Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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Ideas Viewpoints VoIP - A Personal View

It's is a method of contributing to the building of IT business processes through linking together a number of "business services" into a complete business workflow. Each service is a stand-alone block of business functionality, an application, which is loosely coupled yet highly inter-operable. The potential for stepping towards the Web Enabled Enterprise and a new role the IP director begins with the decision to migrate from existing networks and functionality. The decision revolves around two distinctly different business cases.

The first is, cost saving, the 'hard' business case.

The second is, productivity, the 'soft' business case.

Hard business cases usually form the basis on which finance gives their agreement, whereas the benefits of the soft case usually accrue to the business unit users.

There is a possible third case, namely bowing to the inevitable, however the metrics are not clear, and in well-managed business?s proof points are needed. Although if we read the following, attributed to Bill Gates (by the FT), bowing to the inevitable may seem, well, inevitable:

He (Bill Gates) says Microsoft has been a pioneer in many aspects of today's online world with products such as MSN Messenger and Hotmail, but adds:

'However, to lead we need to do far more. The broad and rich foundation of the internet will unleash a ?services wave? of applications and experiences available instantly over the internet to millions of users. Advertising has emerged as a powerful new means by which to directly and indirectly fund the creation and delivery of software and services along with subscriptions and license fees. Services designed to scale to tens or hundreds of millions will dramatically change the nature and cost of solutions deliverable to enterprises or small businesses.

'We will build our strategies around Internet services and we will provide a broad set of service APIs and use them in all of our key applications.

'This coming ?services wave? will be very disruptive. We have competitors who will seize on these approaches and challenge us ? still, the opportunity for us to lead is very clear. More than any other company, we have the vision, assets, experience, and aspirations to deliver experiences and solutions across the entire range of digital workstyle & digital lifestyle scenarios, and to do so at scale, reaching users, developers and businesses across all markets.'

Ray Ozzie (CTO Microsoft) replies:

'We should've been leaders with all our web properties in harnessing the potential of AJAX, following our pioneering work in OWA. We knew search would be important, but through Google?s focus they've gained a tremendously strong position. RSS is the internet?s answer to the notification scenarios we?ve discussed and worked on for some time, and is filling a role as ?the UNIX pipe of the internet? as people use it to connect data and systems in unanticipated ways. For all its tremendous innovation and its embracing of HTML and XML, Office is not yet the source of key web data formats' surely not to the level of PDF. While we've led with great capabilities in Messenger & Communicator, it was Skype, not us, who made VoIP broadly popular and created a new category. We have long understood the importance of mobile messaging scenarios and have made significant investment in device software, yet only now are we surpassing the Blackberry.' ?And while we continue to make good progress on these many fronts, a set of very strong and determined competitors is laser-focused on internet services and service-enabled software.'

On the soft case, the real promise is that these IP protocols can change how people work together, remotely and spontaneously. In this way all the available functionality may be combined in one working session, enabling a creative dynamic environment for collaboration. The scenario for a typical client/project team is: One colleague dials another by seeing their on-hook status in their contact/group list and clicks to connect on a basic VoIP call. They decide that other members of their client/project team are needed in their debate; they do this by dragging names over the conference button on the screen. They decide to review certain documents/web sites and edit them together. If all are equipped with desktop video cameras, these can be enabled if needed. If clients/others are part of the contact list, they can be ?conferenced? in thereby shortening decision times. Having reviewed, updated and decided what the next actions are the call can end with a click. In the near future, some of the participants may be on mobile WiMax devices.

Much of this functionality exists now, the use of IP makes it possible, economic and practical to integrate and deploy to a broad enterprise user base.

Which brings us to the hard case. In the short run, although the economics of VoIP sound impressive (savings of 40% - 70% are typically quoted) the cost of migration may exceed the benefit. The case has to be considered in the light of events that mean immediate benefit can be achieved, and sites that do not need immediate action and can be factored into a longer term more considered strategy. The conventional triggers for upgrade/replacement of a telecommunication system are:

1. End user needs. This arises as a result of changes of working practice necessitating new ways of using and combining existing applications. This can be the application limitations, features, reliability, need for ease of integration, people moving, mobility in the workforce and changes of other kinds.

2. IT organisation. Examine the combination of hard/soft and wetware issues to assess the costs in equipment, services and other expenses of acquiring, installing and operating the new infrastructure created by migration, and conclude a ?hard? business case exists. This may include lease breaks, depreciation, ?Moore?s law? and other factors.

3. Property change. Greenfield build, relocation, renovation, home working or relocation of hardware for risk management reasons.

4. Purchasing. Within a few years, disruptive technologies change the costs of maintenance of older systems that become unsupported by vendors. Carrying data and voice over a single network means only one set of wires and since IP addresses are tied to devices and not to ports, fewer devices are needed as are technicians of different kinds. According to some pundits, converging the infrastructure allows the opportunity to centralise provisioning, management, help desk, billing and chargeback for all voice and data. It is likely that no single vendor will be able to provide all the hardware, software and transmission building blocks.

IP networks were originally designed to be application independent and treat all traffic the same. Different types of traffic on a converged network will need different levels of QOS and a major task is preparing the data network for the QOS requirements of voice (and video). Voice (and video) signalling protocols will need to be introduced with voice gateways that interface the IP network with legacy phones, faxes and other devices. Unlike the PSTN, data networks have delay, delay variance, packet loss, out of sequence packets and transmission errors.

All this means that an agreed migration will need to be thoughtful, steered by multiple interests, opportunistic, anticipate never ending upgrades and rigorously adhere to standards in a multi vendor environment.

VoIP begins a journey towards a converged network as part of linking together a number of "business services" into a complete business workflow solution. The decision to undertake the journey means that each business will have to review its own unique assets, network topography, legacy operations and applications (propriety and bespoke), and strategic direction. And then the business planing begins in earnest.

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