than traditional TDM.

Darrell Epps is director of Managed Services for NextiraOne, an enterprise communications services provider that specializes in the delivery of professional, managed and maintenance services for traditional, IP and converged voice and data networks.