Thinking of deploying VoIP? It's tougher and more time-consuming than you think. But our ten-minute guide will give you the rundown on everything you need to know before you get started.
You want to build a voice over IP (VoIP) network in a hurry. The bad new is that you can't. "There's really no quick and easy way to do this," says Forrester Research telecom and networks group vice president Lisa Pierce. "Even if you outsource it, it will be a pain. You won't be able to do it in ten days -- you might not be able to do it in ten months."
Ironically, almost no communications technology is easier to set up than a telephone. You plug it into the wall; if it rings, you pick it up and say hello. There's not much more to it than that.
IP telephony, on the other hand, is a quite a bit more complicated. Disasters can happen and although Pierce points out that VoIP deployments are frequently fraught with peril, it doesn't necessarily have to be that bad. In fact, you can take your first steps toward a successful voice over IP (VoIP) deployment in only ten minutes.
The first step is to make a like a grade school kid and do your homework. "You can never do too much homework." Pierce says. "The most important thing to ask is how are you going to manage this thing? A lot of people have a nice wedding, but how many have a nice marriage? People aren't thinking about what happens after the deployment."
What happens afterwards will ultimately determine whether the VoIP deployment is a success or failure. "You really have to start with a simple question," Pierce says. "What problem are you trying to solve? If you can't give an answer, then you should probably wait. We all know that this is where the technology is going, but 45% of enterprises see no reason to do it at all right now."
While it is important to stay abreast of technological changes and innovations, it's equally important to know what the VoIP can, and can't do for you. It might be the technology du jour, and it might look like everyone is doing it, but that's not reason to do it yourself, unless VoIP is what your organization needs.
If it is, the next step is to do a full network inventory. You can't decide what you need until you know what you have, and too few organizations, says Pierce, actually know what they have. Not only should an inventory count routers and switches, but Pierce says that it should include an assessment of how much traffic is carried on-net and how much is carried off-net, bearing in mind, she says, that "on-net PSTN (public switched telephone network) minutes are the cheapest thing on God's green earth."
Although the decision to start an inventory is fairly easy -- delegating someone from IT should take an e-mail and considerably less than ten minutes -- the inventory process itself won't be a picnic. "Doing an inventory -- a real inventory -- can be excruciating," Pierce says. "It's common for multi-site companies to have IT staff at only a few locations, and it's common for the telecom department to be decentralized. But there's no way around it."
One of the benefits of a full system and network inventory, however, is that it could ultimately save you time and money. "You have to be sure to optimize what you have before you re-invent the wheel," Pierce says. "Re-inventing the wheel is both costly and time consuming -- and usually unnecessary."
Only when an organization has done all of its homework is it ready to start asking questions about what kind of VoIP solution to deploy, if at all. Pierce says that its easy to be blinded by the promises in trade magazine advertising, but the promises are rarely realistic, "and you really have to be realistic about it," she says. "The VoIP tools out there are only just becoming good enough for really smart people to use well. That's why so many companies that are doing VoIP are increasingly interested in managed solutions."
It can be a great test of faith to entrust something as mission critical as your telephone system to an outside provider, of course, and whether you have the confidence in outsiders to manage the phones is an important part of the process. The bottom line, says Pierce, is that VoIP is new enough technology that there is a real benefit to being open to new ways of doing things.
"Even though most companies will look at their existing suppliers, they really do owe it to themselves to understand the pros and cons of the different alternatives," she says. "We're not just talking about changing a protocol here; we're changing the architecture."
Pilot projects and trials should be an important part of the process, but Piece says that it's a mistake to believe that the new voice network will behave just like a larger version of the trial. It's more important, in fact, to move slowly, identifying who, outside of the IT infrastructure, will be the early adopters, and inviting their input. Even if a company feels the irresistible pressure of obsolescence pushing it into VoIP, there are probably still things about the old system that users like, and they probably have some ideas about what would work better.
Ultimately, the decision to switch over should result in a RFP. This, says Pierce, will define the parameters of the migration and, if it's as detailed as it should be, will account for any unpleasant surprises. There is absolutely no reason to just pick up the phone and order some VoIP from the most convenient supplier. "Companies that don't do RFPs are going to be in a lot of trouble," Pierce says. "This isn't something you should just decide to do in ten minutes."