William Beldham

Thursday, 29 September 2005 07:29

Thinking fat pays off

No, it’s not another fad diet. Thinking fat is about making your network run faster and more effectively, gaining a competitive advantage in the process. Fatter networks run faster.

Because the technologies and cost models historically have been very different, LAN, WAN and telecommunications networks have evolved along different paths. Having a separate network for voice, data and video had its advantages. Interference was not a problem.

On the other hand, manually correlating data, voice and video has held back business applications. Merging voice and data networks lets you know every detail about customers and suppliers no matter who picks up the call. You can put your face in front of a group meeting in a conference room while traveling to a remote office by merging voice and video.

Combined technology lets you roll out new competitive information to the mobile sales force by creating a conference call on in-house equipment and ringing every cell phone simultaneously. Typically, convergence has happened by implementing expensive, proprietary gateway devices to make networks talk to each other. But today, it is not just about building standards-based gateways but managing a new network. This new network has demands, priorities and goals that only resemble the original LAN, WAN and telecommunication networks they sprang from. The new goals can be summed up in the phrase quality of service (QoS).

What is fast?
When local area networks began to grow and proliferate, routers, bridges and switches were added to manage collision domains, because collisions slow down traffic. You don’t have to travel Pittsburgh’s Parkway East during morning rush to figure that out. The number of collisions a LAN could tolerate was simply measured in latency. If it took several seconds to download that spreadsheet from the network drive, it was time to isolate the traffic. As network devices got faster, we tolerated more congestion because the latency issue did not rear its ugly head. Data was reassembled at the destination without notice.

WAN traffic was managed differently. The bandwidth was expensive, so technology did it’s best to pre-emptively avoid data collisions by making WAN traffic travel in the time domain. All data, whether telephone calls or computer data, marched across the time domain multiplexed (TDM) WAN, arriving in order and secure.

The number of simultaneous voice conversations across a WAN connection was a simple mathematical calculation. Each voice conversation would occupy 56 Kbps of TDM bandwidth. Today, the addition of time-sensitive data, such as voice and video, in a converged network means the retransmitting and reassembling (buffering) of data packets in a LAN must be minimized by reducing or eliminating network congestion.

By prioritizing time-sensitive traffic on the network we can hear and see the quality that we have come to expect from dedicated voice and video networks. Setting the quality levels for specific types of network traffic is done by managing QoS. The addition of QoS-compliant devices into the LAN and WAN make our networks behave as if the bandwidth needed for time sensitive-services has been added to the network. The bandwidth appears to be fatter.

What is important?
QoS is becoming more important as more mission-critical applications depend on network performance. Business phone systems that prompt users with customer background when they call in, security cameras from remote locations and conference calls with mobile sales forces all depend on the quality of service delivered by the converged communications network.

Build, expand and upgrade networks with devices that intelligently manage traffic, reducing congestion by eliminating collisions. Add QoS management with software that allows network managers to set levels of priority and view problems in real time and historically. Train network managers to manage converged communication networks. You will find a fatter network delivering greater performance.

With a little fat, your business gains a competitive edge through customer relationship management, supplier management, security and field communications. If your network is not fat enough to deliver performance for critical applications, your competitors will beat you to the punch. Bulk up for your own good!

William Beldham is a solutions consultant with TriLogic Corp., a solutions integration company focusing on IT Infrastructure. Reach him at (724) 745-0200 or bbeldham@tri-logic.com.

Tuesday, 29 November 2005 07:02

All the presence under the tree

Getting presents is fun, but having presence is essential in today’s business climate. But what does having presence mean in business today?

Your presence is much more than having your customer, or potential customer, recognize your name and remember your catchy 800-number. It means that the most important people to your business know how to reach you, know when you are available and know when you will be free if you’re not available, in real time.

You can have presence in the office, at home, away on a business trip or sitting under a tree (with wireless connectivity). And with that presence, you will be first to respond to the customer, save money with timely execution or manage a project that can’t get along without you.

If presence only meant telephone presence, a thorough and timely outgoing voice message would suffice. But a powerful IP telephone system can give you presence before a call is even placed. In the office, your status — available, on the phone, away from the desk, gone for the day — can be displayed to other phone users.

Your status is displayed on a computer screen or IP telephone screen, so they know before they dial, before they listen to your voicemail message, before they leave you yet another message. This saves you, and them, time. It also gives them an opportunity to signal you via screen prompt — computer or phone screen.

Or schedule automatically with your online schedule if your presence information tells them you are unavailable. And all that can happen in less time than it took to read this paragraph.

It doesn’t end there. An online document, part of your Web site or a simple e-mail message may contain a link that connects your client, prospect, supplier or contractor to you immediately via instant messenger.

