I still remember it clearly. A networking company executive said to me and a few of my colleagues: "Mark my words. Voice over IP will be one of the hottest technologies this year." Well, that emphatic statement would have been accurate if it were made in 2004, but this was the late '90s. The technology has gone through the hype-naysaying-experimental-promising-practical-real cycle, and is now becoming increasingly strategic among companies and public-sector organizations. Admittedly, we were a bit surprised by just how deep the penetration is or soon will be. According to our survey of 300 business-technology executives, 29% are already using the technology, 18% are testing it, and 34% plan to deploy it (see p. 34 for more).
And while many of the benefits touted (lower telecom costs) and concerns (security, reliability) in the past are still relevant, the more interesting angle for VoIP is its ability to improve collaboration, data access, and productivity among users.
Last week, I visited the Department of Health & Human Services' 24-hour Command Center, the place from which Secretary Tommy Thompson keeps a close eye on public health, including potential epidemics, bioterrorist attacks, and natural disasters. The center has deployed IP phones from Avaya that serve as an integration point for a number of processes. For example, they let the secretary and command-center operators set up videoconferences with national or international health officials, state governors, even the White House. A push of another button displays geographical information system data (maps that pinpoint virus outbreaks, weather maps, or details of city streets). Oh, yeah, and there's a cost benefit. Because the phones are based on IP, it means the department is just a local call away from the World Health Organization in Geneva.