Voice today is at center stage in the enterprise. Carrier Session Internet Protocol (SIP) trunks, enterprise SIP trunks, converged IP networks, federating private branch exchanges (PBXs), unified communications and communication-enabled applications are but a few of the many voice initiatives you’ll find underway in any large enterprise today. Regardless of the initiative, voice communications in the enterprise are undergoing a massive transformational process because organizations can no longer justify the costs of different approaches to voice and data. The reality is there are no longer any technical reasons for voice to not shed its traditional telephony legacy model and follow the Web model.
We are on the precipice of a fundamental change in which voice dial tone and presence become services on the IP network. Several key trends are driving this transformation, including the economics of bandwidth, but it’s the innovation at the application level where the real business potential is being created by communications standards that fuel improved business communications processes and Web 2.0 breakthroughs.
Moving Dial Tone and Presence Into the Network
The Internet Engineering Task Force’s (IETF) SIP signaling protocol has been adopted by every major voice and unified communications vendor. This widespread adoption creates a little-publicized opportunity for companies to virtualize multi-vendor PBXs and unified communications systems into a single cohesive and centrally managed Voice over IP service. This is achieved by consolidating and encapsulating common voice functions into a set of shared service-oriented architecture (SOA) components. Moving voice policy — routing, control, monitoring and interoperability — out of the individual PBXs and into a common SOA-based session layer creates a vendor-independent session layer, as specified by 3GPP, IMS and other standard bodies.
Common session layers eliminate long-standing obstacles created by heterogeneity, provide centralized span-of-control over voice and enable the transition from legacy voice to voice as a Web service without requiring companies to rip and replace the existing telephony infrastructure. This voice “cloud” service is the key to enabling enterprises to deploy and manage voice as they do today with any other IP application.
Once voice clouds are created and in place, the next step is to interconnect these services across the organization. Organizations can drastically reduce operating costs by routing intra-company voice communications over the internal Wide Area Network (WAN) or a SIP Trunk from a service provider.
Companies that continue to route intra-company voice calls over the public switched telephone network (PSTN) rather than their own WAN or SIP Trunk are unnecessarily spending money. Experience has proven that routing intra-company and local traffic over connected voice clouds reduces voice operating expenses by 30 percent to 60 percent annually. This is a significant cost savings for any enterprise.
Embedding Voice Into Applications
Once voice and presence are built into the network, innovation is limited only by the imagination of the IT staff. Voice as a user interface capability can streamline complex business processes, dramatically improve the user experience and reduce costs. But one of the barriers to communications-enabled applications has been the requirement for developers with Java and specialized computer-telephony integration (CTI) knowledge. Web 2.0 technologies such as Ajax, HTTP and XML are now making it possible for Web developers to quickly embed voice into business applications in mashups that can be quickly developed to enhance applications across the entire organization including sales and customer service.
At the onset of the Internet age, many companies often pushed their customers toward self-serve customer service tools such as FAQs and forums to cut back on call center volumes and reduce operating costs. However, customer feedback has overwhelmingly shown that consumers are more loyal to companies willing to provide them with personal assistance and also tend to make larger purchases using the voice channel. By embedding voice into an application, companies can empower their sales force with click-to-call functionality to offer personal customer service at strategic points in the sales cycle.
Click-to-call also allows you to separate physical addresses from logical ones. In other words, it allows you to move from “I want to talk to the salesperson, John,” to configuring preset business rules within software applications to connect the best salesperson for each query. This allows an enterprise to connect customers with specialized salespeople while also taking outside variables, employee presence and specific expertise, into consideration to create an enjoyable sales experience. By strategically deploying the voice channel only when certain criteria are met — including a person abandoning their online cart or is idle on a product page for a preset amount of time — instead of carte blanche, enterprises can quickly answer complex customer questions with knowledgeable sales representatives to drive sales, and also optimize call center operations.
Applying the Web model to voice enables the delivery of communication services to users based on their role, not the size of their branch office. Federated PBXs and Web 2.0 applications create shared resources for organizations, allow employees to check presence availability and control calls from any location and conduct universal policy updates. Companies can utilize these two communications tools to create significant cost savings, maximize their investment on legacy systems and continue along their enterprise UC roadmap despite difficult financial times.
Rod Hodgman is a cofounder of Covergence, a provider of enterprise telephony services.