How to Plan for Voice Over IP

By | June 8, 2005

To hear people talk, you’d think every company should be deploying Voice over IP – right now! But IT executives must put planning and thought into identifying whether they are suitable candidates for VoIP.

Virtually every company that we’ve interviewed for our most recent benchmark is assessing, implementing, or using VoIP, but not everyone decides to use the technology. That said, a few key events and situations dictate the use of VoIP for almost every organization:

• Moving to a new building.

• Replacing an aged PBX.

• Enabling remote workers or “virtual offices.”

• Reducing contact-center costs.

• Spending money to have a vendor or outside firm handle moves, adds, and changes.

• Regular use of collaborative tools, including a high volume of video-, audio-, or Web-conferencing calls.

• A high volume of international traffic.

When talking to potential VoIP vendors, IT executives should ask plenty of questions, and be sure to get references of other companies using the vendors’ products and services. Talk to these clients about all the vendors you’re looking at to learn why they chose the one they did.

Also, make sure you know whether the vendor provides direct customer support and technical troubleshooting, or whether customers must go through a channel partner to get the help they need. If the latter, ask about their training and support. Other key questions include:

• What are your future plans, in terms of applications, partnerships, and management tools?

• Do you conduct a baseline network assessment, and how much does it cost?

• What kind of training do you offer?

Still, as hard as a company might plan for the perfect implementation, it’s easy to make mistakes. There are several potential pitfalls in any VoIP rollout. First, companies often don’t conduct a complete ROI analysis, so the savings they thought they’d see don’t pan out.

Second, companies often don’t conduct baseline network assessments to determine whether their existing bandwidth and networking gear can handle voice/video traffic. They wind up spending an enormous amount of time and money troubleshooting, and often discover must upgrade their networks in the end.

Many companies don’t implement the right management and network-optimization tools. Converged networks are simpler from a basic, Layer 1 perspective. But they’re more complex as you move up the stack. So it’s imperative to consider network-optimization tools that help manage the bandwidth and prioritize traffic.

Also, IT executives don’t always consider personnel, both within the IT department and the end-user population. Within IT, companies must involve both the voice and data experts to make the project successful. And organizations must budget for end-user training and assessment. This will change the way employees work, so don’t underestimate their level of resistance. Identify what people are afraid of losing and address those concerns head-on.

But the biggest challenge IT executives face when it comes to VoIP management is a failure to budget for it up front. IT staffs think that their existing management tools, coupled with the tools vendors provide with their IP PBXs, will be enough to effectively run their newly converged networks. Usually, this isn’t the case. About six to 12 months into the implementation, they realize they need more tools and that means finding budget for them after the fact.

We recommend companies budget about 10% of the total equipment cost for management tools. For small and midsize companies, entry-level, third-part management tools run about $50,000; larger companies should budget $100,000 or more.

Finally, companies must pay attention to the issues surrounding VoIP security – the first one being, recognize that security is an issue. Many companies don’t even assess VoIP security requirements. But it’s critical, for example, to segment voice traffic into its own VLAN, both for reasons of security and performance.

IT executives should, indeed, forge ahead with their VoIP projects but it’s imperative to set aside enough necessary and resources to conduct a proper evaluation.

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