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There has been a lot of press on VoIP recently; however, the jury is still out as to when this technology will become the business standard rather than the new kid on the block. There are a number of reasons but the primary one is the cost to move away from traditional and highly reliable analog telephone systems to digital. Most small office environments have key systems installed, many of which have been in use for a decade or more, and they continue to run with little or no upkeep.
Convergence of voice and data is, and will continue to be, the key enabler that will drive the deployment of VoIP on a wide scale across Corporate America. Convergence offers more flexibility in the development of automated and streamlined business processes, but equally important, it provides the opportunity to consolidate access to the WAN and the PSTN which will drive down support and recurring costs.
This potential to reduce staff as well as recurring data and telephony costs will enamor the CIOS and CFOS. The carriers are driving this point home by taking the legacy Centrex service offering out of moth balls with a fork lift upgrade to IP and then branding the service with new sexy names. Regardless of the name, it is essentially Centrex with a new dress. This new Centrex service, which is now available, makes it possible to provide both data and telephony service at branch offices with a single pipe to the phone company.
The Service Offerings
I looked at a couple of services but was impressed most by AT&Ts. Voice DNA eliminates the need for a PBX or Key System at a given location, yet provides all the functionality one would expect to see at a corporate headquarters. A multitude of functions including call waiting, call forwarding, DID, DOD, conferencing, faxing and a host of other applications can be made available.
Now I would be remiss if I didnt indicate that I was swayed by the intuitive administrator web tool. This tool makes MAC activity a breeze. The tool also makes it easy to set up billing codes and pull up an abundance of reports, such as usage for starters, that the CIO is always requesting at the spur of the moment.
The infrastructure and intelligence behind the Voice DNA service puts the workload on AT&Ts network for voice traffic and not mine. If the traffic is destined for a Voice DNA enabled location, it is processed and delivered on the Voice DNA network. All other traffic hops off the Voice DNA network an on to the PSTN rather than eating up valuable bandwidth on my private IP network.
Most national companies are organized by geographical areas, and as a result, there is a significant amount of interaction between offices in a specific area. This is a perfect situation for Centrex. In example, why not put all of the offices in the Atlanta metropolitan area on a common Centrex service? Then multiply this across the nation in the other large metropolitan areas where you do business. This would, in effect, make each of these areas a large virtual office and provide the same functionality the folks over at corporate consider a given.
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of this service is the flexibility it provides the road warriors who are in and out of branch offices more than they are at their own desk. This will enable them to sit down at any office with the service, log into a telephone, and voila, all their phone calls will come to them regardless of the office they happen to be working out of that day.
Why Not Do It Yourself?
You techies out there will say this is nothing new. We can do this ourselves by implementing our own private VoIP capability at the branch offices and the corporate WAN.
Yes, you are indeed right, but I ask you why would you want to?
There are a couple of disadvantages of introducing VoIP over the WAN, one of which is the cost. Additional bandwidth will quickly eradicate any cost savings for toll calls not to mention the huge investment you will have to make to ensure that your infrastructure can provide the quality of service needed.
Another big item you need to consider is the feet on the ground required to support these services. If you implement it yourself, you are going to have to belly up to the bar and add staff or make arrangements for contractors to be at your beck and call.
Why would you want to do this? Offload this burden to the carriers such as AT&T, MCI, or Sprint who are all better equipped than you to do the job. After all, they have been doing it since Alexander Graham Bell first started providing the service.
In summary, carrier-grade IP Centrex service is a low-cost entry to the VoIP world and involves little or no capital expenditure. In reality, this service will lower your cost in the long term and make your branch offices more efficient. Now is the time to make the plunge, your branch office employees will be glad you did.
This article was first published on EnterpriseITPlanet.com.