Narrow focus 'vital' for IP phone projects

Would-be adopters of IP phone systems should focus on the "vital few" aspects where their organisation really needs to improve - be it production efficiency, customer contact management or whatever - and ask themselves "how will IP phones help those objectives?"

IP Telephony Unveiled by Kevin Brown (CiscoPress, $US24.99)

Would-be adopters of IP phone systems should focus on the “vital few” aspects where their organisation really needs to improve – be it production efficiency, customer contact management or whatever – and ask themselves “how will IP phones help those objectives?”

Such a focus is likely to produce a much better bottom line outcome than concentrating on relatively fuzzy aspects like saving money on old-style PABXs, or simply getting caught up in the newness of the technology.

So says Kevin Brown in IP Telephony Unveiled, the first in a collection of five planned books from Cisco Press under the collective title “Network Business Series”.

A companion volume, Planet Broadband – not part of that series but in a similar format - was reviewed here last year. That review, like this one, was done from proofs of a few chapters and a contents list and index. The full text of the broadband book does fill in some of the gaps identified then.

IP Telephony Unveiled looks like a comprehensive and worthwhile treatment.

“The goal is not just to make phone calls [even to make them more efficiently] but to improve your business processes,” Brown says. He gives a number of detailed examples of how such processes may be improved, in sectors ranging from healthcare to higher education, banking and finance to retail.

In the “focusing on the few” chapter, these are rather general, talking of hypothetical organisations. The pitches for Cisco equipment are obvious, but there is a good account of how IP telephony can be productively merged with the existing digital network and other up-and-coming technologies such as the tablet computer as well as PDA.

“Sophisticated users, who always create markets, are now questioning why their laptops, Palm Pilots, cellphones and other PDAs can be so intelligent, yet their work phone remains ‘dumbed down’," says Brown.

The book is written from a US perspective, but even given the larger scale of operations, most of the lessons are generally applicable. Arresting statements like “the bomb threat is a definite reality for public schools today” make the reader glad to be living in a marginally less fraught country. But the lessons in problem escalation, co-ordination of response and preservation of evidence would be readily transferable to a natural disaster, equipment failure or detection of illegal activity on the New Zealand scale.

The following chapter, “a different view of ROI”, suggests that the organisation strive for permanent reduction in costs and improvement of productivity, not just focus on recovering the cost of the IP phone system. Brown stresses the importance of a close partnership approach between user and supplier(s), suggesting that a reluctance to let a supplier too deeply into the secrets of the organisation’s business practices and information assets has handicapped a number of potentially valuable developments.

In this chapter, the case studies are more real and focused on particular organisations, though they are still mostly anonymous. Brown, who came to Cisco from Selsius Systems, gives a personal account of the role of IP telephony in the merger of the two companies.

Here general cost savings through network efficiency and good management of moves, adds and changes and maintenance are discussed in detail, with a number of possible architectures raised for consideration – with the help of clear graphics.

Early chapters, not provided in detail, acquaint the reader with the basics of IP telephony technology and development.

Further planned titles in the Network Business Series are Taking charge of Your VoIP Project (scheduled for next month [February], The Case for Virtual Business Processes (March), The Business Case for E-learning and Internet Techologies for Small-Medium Businesses (both May).

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