IP communication has become more pervasive in the enterprise, not only as a technology replacement for traditional telephone lines, but as an enabler for business processes and worker productivity. In the area of remote working, for instance, IP communication is breaking down physical barriers by enabling worker mobility and productivity. Organizations are also able to cast a wider net in seeking out new talents, where geographical boundaries have become less relevant thanks to greater capabilities provided by their IP network. In this interview, Mario Belanger, president of Avaya Canada, offers some insights on the current and future state of the IP telephony market.
Industry analysts have noted a decline in pricing for IP telephony solutions, but the cost of long-term support has not significantly gone down. Why is that?
The price may have started to go down [partly] because of adoption, and partly competition, but I think it’s more of a phenomenon of adoption in the marketplace. We believe there are over 400 million enterprise lines out there in the world, and less than 75 million have been converted over to IP. So adoption drives prices down. But many organizations, vendors, manufacturers and even end users may not have initially known the complexity of deploying this new technology. We recognized that fairly early because we have been in the business forever. We have acquired companies and tools to make sure that the support is similar to what you had in the past. It’s a different technology, yet the SLAs (service level agreements) or the requirements from customers are still the same – reliability, consistency of service, and so on. So we had to re-engineer our service organization so it does support [those requirements]. As a result we believe we offer something a lot of our competitors do not have and that is good support at a price that is worth what’s paid for.
Voice over IP (VoIP) continues to gain traction in the enterprise, but organizations that have not made the conversion and are planning to do so might be looking for ways to deploy more efficiently. Where should IT managers begin?
Do things in an evolutionary way instead of revolutionary, which is rip-and-replace everything at once, combine the voice and the data network over one single platform as a flash cut.
We believe there is less of a payback if you do this because you basically have to replace all your phones, you have to buy new cable that runs over Internet, put power over Internet, and really re-engineer your entire network. If you open up a new branch or a new office, you may want to do this because it’s evergreen. But if you are looking at upgrading or converging your existing network, we believe the best way to do things is at your pace.
Only deploy IP where IP makes sense, where you have an application that supports deploying IP. You can mix the old or the legacy systems with the new. The best advice for an IT manager is to really take a step-by-step approach to address where IP makes the most sense now, where you can get the most benefit out of it. And in areas where you clearly don’t have a clear benefit because all you need is a dial-tone, for example, then leave your older infrastructure.
One of the issues raised around VoIP is the security aspect. How far has the market gone in terms of alleviating the security concerns?
People are concerned because [they] are putting more faith and more applications in their IP network, so it needs to be secured, it needs to be reliable. Your mission- critical applications are riding on that. You have to have the tools to manage your network and security is important. We encrypt each VoIP packet between the telephone and our server and gateway architectures.
The best example I can give you is our involvement in the World Cup Soccer last year. We were in charge of deploying a very secure network. There were 30,000 journalists coming in and out of this network with different devices, needing voice, video, e-mail. At Avaya we understand the need for security and we have the tools to manage the network. But also embedded in our technology is some encryption that allows that communication to be secured. I think it’s assumed that VoIP communication is secured until it isn’t. The basis of it is that any communication needs to be secured, and the tools are there today.
Organizations that have already decided IP is the direction they want to take may be asking whether to outsource or to acquire. How do you help them make that decision?
That’s a debate and it depends on who you talk to. Some companies like to outsource, some others like to insource. And even within the same organization sometimes you’ll see the American division will do one thing and the Canadian division [another]. That’s a difficult question to answer because each company is different; we can help them in both ways. Our service provider partners would like to have more and more value-added services delivered to their end-user and a hosted [model] is certainly an angle that resonates well for some customers. It’s a mix; some people would prefer to do capital acquisition others prefer the operational expense, but vendors have to be able to support the two models pretty well.
What does the future hold for IP and where do you see Avaya in that future?
We have embarked on the concept of intelligent communication. We’re focusing now not only on our customers but on their customers as well. Our customers have their own set of customers that are becoming more and more demanding. Customers want access to their vendor 24/7 and they want consistency of service whether they call your store, your contact centre or whatever. And without intelligent communication it’s difficult for our customers to provide that consistency of service.
We’re seeing the concept of intelligent communication is starting to resonate very well with our customers, because technology for technology’s sake is interesting, but it doesn’t really solve their business problem. So it’s how you can put intelligence in communication to really address customer service and your own internal location. We also have a concept that Gartner calls communication-enabled business process (CEBP). We will probably start hearing more about CEBP and how you can, through intelligent communication, remove the human latency in a process.
Another one that we see coming is SIP (session initiation protocol), which is again very much about presence – knowing who is where and how you want to be communicated to in real-time.
Foremost, it’s access to communication, whether it’s calling a contact centre agent, or calling a product manager, or a customer calling a vendor.
It’s about getting the right person now and SIP will enable that. It really talks to multi-vendor connectivity, which is great because you don’t want to be limited to buying all your technology from the same vendor forever, because then prices may not go down as quickly and it’s not a good thing.