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Implementing VoIP is liable to give IT managers sleepless nights. NME presents ten of the most crucial questions that IT managers should ask themselves and their vendors, along with some essential guidance, to ensure high efficiency levels in VoIP implementations.

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By  Sathya Ashok Published  July 23, 2007

Implementing VoIP is liable to give IT managers sleepless nights. NME presents ten of the most crucial questions that IT managers should ask themselves and their vendors, along with some essential guidance, to ensure high efficiency levels in VoIP implementations.

I want to replace an aging PBX. How should I justify going VoIP when my bosses don't like the idea too much?

Take time to analyse the way your business functions and work out how VoIP will change those processes.

Building a case for VoIP amongst your seniors in an organisation, can most often be the toughest part of an IT manager's job in the region.

"Justifying VoIP internally and in one location is not an easy task since separation of voice and data for any legacy system will create tension in terms of boundaries and staff retention/retraining. If the existing system is already or approaching its end of life and the existing data infrastructure can support VoIP then complete forklift is not required and so justification is that much easier. Get the bosses to realise and utilise what-if scenarios that are business affecting: voice mail access, faxes, through Outlook, extending their desk extensions to any location, etc," says Sergios El-Hage, regional head of EMW (East Meets West).

Roger El-Tawil, channel and marketing director for MENA at Avaya, recommends migrating from legacy PBX to IP PBX, which gives organisations a smoother transition to the VoIP telephony solution.

"With this strategy in line, one minimises downtime and infrastructure cost, as well as minimises resources to manage the entire enterprise if it moves to IP from the beginning. Global statistics reveal that major customers are migrating through a hybrid solution," adds El-Tawil.

NME recommends: Translate technology into business and associate VoIP with everyday activities and productivity issues.

What are the ways to evaluate the advantages of convergence - productivity, inter-company call costs, future-proofing etc?

Vendors give different perspectives on convergence and what it can provide to enterprises.

"The first advantage of convergence is having one cable and one network to run voice and data. Total cost of ownership with regards to a converged network is more attractive. Other advantages include inter-company calls and improved productivity through solutions such as unified communications and relevant employee productivity," points out El-Tawil.

"Tangible savings are on fares while calling long distance, call avoidance, and simpler MACs (moves, adds and changes). The intangible savings include boosting end-user productivity by enhancing call coverage, increased efficiencies through abbreviated dialling plans, improved collaboration with conference calls that replace third-party costly services and call-redirect facilities among others," says El-Hage.

Hisham El-Amili, GM Middle East of Mitel proposes a comprehensive ROI tool to help customers get an idea of benefits and advises a look at the various GCC case studies in VoIP.

What pre-implementation preparations should I consider?

The right focus and effort during the pre-implementation phase can smooth the path through the rest of the process and firmly establish the stage for success.

"When evaluating any IP PBX solution, several factors come into play, but from a technical point of view, it is important to consider the ease of deploying an IP PBX and the IP phones and how well the whole system can be integrated into the company's existing LAN switching infrastructure," cautions El-Amili.

El-Tawil from Avaya and El-Hage from EMW both recommend comprehensive and detailed site surveys and a thorough network assessment prior to implementing the IP telephony solution.

NME recommends: Work out how your network functions now, understand its needs in terms of bandwidth, compression, encryption and security and have a clear idea of how VoIP will be integrated into the existing infrastructure. Always keep in mind the over-ruling business imperative and be clear on how VoIP will influence and change organisational processes.

Should I be looking at handsets or enabling my PCs for voice?

"Both are relevant in VoIP environments. The PC becomes a telephone and the phone becomes much more of a smart device. Both options have pertinent advantages. With mobile handsets, companies can provide genuine mobility to their staff and employ applications like a one-number facility. When you use softphones on PCs or laptops, firms do not need to introduce extra cabling or add on new devices," states El-Amili of Mitel.

EMW's El-Hage points out that in a contact centre environment, softphones or consoles are the norm but this won't work for executives who are more comfortable with phones that provide connectivity to features with single-touch buttons. Mobile devices or PCs could be the only option for road warriors.

NME recommends: Take time to analyse the way your business functions and the processes in place. Split devices among employees based on the kind of work they do and the most likely usage patterns. A mixed approach might be the best way to get productivity increases across the base of employees in any organisation. Include a vendor representative or consultant for help.

Is company size important when deploying VoIP?

A question that often plagues IT managers is the optimum organisational size for considering VoIP implementations. Many vendors though state that this is an irrelevant consideration.

"Time, geographical location and size are not barriers to investing in IP in terms of laying the foundation," asserts Mitel's El-Amili. Any business, small or large, public or private will not survive against the competition without taking the early steps of IP adoption.

"Avaya has solutions that are designed and built to cater to every segment of the market. Each segment delivers a compelling solution and value proposition to justify costs in line with meeting customers' business requirements," states Avaya's El-Tawil.

El-Hage says: "Scalability, reliability and flexibility should be the deciding factors. You might start with branch communications but eventually your operations will grow and therefore you need to plan for existing reusability where current systems can be redeployed so larger capacity ones can replace them. Keep in mind that there are theoretical and practical limitations to any technology and VoIP is one of them, so planning and design around these boundaries are very important."

NME recommends:
While size might not be crucial in pure implementation and technology terms, organisations might find that the bigger they are and the more branches they have, the faster a VoIP implementation will turn in ROI. In organisational terms, therefore, an SMB implementing VoIP might be a case of too much technology which will not pay off in productivity terms as fast as desired.

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