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Harnessing the Business Value of IP Telephony: New Trends and Opportunities for Change
[May 22, 2006]

Harnessing the Business Value of IP Telephony: New Trends and Opportunities for Change


 
IP-telephony is well into the deployment phase. PBX’s based on traditional circuit-switched TDM telephony will remain in operation, at least in some segments of the enterprise. However, since the installed base is aging for these pure TDM systems, support will be dwindling over time. And even in the case of newer systems, as history has shown, they are limited in their ability to adapt to business process needs compared to today’s IP-enabled world.


 
The following section serves to identify some of the technical standards from traditional telephony, which fell short of delivering their potential and were not initially designed to address today’s environment of multi-modal communications and mobility. Subsequent sections will provide a basis for enterprises to adapt to IP-telephony beyond the PBX in various ways and move ahead with business process improvement.

 
Maintaining a traditional PBX environment requires specialized Computer-telephony Integration (CTI)
 
The primary standard for CTI is Computer Supported Telecommunication Applications (CSTA) – a standard which combines computing and switching applications. Other associated standards include Telephony Application Program Interface (TAPI) which was advanced by Microsoft (News - Alert) and others, and Java Telephony Application Program Interface (JTAPI), both of which remain standards for first party call control for a phone in conjunction with a PC or workstation. Additionally, Telephony Server Application Program Interface (TSAPI) is a standard for server-based call control and multiple endpoints. CTI between PBX’s and desktops in call center environments require custom developments that were and continue to be difficult to implement and maintain, especially across geographically dispersed call centers. An example is the large number of call centers that still have not enabled customer information or “screen-pops” along with the call when transferred to an agent. For the most part, these early attempts at voice-data convergence could be compared to Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) in terms of end-point adoptions for CTI applications, which have been quite limited.
 
But now let’s look at the current IP standards compared to those outlined above.
 
 
IP standards and web services enable new and more cost-effective communications and applications
 
IP-based standards such as Session-Initiated Protocol (SIP) are now being used to support reliable, secure and high quality communications over IP and are also the basis for native CTI applications with web services for voice, video, text, automated speech recognition and text-to-speech – any or all of which can be shared as processes or applications running on industry standard servers and clients, including peer-to-peer configurations.
 
As discussed previously, Application Program Interfaces (API’s) have been used for quite some time with first generation client-server architectures to enable a programmer to make requests from the operating system or another program and between traditional telephony systems and computing environments. Web Services are part of a third-generation services-oriented, component-based application architecture using standard Internet protocols – Extensible Markup Language (XML), Voice XML, etc. – to make requests of other web applications (as discussed in my previous article on the user experience). The client does not need to be a browser, but can be any type of Internet device, including a PDA or cell phone using Wireless Markup Language (WML). Machine-to-machine transactions are done using Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). And since SIP is an integral part of web services, it is much more likely to be adapted on a very broad scale. The only question is the level of interoperability between vendors.
 
New Trends and Options
 
Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)
 
The latest trend in software is Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). As the name implies, this is basically an architecture that enables software / web-services to be developed as discreet components that can be combined and re-used to facilitate business processes, including those within an integrated / unified communications environment. The main frameworks are Java-based from Sun Microsystems (News - Alert) or .Net from Microsoft. One advantage of SOA is that it can be platform and language independent. An example of an SOA application could be an Internet-based customer service application using a browser that starts with identifying the customer and pulling up an associated record. This same service component could be re-used for telephone access in an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) application – and for those “screen pops” when the call is transferred to an agent. It could be argued that Web Services and SOA are as significant in software development today as object-oriented software has been over the past decade or more, since they are all based on the concept of standards and re-usable software components. The result is that programming requirements are reduced and implemented more quickly so technology efforts can be directed to improve effectiveness, and customer retention / expansion.
 
 
Opportunities for change and more options for the enterprise
 
Single vs. multi-vendor solutions are to a degree dependent on an organization’s particular needs and environment. However, integrating IP-based solutions in conjunction with traditional telephony can be accomplished in a number of ways while enabling the enterprise to move forward with initiatives for process improvement. The two main options for building in flexible alternatives include using hosted services and / or adding customer-premise equipment. With IP, either or both of these options can be implemented without necessarily making a long term commitment or deciding entirely on any specific vendor. This allows business process improvements to be tried and measured before expanding.
 
Hosted services – using an Application Service Provider (ASP) with internal or temporary resources in one or more locations or virtual environment – can provide all of the advanced capabilities of IP standards and web services, including CTI and improved user interfaces without having to change your internal infrastructure. Customer premise equipment is another way to accomplish this. Communication and / or Media Processing Servers and various point solutions, such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR) for example, can now run on industry standard servers without the need for proprietary systems and voice cards. These can then be connected to existing telephony infrastructures through an IP Communication or Media Gateway. Other interesting possibilities that can be integrated into the mix include open source solutions and peer-to-peer telecommunication options.
 
 
Which way to go?
 
This of course depends on your particular technical and cultural environment, but for most enterprises standing still (or not having a strategy) is not an option. Way beyond gateways and having the right network infrastructure, most changes are driven by adding value to the business processes through a combination of cutting costs, reducing the amount of time for tasks to get accomplished, and making your business processes and new initiatives more effective. Sales, customer service, workforce mobility, multi-modal communications and continuation of business strategies are among key areas for consideration. The ability to leverage a suite of integrated solutions from the same or multiple vendors, without being locked in to any one supplier can be of significant value. 
 
Does your organization have a roadmap for IP migration beyond the PBX? 
 
Your comments, questions and ideas are welcome: elabanca@collabgen.com.
 
Ed LaBanca is President & Principal Analyst for CollabGen Inc. He works with CXO's, executives and department managers to improve communications and customer service in contact centers and across the enterprise. Consulting services include technology and applications audit, systems and process analysis, design, request for proposals, evaluations and project management.

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