VoIP: the key to effective converged networking

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is continuing to establish itself as a key driver in the move towards converged network solutions. While consumer VoIP has gone a long way to increase awareness of the technology, comparatively little attention has been paid to organisational benefits or the costs implementing this type of technology on a large scale can involve.
While it is clear that businesses are increasingly deciding to migrate to the technology, attracted by the numerous benefits promised to impact the bottom line and boost efficiency, it is also important to be able to quantify those benefits and ensure that they aren’t empty promises.  This applies equally to the public sector.
VoIP can be an incredibly attractive proposition to organisations of any size based on lower communication costs, increased user productivity and easier management with greater scalability and the adoption of the technology is inevitable as telecoms operators update their networks from legacy PSTN lines to all-IP next-generation networks (NGNs). The real problem facing organisations in the UK is not whether to commit to VoIP, but rather when to commit. If they get the timing wrong, it may be difficult to achieve a short-term ROI on the initial network outlay if indeed at all.

Watertight plan
Organisations need to build a watertight plan for measuring ROI when rolling out a VoIP network, however, research suggests that many are failing to do this. If this is the case, cost savings resulting from the technology are at risk of being overlooked, leaving IT managers unable to justify the investment to their managers. For the full benefits of VoIP to be reflected in cost-efficiencies and improved working practices, senior management must include a number of structured elements within their cost/benefit analysis.
It is important to realise from the outset that VoIP does not guarantee cost savings in every instance of deployment and the efficiencies promised by the technology – simplified infrastructure, scalability, reduced operating costs and improved productivity and flexibility – can only be realised once all the potential costs of migrating to VoIP have been considered, not least the initial outlay on hardware and expenditure on ongoing maintenance.
One of the key benefits of VoIP, for example, is that it facilitates mobile telecommunications without the high fees imposed by GSM operators. This could lead to major savings, but only if the costs involved in replacing mobile handsets with VoIP-enabled laptops, or even mobile VoIP handsets, are factored into the calculation.
Tangible Benefits
What though are the tangible benefits for the public sector? Improved staff efficiency and the potential to offer employees more flexible working options? Yes. Ease of management and a unified communication network? Absolutely! A simplified, scalable infrastructure which enables improved productivity. Definitely! Benefits though go beyond reducing costs. Expanding the capacity of an organisation to offer remote and flexible working solutions for employees using a robust corporate network infrastructure, genuinely has the potential to transform the way people and organisations work.
The 2002 Employment Act has enabled employees to care for a family while continuing to work by obliging businesses to consider requests for flexible and remote working. All carers have the right to request flexible working allowances and companies are looking to technology to allow them to accommodate such demands.
Alongside formal legislation, several public-facing initiatives such as 'WorkWise Week’ and ‘National Work from Home Day’ have been introduced to openly address the options for remote working. The idea of work/life balance is the latest ‘buzz’ phrase dominating the media agenda and continues to drive the case for the adoption of flexible working policy in order to help maintain a happy and healthy workforce.
Technology is recognised as the key to helping businesses work more effectively. Mobile phones contributed to this, but not without the drawback of highly priced calls. VoIP allows organisations to implement remote working solutions that are both effective and efficient.
And what of security? Ironically, it is the drive to reduce costs through the adoption of IP telephony that is driving wider convergence and thus greatly enhancing network security. As IP technology runs over NGN infrastructure, it is operating in an environment light years ahead of anything that is presently being used. The convergence of just about everything onto a common platform makes sense from a security perspective as it allows a single approach to ensure that things just keep working. Assuming you follow good practice in designing your single IP network, it is possible to achieve high degrees of security and resilience and provide all the reassurance a network manager could ever wish for.  
Organisations though must always remember that VoIP is not an end in itself, and like any investment must be carefully considered. If this is done, and the timing is right, then IP telephony will prove itself both in terms of productivity and value. Early embrace of the technology will position organisations to take advantage of services as they evolve and become available as well as achieving immediate savings.

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