The channel has dismissed analysts' claims that confusion over support for IP telephony infrastructure is holding back development of the technology. But industry experts warn the responsibility for educating the growing numbers of IP telephony users falls squarely on the shoulders of systems integrators.
Principal analyst at Meta Group, Bjarne Munch, said the blurring of boundaries between the responsibilities of companies across the IP telephony value chain was going to cause problems for end-users.
"An IP telephony solution is no better than its weakest link," he said.
"If you choose a vendor to manage the infrastructure on your behalf it's hard to find the break between what is managed in-house and what is outsourced.
"A problem with an IP telephony system requires a complete end-to-end trace of all the equipment used in that call.
"The complexity of an IP telephony system means it is hard to find out where each system hands over to the next, and who is responsible for it."
Munch said it was vitally important for companies to train staff to manage IP telephony systems, even though many companies were currently confused about which department was responsible.
"Most companies don't have the processes in place to manage this kind of issue," he said.
"Large organisations still operate in a silo-based environment with a data group, security team, networking experts, etcetera. IP telephony calls for a breakdown of these silos - users must become a converged organisation."
IP telephony is steadily replacing traditional PABX-based office telephone systems in medium and large enterprises, according to research from IDC, which predicted 50 per cent growth in enterprise-based IP telephony in 2004.
In a separate report, IDC found 60 per cent of medium and large companies would have deployed the technology in Australia by 2007.
Some systems integrators and communications consultants are beginning to package IP telephony management in response to accelerating uptake.
Last week, Dimension Data launched its Managed IP Telephony Service, providing tiered management offerings to existing and new clients looking for help with their IP telephony systems.
"We've been supporting our existing clients with a 'break-fix' service for some time, but that was no longer good enough," Dimension Data connectivity business manager, Roland Chia, said.
"We were updating systems with critical patches but if a network was perceived to be healthy the responsibility for monitoring fell back on the client."
Dimension Data's offering now includes network health monitoring, 24-hour online support (via a VPN connection if required) and dedicated patch management.
Chia said end-user organisations were reticent in educating in-house support staff due to the high value of IP telephony specialists and the cost and time involved in training them.
"People don't want to train staff members as they walk out the door," he said.
"It takes time to train someone in this technology. Our customers are telling us they can't train their staff fast enough - we are offering to help with the process, plus take over the more mundane network administration tasks."
Chairman and founder of Australian-owned communications management specialist NSC, Craig Neil, said he couldn't remember the last time a customer ordered a standard PABX telephone system.
Customers were no longer asking about saving money on calls, Neil said, but concentrating on efficiency, productivity and management improvements as a driver to implementation. This was where the channel could add the most value.
"We're on an education mission to tell our client base that this is no longer about call costs," he said. "If you are a vendor of these solutions and can't move and adapt to understand the new needs of your customers, you're going to get left on the shelf."
Digital and IP telephony technology developer, Avaya, has also seen a shift in its business away from standard digital telephony, according to convergence solutions manager, Roy Wakim.
"Last year, 60 per cent of new telephony projects were IP - this year it's 90 per cent," he said.
Wakim described a series of educational hurdles and suggested the end-result should not put too much of a strain on an organisation's in-house resources.
"Basic administration tasks can be dealt with in-house with the more complex jobs being done by a systems integrator or consultant," he said.
One common theme from the channel is that end-user organisations will never learn the benefits of IP telephony without some kind of trial project.
Systems integrator, Data#3, took the decision to implement VoIP across its own organisation before taking it out to its clients, according to CEO, John Grant.
"Companies are fearful of what moving to IP telephony will mean to their business," he said. "But we experienced no degradation of quality, no disruption to our telephone service during installation and only had to shut our server down for one hour during the changeover. All the fear, uncertainty and doubt vapourises the moment after implementation."