Panel: IP applications have graduated beyond voice

TORONTO — Enterprise customers are finally starting to look beyond cost reductions and reap the potential productivity benefits of IP telephony, vendors told the Telemanagement Live! conference on Thursday.

While initial implementations of telecommunications equipment based on Internet Protocol

(IP) were designed to converge enterprise voice and data networks and reduce back-end expenses, executives in a panel discussion said they are seeing more interest in convergence as it benefits end users — the people actually answering the phones.

“”Voice-over-IP was three years ago — get over it,”” said Tracy Fleming, IP telephony leader at Avaya Canada. “”There’s a big difference between VoIP and IP telephony, where you’re not just looking at reducing costs but how to actually grow revenue and increase customer satisfaction.””

Jim Davies, chief technology officer for Mitel Networks, said companies that have already adopted IP telephony in their own organization are starting to look at how they can use it to create more distributed call centres or facilitate teleworking for employees. The next wave, he said, will be offering convergence to what he called the “”extended enterprise”” of business partners and suppliers.

“”This is about using IP to change processes, not just invest in IP so you can carrying on the way you’ve always done business more cheaply,”” he said.

Davies gave the example of pizza companies, which typically take most of their orders between Thursday and Saturday around 8:00 p.m. He said one Mitel customer in the pizza industry decided to use IP telephony to route calls its Toronto location couldn’t handle to locations in Vancouver, so that orders could be taken and sent into the Toronto queue for fulfillment. This allowed the firm to gain business it would otherwise have lost, he said, and sped up payback on the IP telephony project to a year and a half.

Brantz Myers, director of enterprise marketing at Cisco Systems of Canada, said his firm has worked with another pizza company that has deployed “”soft phones”” (an application that enables a desktop, laptop or workstation computer to function as a telephone via voice-over-IP). Myers, however, also said he couldn’t name the firm.

“”They have treat it like a secret sauce — more than what they put in the pizza — because it’s such a competitive business,”” he said.

Though he agreed there were a number of productivity improvements available through IP telephony, Myers said most firms still prefer to focus on return on investment. This includes the City of Mississauga, a Cisco customer which Myers said is very interested in XML applications related to their IP telephony deployment. That tends to publicize the thousands of dollars it says it is saving through the project, but still has lingering quality concerns, he said.

“”I think we all still get the question, ‘Does this stuff work?'”” he said. But added that those questions are becoming less frequent. “”I think that barrier is behind us.””

Tony Rybczynski, Nortel Networks’ director of strategic enterprise technologies, agreed, pointing to a recent IP telephony project with Laurentian University that is expected to cut costs by 50 per cent. In the long term, though, he said applications would be key to the technology’s future.

“”It wasn’t HTML that made the Internet so powerful, it was the browsers,”” he said. “”That’s when your colleagues and your mother and your friends started using it. The same thing will happen with IP.””

Telemanagement Live! 2004 wrapped up Thursday.

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