Should You Recommend IP Telephony?

Channel Partners

August 1, 2005

9 Min Read
Should You Recommend IP Telephony?

Anyone listening too casually to industry hype for the past few years might have the mistaken belief that implementing an IP telephony system is some sort of holy grail, an answer to a myriad of problems cost savings issues being chief among them.

While its true that IP telephony offers impressive benefits for some companies, that doesnt mean implementing it should be approached lightly. In fact, though they are loath to admit it, there are some companies that rushed into an IP telephony implementation and now are feeling the pain of a decision made in haste. So, what do channel partners and resellers need to do to ensure that implementing IP telephony is a good choice for their customers?

Implementing an IP telephony system is serious business. To do it successfully, there are a couple of frequently overlooked considerations that channel partners should make their customers aware of before recommending an IP telephony system. Those considerations include developing the business case and understanding the requirements for Day Two support.


Voice and data technology integration has led to a number of efficiency advantages that were unheard of only a few years ago. Yet, the advantages provided by an IP telephony system should be weighed carefully against the total cost of ownership.

It is this TCO idea that many companies have yet to embrace. During the last few years, IP telephony has been sold by promising a quick ROI. The claim is that the toll reduction created by implementing an IP telephony system will help the system pay for itself within a short time. However, in many cases, the reality is quite different, and channel partners should be cautious when championing IP telephony based solely on the ROI argument.

While some large companies have call volumes that enable them to enjoy toll savings by switching to an IP telephony system, other organizations may experience only a modest savings or none at all. When additional potential costs incurred in maintaining an IP telephony system are factored in, savings from toll reductions may be negligible.

Traditional TDM system toll charges have been reduced dramatically in recent years, and, in some instances, voice calls are free. In addition, companies that have negotiated inexpensive calling packages based on volume may end up paying more money if one or more divisions of the company go to an IP network and reroute some of their calls from the voice network to the data network.

The bottom line is that toll reduction alone is not an adequate justification for migrating customers to an IP telephony system. As such, the business case must be based on additional criteria namely, the survivability and business optimization capabilities of IP telephony.

IP telephony systems have high survivability. In fact, data systems are designed to reroute traffic easily, meaning that call delivery isnt dependent on a single piece of hardware. Though not common, in the event of a disaster, data-based systems often are more redundant than traditional voice systems. This was never more evident than during the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Though the volume of calls overwhelmed wireless systems and traditional voice systems, many of which had been damaged, data-based systems were able to reroute information.

From a business-optimization standpoint, IP telephony can create increased efficiency provided it is managed properly. Moves, adds and changes in an IP telephony environment are less complicated and less time-consuming than in a TDM setup, but the true value of IP telephony is its presence management, personalization and user control features. These features have been designed to meet the needs of an increasingly mobile workforce.

In particular, presence management is an attractive feature for businesses. An IP telephony system allows users to set parameters (often by accessing a Web-based GUI or simple-tounderstand commands on an IP handset) and define how calls will be answered. Using these parameters, the system can recognize that a user is on the phone and transfer a call appropriately, whether that be to voice mail, e-mail, cell phone or a secondary recipient.

Over time, these efficiency improvements add up, and the TCO business case for IP telephony becomes evident. Ofcourse, any paradigm shift, including the one from ROI focus to TCO focus, can be difficult. Companies must make a concerted effort to look at the long-term benefits and costs of IP telephony and make their implementation decisions accordingly.


Because the costs of IP telephony system maintenance can be much higher than traditional systems, a focus on Day Two support strategies can be just as important as, and may actually play a part in, making the business case.

Ignoring the importance of Day Two support can create additional expense and headaches. In fact, because of the complexity of IP telephony systems, the long-term operation and support costs of IP telephony can be significantly higher than those of traditional systems. After the system is designed and before it is implemented, a partner should have a Day Two support strategy in place for its customers. The chief decision in this process will be whether to outsource Day Two service or train internal IT staff to maintain the new IP telephony system.

