John Irvine is the Vice President of International Marketing for Verizon Business responsible for all marketing activities for Verizon Business in Asia-Pacific, Emerging Markets, Europe and Latin America. Prior to joining Verizon Business as Vice President for Marketing in Europe, Mr Irvine held senior positions in a European Voice over IP, VoIP, start-up business and at Level 3 Communications in Europe, having spent more years than he cares to remember at BT and IBM. Mr Irvine has a BSc (Hons) in Computer Science from the University of Ulster and an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, North Carolina.
Businesses are becoming increasingly global; their markets, units and workers are spread throughout the world. They need instantaneous, cost-effective connectivity between distant units and workers to function - and IP-based solutions are seen as the way to achieve this. Voice over IP, typically, is the first step. Since voice traffic is carried over the same networks as data, significant savings can be realised and advanced data-dependent services can be integrated with voice to provide operational efficiencies, greater productivity and improved service delivery.
Now more than ever before, businesses that wish to be successful in a global environment require a truly global presence. For global organisations, this means they need secure and simple communications to enable an increasingly mobile global workforce to collaborate successfully. Convergence, long referenced as the CIOís Holy Grail, is now seen as a realistic strategy for enabling global enterprise communications - and Internet Protocol, IP-based solutions are now broadly accepted as the means that will enable the end. Yet deploying IP solutions across business infrastructure remains a challenge. The idea of converging global voice and data communications on a unified IP network infrastructure seems simple enough - but the biggest question for organisations embarking on this path remains, ìWhen is the right time?î Industry commentators counsel varying approaches to the problem, but too often the so-called ëdefinitiveí roadmap for IP convergence is one that is too far removed from current infrastructure status to be realistic. And if cost or other concerns make a complete infrastructure rebuild unrealistic, where and how could transition begin? The global business challenge Today, organisations depend on instantaneous communication between geographically dispersed departments to function. If departments cannot communicate, businesses cannot operate - or at least not at the optimum level. Therefore, there is no doubt that todayís multinational corporations are more dependent than ever on communications technology. When building global business operations, organisations face new challenges that can seem daunting. Developing an effective supporting infrastructure is often the key concern; however, this must be approached in the context of the wider, global business environment and, more importantly, in the context of running seamless 24/7 global operations in different locations and time zones. The aim is to maintain operations through transparent, simple-to-use and secure connectivity to critical business applications - at any place and at any time. Why IP? We now work and play in an economy that is communications centric, and the communications platform of choice is increasingly IP-based. IP is a data-oriented method for communicating data in a packet-switched network. Public networks, both wireline and wireless, are now increasingly transitioning to IP to leverage the potential of Internet technology. For business, the key potential of IP technology lies in its ability to enable voice traffic to be carried over networks in the same manner as data traffic. By leveraging the potential of VoIP, businesses are able to bring together their voice and data networks in a single structure. As well as the obvious cost efficiency, this also has significant implications in terms of the added value functionality that data networks can provide, as well as overall network control. IP telephony - or VoIP is therefore a key concern for business users considering the move to IP. Transitioning voice and data communications to a converged IP platform offers businesses four key benefits: minimised communication costs; increased operational efficiency; enhanced productivity of individuals and workgroups; and, improved service delivery. The ability to minimise communication costs is often the primary driver for businesses considering migrating to IP. With VoIP solutions, businesses are able to route intra-office calls on their data network over IP, as well as utilise the intelligent call control within the network to most cost effectively route outbound and deliver inbound calls. When you consider the average telecommunications costs incurred by enterprise, this is a significant potential operational saving. IP - the collaboration enabler However, it is the ësofterí benefits of IP implementation - including indirect cost savings and functionality - that are likely to have the biggest impact on business success in the longer term. An IP platform provides the opportunity to unify communications in a common infrastructure; it therefore enables businesses to operate more efficiently by enhancing the potential for collaboration across its dispersed business sites, as well as reducing the management burden associated with managing associated tools. And by building collaboration technologies on an IP foundation, their net impact, particularly in terms of a companyís