Short-Sighted Companies Fail to Consider Value of VoIP

Slightly more than half of companies surveyed are considering, or are in the process of deploying, voice over IP (VoIP) technology, according to the Cutter Consortium, which conducted the survey of 132 organizations. But 44 percent reported that it wasn’t even on their radar.

The findings are unexpected, says Lou Mazzucchelli, a fellow of the Cutter Business Technology Council. Mazzucchelli thinks many companies are being shortsighted. The major telecommunications companies are going to start offering VoIP services, and eventually, it will replace traditional phone service, he predicts.

So why are companies turning a deaf ear to VoIP? Of those who said they were not considering the technology, 53 percent cited no business need for it. Another 22 percent said they had no business sponsor for a VoIP project. There are costs to VoIP, Mazzucchelli acknowledges, but traditional telephone service isn’t free either. In the long run, he notes, VoIP offers substantial cost savings over existing technology.

VoIP skeptics often cite security as a reason for avoiding the technology, but Mazzucchelli believes the lack of an adequate network infrastructure is a bigger technical barrier to adoption. Twenty-one percent of respondents said they weren’t looking at VoIP because their current infrastructure would not support it.

VoIP can be unreliable (it’s vulnerable to problems such as dropped calls), so IT shops need sufficient staff to keep an in-house VoIP system running. Also, traditional telephony providers supply backup power during power outages, but VoIP users must provide their own. Mazzucchelli says the seriousness of these barriers depends on the relative importance of security and reliability to a company. For example, some parts of an organization could easily tolerate a power outage. “If you’re a utility, you want your customer service line open during a disaster,” Mazzucchelli observes. “But many others in the company probably have cell phones they could use.” You have to ask where it’s OK to take a risk on a new technology.

Best Practices:

1 Learn about VoIP. Even if you’re not planning to deploy VoIP soon, you should still stay up to speed on the technology and adoption trends, advises Mazzucchelli. That way, you won’t fall behind as competitors deploy VoIP systems.

2 Evaluate the pros and cons. The decisions of whether to use VoIP and how to use it are unique for every company. Consider the impact VoIP would have on network security and reliability, infrastructure, staffing and telecommunications costs. “VoIP is in its infancy,” Mazzucchelli notes; right now, more has been written about how to deploy it than is known from experience.

3 Go slowly. Don’t convert your entire voice network to VoIP at once. Consider a mix of traditional voice services and VoIP to lower the risk of rolling out the new technology.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

Survey says! Share your insights in our 19th annual State of the CIO study