Giving Day Two Support to a Trusted Ally.

While some customers may have the internal resources to manage the new network, outsourcing Day Two support can be the best option for many companies. To maintain customer satisfaction, a channel partner must make sure adequate Day Two support systems are in place before the sale. Choosing a reliable partner to provide this ongoing maintenance should be a chief consideration to keep customers satisfied. If a customer decides to outsource Day Two support, they should select an outsourcing service provider with experience. The outsourcing service provider also should have a strong understanding of the companys particular market and technology drivers.

Many companies that manufacture, design and install IP telephony systems also provide managed services such as network monitoring and break/fix maintenance support. Determining whether the company that implements the system also will provide managed services could make the choice to outsource much easier when Day Two arrives. The implementation partner will have detailed knowledge about the system and should be able to provide efficient service, including system optimization and integration of new applications in the future.

Outsourcing the management of an IP telephony system gives a customer access to personnel trained in the specific skills required to support a VoIP environment. Because of the rapid pace of development and change in IP telephony products and technology, these technicians require almost constant training and ongoing education. Providing that level of training and education to inhouse staff can be expensive, and there is no guarantee that those in-house staff members wont take their new knowledge elsewhere to a higher-paying job at a new company. In addition, hiring dedicated IP telephony staff members can be expensive. A trained IP telephony expert has a much higher compensation rate than a TDM technician. Outsourcing the management of the IP telephony system can help mitigate these issues.

Another important benefit to outsourcing is support for disaster recovery. Because disaster recovery cannot be handled in house, it is important to work with an outsource partner that has a network operations center and strong monitoring/recovery capabilities. If a channel partner does not have these capabilities, they should find a reliable partner and a way to make sure the customer is supported completely after the installation.

Keeping Day Two Support Internal.

Customers may choose to handle Day Two support in house. This option can be effective, but only if it is managed properly, and thats not a simple undertaking.

Before making any decisions, a company must conduct a thorough examination of the skills of its in-house personnel. Because IP telephony utilizes an IP-based platform, many companies believe the existing IT department can manage the system with no additional training. That can be a recipe for disaster.

Typically, IT staff members do not have the necessary skills or training to manage IP telephony effectively. However, these same personnel would be hesitant to admit their inability to handle the new tasks. As a result, when problems arise, the untrained IT staff members might be unable to correct the difficulties, potentially leading to network downtime.

A better plan is for a customer to hire IP telephony technicians or train dedicated in-house personnel to handle ongoing management. Many companies may balk at this idea when confronted with the price tag of a well-trained IP telephony technician, but it is vital to have technicians that have the right level of expertise. Because IP telephony systems utilize newer technology, the coming months and years will feature a great deal of technology evolution, and only someone versed in the technology will be able to roll with the punches and keep the system running efficiently.

Whatever decision hiring or training is made, a set of IP telephony proven-practice policies and procedures must be in place and communicated to existing internal IT support personnel before the system goes live. Many of those individuals will have some level of responsibility regarding the new IP telephony system. As such, support team members should understand how to properly secure the IP telephony environment, monitor voice quality and traffic. They also must be able to respond to alarms or know how to notify qualified personnel when an alarm is detected.

Even with policies in place and monitoring procedures outlined, many internal staff members will lack the proficiency to handle their new tasks immediately. It would be beneficial for the companys IP telephony technicians or trained personnel to conduct trial runs of the system during off-peak hours. That will help everyone become more familiar with the system and its characteristics.

Choosing an IP telephony solution is a complicated decision. Before recommending or selling a system, resellers need to make sure their customers have researched the business case and Day Two support to be sure implementing IP telephony is truly advantageous. Ultimately, a well-informed decision will make for smoother implementation (whether now or sometime down the road), a better user experience and a satisfied customer in the long run.

Darrell Epps is director of managed services for NextiraOne North America, a Houston-based provider of integrated enterprise network, IP telephony, data, voice and converged solutions for businesses.


NextiraOne North America

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