ability to more effectively service its customers, is significantly increased. Collaborative technologies to facilitate global team-working have evolved dramatically over recent years, and there is now an abundance of solutions available, whether instant messaging, web conferencing, audio conferencing, presence, email or video conferencing. By building collaborative tools of this type over a unified IP platform, business users are able to link all forms of communication in real-time; they can see instantly the availability of a colleague via an instant message platform linked to their Outlook diary; they can use Instant Messenger to chat in real time, or link directly back into their address book to call them over a VoIP phone. They can summon an instant web meeting or audio conference directly from their address book contacts, or even set up a video conference. They can set up voicemail management solutions to drive messaging to a mobile device, or a Blackberry, effectively removing mailbox size limitations - and all via a single-user interface. IP is therefore about much more than VoIP - itís about enabling the future of integrated communication, and delivering added-value applications and solutions to users across the network. VoIP is essentially an enabler in the move toward a single, network-hosted IP environment, where IP-based tools such as VoIP, conferencing and instant messaging will all work in harmony to enhance business collaboration and performance. Going IP? the evolutionary approach The business case for migrating to IP communications is therefore clear. However, the key concern for organisations preparing to make the move to IP is when and how to do so. The particular challenge for multinational organisations is the diverse and varied nature of their communications requirements. Large global enterprises may have hundreds of sites around the world of varying sizes and infrastructures. Of necessity, migration to IP will normally need to be done on an individual, per-site basis, taking into consideration the specific requirement of that siteís infrastructure and business needs. As an example, a key concern for businesses wishing to transition to IP is to ensure they protect the inherent value of their legacy investments. PBXs, phones and cabling absorb a major part of most organisationsí IT spending and many companies actually went through a complete systems upgrade in recent years to counter concerns regarding the so-called Millennium bug. So, many organisations are NOT keen to rip out and replace - but rather to look at ways of gradually, and incrementally, moving to IP telephony. The good news here is that in most cases, not all business users require, or would use, the additional functionality that IP telephony provides in the short term. In fact, there are IP telephony services that can be implemented without the end user actually being impacted, or even realising that such a solution is in place, whilst still offering benefits and cost savings to the business. Users can be segmented into groups for phased transition. Those that donít require the additional functionality continue to use their regular PBX phone, but knowledge workers and other relevant staff are given an IP phone. New extension numbers arenít needed and, as both systems interoperate, the way calls (internal, intra-office and external) are made does not change. Most importantly, however, IP transition can be approached in a number of different ways. Users can indeed opt for an ëinstant IPí migration of their entire system, or adopt a phased approach. Gone are the days when the only option was the ëbig bangí approach, a complete swap out of infrastructure to be achieved practically overnight. Now, new IP solutions can comfortably co-exist and integrate with existing hardware and software. If they canít, then you are talking to the wrong service provider. The key consideration is to ensure the approach to IP transition sits well with the companyís own business objectives. Global + business = IP The IP future is clear. How and when the majority of businesses are going to make the move to an IP environment is still to be determined. The ultimate objective of multinational companies is to maintain a competitive edge in a global business environment. This has to be coupled with the need for high-quality customer service - and, for public companies, the ability to demonstrate shareholder value. To do this, companies need to look at how best to use technology to meet their communications objectives today, and lay a strong foundation for future development. This foundation will be built on IP. The question is how to move to an IP platform in a way that complements overall business objectives. IP telephony is indeed the first step in IP communications that organisations are taking as they transition to an IP environment, beyond simple Internet access. But IP telephony is really just a taster of an exciting world of added-value applications that can truly impact on business performance. IP is an enabling technology, not an application. To truly realise the benefits of IP, businesses must understand the potential of the emerging global business environment and be prepared to make changes to their own infrastructure and processes that will help them make the most of that new infrastructure. Our view is that ëConvergence ‡ la carteí is the only possible approach - one size does not fit all, and only by taking the time to understand each individual organisationís objectives and strategies can a suitable IP migration strategy be developed.