Voice over IP's popularity may be surging, but incorrect implementations challenge many companies which are running into bigger problems than ever.
So said an Avaya executive at a company-sponsored breakfast in Melbourne last week for more than 150 partners and prospective customers.
Trends in Avaya support calls confirmed the broad capabilities of new telephony technology were proving to be a double-edged sword for many customers, with many implementations going smoothly, but more complex projects running into some real show-stoppers.
"We have seen a change in terms of the nature of support," said Raymond Daly, general manager for professional services with Avaya South Pacific.
Support volumes "are reducing, but we're finding it's taking longer to solve the problems customers have because of the complexity of the implementations".
That complexity is coming as more and more customers move beyond phase one of VoIP deployments, known as the telephony replacement phase, and look towards complex applications linking VoIP systems with back-end call centre and corporate information systems.
In many such projects, IT managers start off with the right ideas and direction, Daly said, but find that years of experience in the data world simply haven't given them the right skill sets to be able to move seamlessly into the world of VoIP.
"We're finding many customers are slack in how they manage their data networks," he said. "They have issues with the voice environment, but data guys are still fiddling with routers and not realizing that it's impacting the service levels they need [for VoIP] to perform efficiently. They have gone outside the parameters they need for VoIP to operate properly, and these outages translate into real business issues."
One serious problem comes as companies deploy advanced, IP-based services like videoconferencing, which was spruiked heavily at the event by Avaya partner Polycom. Congestion, said Polycom Australia country manager James Anderson in a panel discussion at the event, often becomes a problem as videoconferencing is moved from dedicated and predictable ISDN lines onto IP networks where applications often end up fighting for bandwidth.
"Quality was our biggest concern at the start, and we did quite a lot of testing," says Michael Campbell, managing director of Melbourne-based home delivery company Moving Menus, which recently implemented an Avaya IP Office VoIP system that has slashed its customer call handling costs by more than 80 percent.
"It works perfectly now, but there were a lot of issues when we began," Campbell concedes. "We didn't have the right bandwidth, the gear wasn't compatible, and it knocked over our phone system a couple of times. We really needed to make sure the bandwidth was right, and after two or three attempts the bandwidth worked fine."
A growing volume of customers tapping into Avaya technical support was expected to drive rapid growth in Avaya's communications solutions and integration business unit, which was created two years ago and is growing rapidly in the face of a trend in which services are expected to account for 40 percent of converged telecommunications spending by 2008.
Much of that spending will come as customers realize they just don't have the in-house skills to handle VoIP and back-end integration themselves.
Susana Vidal, senior telecommunications analyst with IDC Australia, says such issues are particularly common within the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector, where companies are suffering from a lack of VoIP-specific training and growing interest in advanced services such as mobile VoIP telephony and back-end integration.
"In larger companies, their systems integrators generally put together good integration, but a lot of SMEs still don't have people in-house with any kind of IP telephony expertise," Vidal said.
"In companies of fewer than 200 people, you typically have an IT manager who has taken care of the software and security part, and is now also handling the voice area. Not all the deployments are going to stay in phase one only, and vendors and channel partners need to invest a bit more into educating their users."