Voice over IP

VoIP has become a mature product. Configurations to support VoIP are standard. Vendors are now able to distinguish the VoIP traffic from normal data traffic with MPLS and provide the high priority service it requires. It simplifies and saves costs for moves. Although VoIP can be a cost effective solution when implementing a new site, or if you need to replace an end-of-life PBX system, it may not always be the most cost-effective solution.

The answer to questions regarding the feasibility of migrating to VoIP services from traditional telephony services is, it depends. You need to understand your current costs. Capture your monthly phone charges, long distance charges, including costs for on-network and off-network, plus the costs for additions, moves, and deletions. For larger companies where it may be a difficult task assembling all the costs, pick a number of locations to represent the typical locations within your organization. This will give you a representative cost structure that you can apply with some accuracy over the remaining locations.

Review various options for implementing VoIP systems. The options range from doing everything yourself to having the voice and data network portions fully managed (as shown in Figure 1). Of course, there are numerous options between these two.

Figure 1: VoIP options

If you have capable staff that could easily pick up the technical skills needed, implementing and managing VoIP yourself may be the best option. If skilled staff is missing or workloads prevent picking up the additional responsibility, a partially or fully managed system may be the best option. Vendors will often propose one option, typically a fully managed system, as that is more profitable for them. However, they should be willing to tailor a system for a partially managed solution if you desire. Discuss various alternatives with them so you fully understand all your options and the associated costs and benefits.

To help determine your planned solution, build a VoIP business case. Ideally, the costs associated with converting to your VoIP solution, including on-going costs, are low enough to justify replacing the legacy voice system without any other factors. Many times this is not the case and you will need to consider other cost savings factors that are possible with VoIP solutions. VoIP cost savings include:
§  Elimination of conference call costs
§  Productivity improvements by combining voice mail with e-mail, plus implementing other unified communications services which eliminate the need for people to leave multiple messages when contacting staff for priority action items
§  Improvements in business services where some companies find they can reduce staffing requirements while improving customer service by implementing new telephony applications
§  Simplified technology that supports the infrastructure needed for staff to work at home, which has several cost savings such as higher productivity and reduced office space needs
§  Minimal cabling requirements for new implementations as you run voice and data over the same cable

For business cost analysis, be sure to include all VoIP costs. Some are not necessarily apparent at the beginning of the effort and can substantially reduce savings. Be sure that you do not end up with a VoIP solution that costs more than the current legacy system. Some VoIP costs include:
§  Data network upgrade costs. The data network may require upgrades to support voice traffic. These costs can include hardware replacement and software upgrades. Also, make sure to include costs to support network bandwidth increases needed to support voice traffic.
§  Training costs. You will need to train voice staff on how to configure voice options with a VoIP system. You will need to train network staff to configure network equipment to support voice traffic, and you will need to train support staff to debug problems encountered with the VoIP service. You may be able to reduce training costs with a fully managed VoIP service, but you should still have some trained staff to manage the vendor.
§  Security. You will need to address security concerns on a continuous basis with a VoIP system. Security concerns are virtually non-existent in a legacy telephony system, but you now have to consider security as many viruses can now attack IP phone systems.
§  Hidden fees. Providers can charge hidden fees. While vendors may not always mention these fees in the discovery phase, these charges can show up on the invoices.
§  Merging services. Tying the data and voice network services together can have some operational impact. Data network upgrades or outages can now affect voice services. Business units that were accustomed to using phones as a backup when data network services were not available will find themselves without phone service.

Implementing VoIP systems provide long-term cost savings at best. It can require a substantial cost investment for a do-it-yourself approach. The payback may be multiple years out so make sure the company is ready for this type of investment. Although a fully managed system may save money given the costs of change, it may not be a high priority item for meeting overall cost reduction goals.