CIOs Clamoring to Adopt VoIP, But Not Without Hesitation

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A recent survey of chief information officers by IDG Research Services shows increasing adoption of IP telephony. The survey, sponsored by Interactive Intelligence, found that 63 percent of respondents intend to deploy an IP PBX within the next 12 months, an increase from the 50 percent who currently use such a system.

A lesser shift was the 30 percent of respondents who plan to institute hosted VoIP services, up from the current 23 percent. Consequently, the number of companies with traditional PBXs looks to fall from 68 percent to 49 percent within a year.

The primary motivations for this upheaval are the cost savings VoIP can deliver, and the accelerating speed of the modern business environment. Being disconnected during commutes or losing time haggling between email and voicemail have become major handicaps.

Supporting this, 59 percent of respondents cited a greater need for employees to stay connected, 57 percent noted increasingly mobile (and often global) employees, 48 percent needed greater productivity, and 43 percent cited user demands for cutting-edge technology. Respondents expected these benefits from IP communications to give them a competitive advantage.

The most important considerations for CIOs in selecting IP communications applications and providers were performance (74 percent) and security (63 percent), followed by integration, easy installation, scalability, technical support, and a single point of administration. There was definitely an expectation that some massively hyped applications, such as videoconferencing (a top priority of 57 percent of respondents), would lead to deployments.

Still, there’s a lack of comprehension, and even suspicion, among some CIOs as to what certain VoIP applications can fully accomplish. The greatest point of hesitation seems to be the sturdiness of the technology. The issues of network readiness (44 percent) and reliability (43 percent) also plagued CIOs’ confidence in VoIP solutions. Thirty-three percent of respondents said they perceived IP communications as immature, a contention that makes Joseph Staples, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Interactive Intelligence, bristle. He cites the ever-growing number of IP PBX lines being purchased compared to traditional PBX lines as contrary evidence.

The application that seems most affected by this prejudice is unified communications (UC). The term even mystified CIOs, their confusion reflected in the mere 46 percent of respondents who prioritized it.

Furthermore, 43 percent of respondents claimed that UC technology was not yet fully mature, and 10 percent went so far as to say that it was "more fluff than substance." Yet according to Staples, the term may be new but the technology is well-established.

Other areas of smaller yet promising growth include speech recognition (15 percent currently to 24 percent in a year) and presence management (10 percent now to 14 percent in a year). The latter is already prevalent in call centers, but business users are beginning to realize the value of knowing the location and status of the individual on the opposite end of the line.

In all, the report dismissed concerns that the technology in IP communications was underdeveloped and emphasized that problems arising in implementing an IP system should be avoidable as long as CIOs do their research and are thoughtful in purchasing and implementing a system.

Some final advice:
• Have class-of-service capabilities in your network. Make sure the network piece has been thought through.
• Return on investment (ROI) will not be obvious, so build a business case that quantifies the soft-cost savings, drawing comparisons with the current environment.
• Develop a clear, solid request for proposals and evaluate the different responses through industry contacts, newsgroups, and site surveys. Toward that end, don’t go with the least expensive vendor or the most recognizable brand; try to find one with experience and the best product at a competitive price.
• Once the technology is implemented, take the time to familiarize yourself with it.

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