Getting the buzz Featured

7:26am EDT October 31, 2003
Making decisions about adopting the latest technology and acquiring tools that will enable an easy transition to future enhancements are critical to the survival of any business.

VOIP, Voice Over Internet Protocol, has the potential to revolutionize the way we communicate. VOIP is the process of converting voice signals into data packets, using Internet Protocol (IP) to transmit voice over a data network, which could be a private network or the Internet.

To successfully implement VOIP and reap its benefits, you must take appropriate steps. The move into VOIP is driven by the desire to get enhanced business communications and reduce the total cost of network operations.

The benefits of utilizing IP telephony include cost savings on long distance charges and a seamless phone system among multiple offices and remote workers. Businesses that have a data connection between offices can utilize VOIP technology to bypass long distance networks and provide more efficient communications.

In a traditional setting, someone dialed the phone number to a branch office, possibly paying a long distance charge for the call, waited for a receptionist or automated system to answer, then was connected to the party they were trying to reach. Using VOIP, a person can simply dial an extension number and be connected immediately to a party in another office -- across town or around the world -- saving money and increasing productivity.

Another benefit is in the design of many IP-based telephone systems. Rather than traditional phone systems with their own wiring infrastructure, IP-based systems use a data network infrastructure. This convergence of voice and data into a single platform simplifies the administration of the communications network.

A third benefit is the ability to have remote phones with a single telephone number. For example, an employee could work out of his or her home in New York, utilizing a phone number with a California area code. This enables corporations to take advantage of having a virtual office or remote agents working out of a variety of locations.

Here are some steps to get started.

* Ask, "What am I trying to accomplish?" Tie your business objectives to the benefits of VOIP. Will this technology help you achieve your goals?

* Adopt this mission statement: "Technology should help my business become more profitable and gain a competitive edge." Determine whether VOIP will do this for your company. If it does, it probably justifies your investment.

* Understand all the implications of utilizing the technology in your company. Will you have to upgrade your connection between sites or teleworkers? Will you have to enhance your cabling, network, server or ethernet switches to handle the demands of the system? How will support and maintenance be handled?

* Find a solution that is sized for your company. A system that is meant for companies much larger or smaller than yours should not be considered.

* Determine whether to implement a system that will give you full VOIP capability today or one that has can be upgraded. Your company may not be ready to take advantage of IP telephony, but it may make sense to install a system that will give you VOIP when you're ready.

Adopting new technology can be both exciting and challenging. Whether you're ready to make a full transition to VOIP or just want the capability for the future, this technology has the potential of reducing your costs, increasing profitability and giving you a competitive advantage in your marketplace.

By taking the appropriate steps and selecting the right telecommunications provider to help you, your company has a good chance of experiencing immediate returns. If you don't take these steps or choose the right provider, you could be wasting valuable time and money. Randy Wear (rwear@dspi.com) is president of Decision Systems Plus Inc., a member of the Technology Assurance Group (TAG). It provides voice, data and convergence solutions based on integrated, open systems that work with a variety of organizational and technology environments and structures. Reach him at (847) 699-9960.