What makes a great technology product? As far as users are concerned, it is surely the ability of that product to solve a particular problem more cheaply or efficiently than the next, or to make people more productive.
In the euphoria of the early stages of the Internet era much of this clear thinking seemed to go out of the window. If your product had an "e" in front of its name or a .com suffix the world was your oyster.
In the harsh reality of the IT business today, however, if you cannot prove a technology product's business case then it is unlikely to sell.
Putting voice traffic over packet networks did not initially set the world alight for users. It did mean cheap phone calls, but it did not change end-users' behaviour. You still picked up the phone and dialled the number.
Other advertised features (such as screen-based dialling and the screen popping of data) were not unique to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)-based systems.
The people who really got excited about VoIP were the techies. They saw that running voice and data along a single pipe would bring massive savings in terms of cabling, as well as simplified administration and, ultimately, unified communications systems.
To sell VoIP, you need to convince the techies and the users (or those who pay their wages) and this is where many VoIP suppliers have struggled. They have put too much emphasis on the technology and not enough on the product.
If organisations are going to move to unified voice and data systems and architectures under IP they must be convinced that the applications they are buying provide all the traditional call centre functionality they require today and are flexible enough to add new media capabilities in the future as needs change.
Many analysts now see the contact centre as the place where IP voice and data systems will really take off. The reasons for this are obvious:
- Businesses will be able to receive, track and respond to all customer communications - regardless of whether these come in by voice, e-mail or the Web - over a single, merged voice and data network (significantly reducing infrastructure costs)
- Reduced call charges apply in respect of call transfers between departments and locations
- New call centres may be deployed rapidly without waiting for new phone lines to be set up or requiring telephony automatic call distributors
- Other channels of communication (eg streaming, personalised video) may be integrated easily.
Ultimately end-users will benefit through receiving greater customer choice and a vastly improved service.
Stefan Fafinski is director of product management at Aspect Communications