End-user education and acceptance is the key to realising the full business benefits of converged voice and data networks.
A growing number of businesses are switching to voice over IP systems. Who has not been drawn to the potential cost savings of having a single converged network for voice and data, or felt the allure of collaborative working?
But the honeymoon is over. There is a challenge to be met in moving from the technology-driven VoIP roll-outs of the past, to projects that put user acceptance of new ways of working at their heart. Although it can function as a normal phone, a VoIP handset has more to offer.
Replacing existing telephones and PBXs with expensive new boxes that simply make phone calls, albeit at a cheaper tariff, is not the best way for an IT director to earn respect in the business.
They must look beyond the telephony cost savings and investigate how VoIP can truly add value.
Technology suppliers offer many ways to increase the value of VoIP through unified communications, and there are few technical barriers to stop anyone deploying a unified system.
The problem is that users are often reluctant to learn a new approach to working, particularly when the task is as mundane as making and receiving phone calls.
Even with a unified system, I question whether they will buy into the idea of a single inbox for e-mail, voicemail and fax messages. Logging into a computer to make a phone call and pick up messages will probably seem long-winded until users are shown how to use the system to its full potential.
Realising this potential may require further new ways of working. VoIP features, such as the ability to bring up the contact details of who is calling in and speed dial, are great when deployed within a customer relationship management system at a call centre.
But outside a fully-integrated CRM system, tracking incoming calls can quickly become an impossible task if end-users have more than one way to store contact information.
It is common for users to have contact information dispersed across business cards, mobile phones and e-mail address books. If they were better organised, the VoIP system could pick all of this up and provide a neat way to see who is calling and allow them to speed dial. Clearly, user education is key.
The IT director must also recognise that not everyone will need to use the functionality offered by VoIP. In many instances, VoIP is simply a component part of a far-reaching project to understand the customer better. And not everyone needs to have the same level of customer information.
There is unlikely to be a business case for installing CRM throughout the company just because the VoIP system supports it. It is therefore important to segment your end-users when making the business case for VoIP.
Demonstrating the added benefits of VoIP to a target group of power users is easy. Explaining these benefits to the wider user community and encouraging them to see the bigger picture is far more difficult.