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Second-generation voice over IP products are set to spawn a new genre of live communication applications that will reduce business communications costs and boost productivity.
They will be based on three standards: Session Initiation Protocol (Sip); Simple Object Access Protocol (Soap); and Sip for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (Simple).
Sip will deliver multimedia-friendly VoIP products that are cheaper to deploy and manage than legacy PBX systems. Since Sip is a web standard with extensible text protocols, it is easier and quicker for developers to build applications and features over Sip using programming environments such as Java and Windows. For example, organising a conference call through a calendar application directory.
Soap interfaces will be built into Sip IP PBXs to add standardised data exchange to systems such as legacy messaging, directory servers, and back-office customer relationship management or enterprise resource planning databases. They will speed integration cycles at a fraction of the cost of proprietary enterprise application integration software.
Simple will be used to imbue voice communications with presence. Users with complex questions get immediate answers by being able to click to connect to agents with relevant expertise.
The integration of all three protocols, dubbed "Triple-S", will allow users to cut costs by reducing dependence on applications such as e-mail and telephony. Suppliers are expected to start shipping Triple-S VoIP products by early 2004.
Vertical markets such as financial services and healthcare, many of which have sizeable VoIP deployments, will be among the first to roll out Triple-S VoIP products, beginning in 2004.
Mainstream firms will follow, focusing on rolling out utilitarian Triple-S applications such as presence-aware click-to-call or chat features in Microsoft Outlook by 2005.
Triple-S VoIP will offer two phases of user benefits: saving on VoIP deployment costs and telecom costs initially; then improving employee productivity from 2006.
Triple-S servers can handle up to 10 times the call volume of earlier IP PBXs, reducing the number of servers required to handle voice traffic. Companies can further lower costs by deploying best-of-breed instead of getting locked into semi-customised platforms.
Integration costs also fall significantly when using open web services interfaces instead of proprietary middleware to link Triple-S IP PBXs with enterprise application servers such as messaging, directory servers, and back-office CRM and ERP databases.
Companies can make substantial savings by adopting Triple-S VoIP instead of traditional conferencing solutions. And instead of updating every PBX individually, industry-standard tools such as Microsoft MMC or Linux equivalents can be used to perform simultaneous updates to a handful of networked Triple-S IP PBX servers and tens of thousands of Triple-S client devices.
The first phase of Triple-S VoIP deployments will address the need for across-the-board ITcost reductions by lowering deployment, communications and operational costs.
Triple-S VoIP deployments will enable firms to simplify workflow in business processes by adding live communications-enabled CRM, ERP, or supply-chain applications, so that companies will be able to streamline business interactions, initiate real-time collaboration sessions, and improve client interactions.
Triple-S desktop applications will make users more efficient by streamlining time-consuming tasks such as setting up an audio conference or checking an order status. ERP suppliers such as Microsoft Business Solutions and SAP are likely take a cue from Lawson Software, whose Smart Notification adds presence awareness and live communication capabilities into its ERP applications. This delivers lower costs and speeds up workflow by having more responsive interactions with suppliers, partners, and customers.
By early 2005, banks, consultants, and healthcare firms will use presence-aware desktop applications to initiate instant collaboration sessions by clicking on a name in a buddy list.
A surgeon, for instance, would be able to have an impromptu collaboration with fellow experts about a patient's x-ray by displaying the image on a device and simultaneously discussing it with them.
By 2006, service-oriented businesses such as retail banks and real estate firms will be able to use voice-enabled CRM applications to simplify customer interactions, provide technical support, or run order fulfilment.
Vijay Bhagavath is an industry analyst at Forrester Research