Don’t type very fast? Make the link launch an IP phone application on the user’s computer that calls you (wherever you are). How much money can you save by resolving an issue your subcontractor has run into on site while you are in an airplane with your laptop?

Have you ever wished that you could personalize your outgoing voicemail message for a particular caller? If your phone system is smart enough, you can make it give the caller the information you want them to hear, either by recognizing the caller’s number or using a PIN number.

Certainly, mobility is of the essence in today’s business world. But if where we are is the only place we have presence, we are not working smarter, just harder. A follow-me function from your IP telephone system can help resolve issues or deliver orders. Some follow-me functions will leave you spread out, in essence giving you presence where you were, not where you are.

This happens when the caller misses you but the message goes to your cell phone voicemail, not your office and/or e-mail. Your phone system has to be smarter than that. For example, you may ring all lines (office, cell, home office) at once. Which ever answers gets the call.

A missed call goes one predictable place for convenient retrieval. Notification of missed calls go where you want them to go, and all of this can be routed based on who is calling.

What if you have to transfer a call that you received on your cell phone? You can do that, too, if you have an extension to cellular feature.

Cell phones have a simple key sequence just like a desk phone that transfers or conferences your caller. Some systems require a string of 16 or more digits long, just to transfer a call. This will try your patience and diminish your effective presence with your caller.

Don’t pay a penalty in limited usefulness just because you are mobile — use technology that delivers full functionality to your mobile phone.

Consider your presence and how it can be enhanced with IP telephony. Now consider how much that is worth to your business. Timing is everything. Get there first with your presence and own the business that is waiting to be captured.

William Beldham, solutions consultant for TriLogic Corp., focuses on IP telephony for customers in PA, OH and WV. Reach him at wbeldham@tri-logic.com.

Wednesday, 02 November 2005 08:51

Don’t even go there (without a driver)

If you try to implement anything with such complex impact to your IT environment as IP telephony, you may find that, as Gertrude Stein said, “When you get there, there is no There there.”

First, find business drivers, then implement the strategy to attain your business goals. The drivers will get you to your goals.

Where’s the driver?

Every business depends on telephones. Incoming calls let customer support staff take orders and answer questions. Outgoing calls are typically for follow-up or new contact with customers.

Since the telephone was invented more than 125 years ago, the interface to customer or supplier data has been the human on the phone. If everyone using the phones in your business already knows everything there is to know about your customers and suppliers, the old system works fine — don’t change.

But realize that your competition is linking customer and supplier data to its voice network. Everyone in its business knows everything about itscustomers and suppliers — order status, volume, history, preferences and anything else that would lead to a better customer experience.

And they are coming for your customers, too, offering increased service levels. Your competitor is even operating on a better margin because it can deliver strategic cost and pricing information when and where it can make a difference. Your way of using the phone has just become obsolete.

You have to answer several questions before you can begin implementing an IP phone system.

  • Where is my customer and/or supplier data, and can it be linked to my phone system?

  • How can access to this data improve my business flow, volume and profitability?

  • Can mobility improve my business?

  • What applications can deliver the information I have to the people who need it at the point of contact?

There are other factors that become keys to adopting IP telephony, such as interoperability, legacy technology, migration plans, budget and training. Budget may be the greatest factor in the predetermination of your phone system’s destiny. But don’t consider budget without the business drivers.

One way to address business goals while preserving the budget is to find an IP telephony solution that leverages existing digital phones while delivering IP functionality. A truly integrated IP phone system with multivendor interoperability can deliver IP functionality directly to the PC on the desk beside the legacy digital phone. New handsets alone can account for 30 percent or more of the cost of a new phone system.

Lengthening the useful lifespan of existing telephone handsets, network switches and routers while adding full IP functionality creates a synergy that can help you attain your business goals faster. Using this synergy to speed your ROI makes sense (and dollars) three ways.

  • Reducing up-front expenses keeps dollars available for immediate cash flow.

  • Gaining full IP functionality immediately can put you ahead of your competition, making more money for your company now.

  • The more quickly the new phone system is paid for, the more quickly those dollars are added to your bottom line.

  • Not only can your new IP telephone system deliver data to phone users in your company, it can provide information to callers directly from a database via interactive voice response. This can save money by freeing employees to focus on tasks that require their presence.

These phone system can save toll charges by using least-cost routing functions. IP phone systems can allow increased mobility by giving full desktop functionality to remote office, home and traveling employees.

Drive profitability by improving communications, customer service, vendor relations and mobility though the integration of data applications, IP networking and an IP phone system that can deliver the powerful functionality to desk phone, PC and cell phone, but make sure your business goals are doing the driving.

William Beldham is a solutions consultant with TriLogic Corp., a solutions integration company focusing on IT Infrastructure. Reach him at (724) 745-0200 or bbeldham@tri-logic.com.