Twenty percent of companies that relied on private branch exchange (PBX) have migrated to IP telephony. That's not exactly a red-hot adoption rate, but change is upon us.
According to Gartner Inc., more than 80% of companies are undergoing trials of IP telephony. In three years, a majority of companies will be using it, the Stamford, Conn.-based consulting group predicts. And no wonder, when even equipment like video security cameras have become digital and are now the norm.
In fact, the migration to IP telephony (IPT) is a technology milestone in the view of Gartner analyst Carl Claunch. In his list of top 10 technologies for 2008, Claunch said IP telephony represents the first major change in voice communications since the digital PBX and cellular phone changes in the 1970s and 1980s.
When companies migrate to IPT, they move from a parallel infrastructure to a converged environment. Separate networks for switched voice and packet data are combined into a single converged network. The first order of business, experts said, is to clean up your network and make sure it is prepared and ready for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
But CIOs who rush headfirst into a VoIP deployment before assessing the skill sets of their IT staff are asking for trouble, warn analysts such as Elizabeth Herrell, who covers IP and unified communications at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.
For successful VoIP deployment staffing solutions, voice and data networking staffs need to learn to work together effectively, early in the process. It's important for both groups to communicate closely and share information to ensure that the IP network and telecom applications are understood by both staffs.
"Companies that shift all responsibility to data managers will face challenges in managing voice features and applications, as well as expertise in traffic engineering and telecommunications functions," Herrell pointed out in her report on operational guidelines for IP telephony.
IPT is much more complex than a standard LAN-based application, Herrell said. IPT requires knowledge of LAN, bandwidth management, quality of service knowledge and security skills. It demands an understanding of voice functions and applications.
In a conventional model, the data and telecom groups have separate duties and do not need to share job responsibilities. And in many companies, the two cultures are often at odds. In a converged environment, IT organizations need both network expertise to monitor and maintain the network, and telecom expertise to configure and manage telecom features and applications, as well as provide carrier support, Herrell said.
Off doing their own thing
Ken Gaugush, a senior systems engineer at Avaya Inc., agrees. "Probably the biggest thing CIOs need to be aware of when hiring for a convergence project is to foster communication between the data center and telecom groups," Gaugush said.
CIOs might want to quickly hire a liaison who understands both functions. CIOs at big companies often come from a data center, not telephony, background and may not be experienced with real-time data flows or be able to fully gauge the expertise of two teams that will need to work together, Gaugush said.
Telecom experts typically have a good understanding of what the business requirements for quality of service are for VoIP. They may understand availability, but they usually don't have a good handle on the data pieces of it, Gaugush said. On the flip side, people with a data center background typically are pretty well versed on what the disaster recovery needs might be, but they may or may not understand quality of service.
At some companies, the staffs are well-integrated, but more often "telecom is kind of off doing their own thing and the data network is off doing their own thing, and the implementations can be a little bit rocky if both sides haven't communicated well," Gaugush said.
CIOs should look for someone who can translate the goals and objectives of the various business units into a converged infrastructure and align those with the goals and objectives of the IT organization.
Staff up for every application IPT touches
In today's move toward unified communications, the core IPT group must include IT staff familiar with the application services that run on the IP network, said Todd Landry, senior vice president at Sphere Communications Inc. in Lincolnshire, Ill.
Many of the newer systems, such as the Sphere software, operate on top of the IP network and interact with other systems in the network, such as the email system. In principle, the task of putting voicemail messages into the email inboxes of users may seem fairly simple, Landry said. Not so, in reality.
"In some cases, where an organization did not bring their Microsoft Exchange people into the program, or they had outsourced it and had a mail system up and running, the realization that they really didn't have the on-staff expertise to figure out how to configure their Exchange system creates friction," Landry said.
The message here: In addition to the IP networking experts, CIOs need to line up the experts for all the business applications the new IP system is going to touch.
With separate time-division multiplexer-based PBXs, organizations relied on the expert who was well-versed in that box. He had a special cable and special port he could plug into. With IP telephony running on a software system, CIOs now need to also bring in the IT group that is well-versed in the company's software-based systems as well as the servers they run on in the back office.
As for getting the telecom and data people talking, "What we have seen is that they are bringing the telecom expertise within the company into the IT fold." Landry said.
Forrester's Herrell makes the same point. "In a converged environment, technical support for managing the telephone configurations and changes is greatly simplified," she said. "Although telecom plays an important role in the transition, the data organization must take the lead due to the major impact of IPT on the network."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.