The Internet and emerging technologies have created many liberties and functionalities for individuals and businesses in novel ways. Unwittingly many companies have been inhibited by the legacy phone systems they have depended on for years. The wheels of change are turning as companies gain that essential competitive edge by discovering innovative ways of using telephony.
Currently, it is estimated that 10% of international phone traffic occurs over the Internet using voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP. It is a formidable technology that transmits voice data into digital data packets that are seamlessly and conveniently stored, searched, copied, merged, and distributed to practically any device that connects to the Internet.
VoIP heralds a shift in the control of phone services from providers that have historically defined these services to the companies that use them. It allows businesses to create their own customised phone applications and serves as the unifying platform to enable intelligent and strategic uses of voice communication.
VoIP is not constrained by physical locations or specific devices since it uses Internet protocol for calls and consists of bits of voice data transmitted via the global Internet. A VoIP call does not involve visible changes and callers can use an ordinary telephone connected to a VoIP converter box plugged into an Internet connection. Alternatively, either a similar looking IP phone that connects directly to the Internet or installed ‘softphone’ software on a personal computer with a headset or microphone can be used to make VoIP calls.
VoIP as a Platform
VoIP creates an environment for building applications to take advantage of accessible IP resources. The first step in the development of a VoIP platform comprises the installation of front-office devices such as phones, converters, or software for employees. The next step is the installation of VoIP devices to replace private branch exchange (PBX) equipment.
VoIP software and hardware infrastructures regulate the features and how VoIP devices connect with corporate IT systems. Adding a function like video conferencing to a VoIP system is no different from installing a software package on your PC.
VoIP promises to become more strategically significant over time since it will allow the support of new communications functions not yet developed and will serve as a platform for converged or unified communications. These communication functions combine voice with other data with more strategic capacities such as virtualisation, portability, customisation, and other tools as are discussed below.
Virtualisation and portability
With VoIP it is possible to take a virtual version of your phone to any location at any time and launch services for an unlimited number of phones anywhere in the world. The advantage of the combination of portability and scalability is that it takes features of conventional communications that are fixed and expensive and makes them flexible and inexpensive.
Scalability and Redundancy
With VoIP, a person’s phone number and associated services are portable and phone lines can be added wherever and whenever they are needed. Similarly, rerouting calls occurs without the extensive rewiring and reprogramming as would have been needed with conventional telephony. VoIP hence makes it easier to add true redundancy, in terms of both equipment and the continuity of business operations.
VoIP thus allows businesses to respond flexibly to fluctuations in demand across time and space. Inefficiency is reduced when it is unnecessary to maintain a full call centre when the flow of calls fluctuates. Calls can be switched between agents without losing the tracking, analysis, and management capabilities that allow supervisors to evaluate the call for quality assurance purposes.
VoIP has voice applications that are easily built and refined. While off-the-shelf VoIP software and hardware have a variety of features, organisations can write custom applications that will reinforce branding, enhance customer service and improve internal communications.
Communications have always been linked to business processes and success. VoIP allows companies to address changing demand and differentiate its services. It enables the coordination of activities across distances and from different sites. Staff can use speech commands to manage their voice mail messages and calendars, access directory listings, and launch conference calls from any phone. It gives companies flexible communications that can easily adjust to fluctuating demands.
With VoIP, coordination ensures that every customer enquiry can be precisely targeted based on when and why it is being sent, and to whom. VoIP systems enable staff to reach customers through whatever device they are closest to and automatically link their computers to instant messaging, streaming video, and a secure Web site with key documents.
In deciding whether and how to adopt VoIP, businesses should ask how fail-proof and ‘future-proofed’ their initial investment will be and what recurring investment is required. Despite the potential migration and integration challenges, issues of technology reliability, scalability and security, companies should also consider how VoIP can improve or transform tasks and workflow. As early adopters, businesses will gain efficiencies by harnessing VoIP to achieve strategic objectives.