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IP Telephony Expert: VoIP Quality Must Precede Unified Communications

August 27, 2008
Many IT insiders today think of the following technologies as integrated under the single heading “unified communications”: fixed and mobile voice, e-mail, instant messaging, desktop and advanced business applications, IP-PBX (News - Alert), VoIP, telepresence, voicemail, fax, audio video and Web conferencing.
 
Yet for Joe Frost, vice president of marketing for Psytechnics – a company with international headquarters in an eastern England town whose beloved soccer team, the Ipswich Town Football Club, currently owns a 1-2 record and sits in the lower half of the English League Championship – says there’s a critical piece of those technologies that must be sorted out before a company can effectively pursue a UC system.
 
“The market hype is around unified communications, et cetera, but I think certainly what we’ve learned and what most of our customers have told us is that they have to get IP telephony right first, before they would ever consider moving toward a unified messaging environment,” Frost, in Boston recently and for a visit to Psytechnics’ (News - Alert) Portsmouth, New Hampshire offices, told TMCnet in an interview. “So what that means is in the all the deployments we have, all the customers have been really focused on expanding the use of IP telephony.”
 
Frost’s company provides software solutions that improve, in additional to video communications, the quality of IP telephony, which more and more businesses – especially call centers – are adopting, even though technology sometimes yields unwanted echo, distortion and noise.
 
Psytechnics’ flagship product, called “Experience Manager,” is a tool that monitors, analyzes and produces diagnostics to measure the quality of IP telephony user’s actual experience.
 
Frost says his company’s clients now are expanding IP telephony use from head offices to branch offices and even to remote workers. For larger enterprises, which look at cost-effective communications and rely on the economies of scale to deploy solutions across many locations, IP telephony adoption is fueled, in part, by monetary concerns.
 
Not so for SMBs, according to Frost.
 
“If you look at it from an SMB perspective, a lot of initial thought seems to be that it’s around cost-savings. Actually I don’t think that’s true at all,” Frost told TMCnet. “What we’ve found is that, particularly in the SMB market, these companies were using IP telephony primarily, for the advantages of the communications of staying in touch, so some of the most popular features are being able to take your calls no matter where you are. But more importantly, being able to take your calls where it suited your context.”
 
In other words, convenient features such as “click-to-dial,” which can connect a laptop or desktop users to another party through whichever communications device they’re using at that moment, whether it’s a cell phone, VoIP-ready device or video conference, are saving companies’ time and money.
 
And hassle, according to Frost.
 
“One of the biggest complaints we’ve always had in the past is when customers call vendors and say, ‘Look, I’m tired of getting voicemail all the time,’ ” Frost says. “Because that’s the way traditional phone systems work. But I think it’s more about staying in touch, being in touch, and being able to respond much faster.”
 
Features such as telepresence, click-to-dial and instant messaging are driving the adoption of IP telephony in SMBs, Frost says.
 
“A lot of companies are catching on to these technologies, but I come back to the point that what the enterprises and managed service providers have caught on to, that you have to get the voice quality,” Frost says. “You have to get the basic IP telephony network right before you overlay these integrated applications, such as IM, presence and click-to-dial. What we’ve seen time and again is that the employees and the call center people, they will very quickly pick up their cell phone and make the call instead.”
 
Which can get expensive.
 
Psytechnics, for its part, runs so-called “pre-deployment” tests for IP telephony systems, so that all the bugs get worked out.
 
More often than not, Frost says – about 80 percent of the time, in fact – problems that Psytechnics comes across have nothing to do with the IP network itself.
 
“They are caused by a bizarre range of factors,” Frost said. Those include PSTN gateway configuration problems, problems caused by engineering or software upgrades that somehow reconfigure settings, and even problems caused – as they were in one memorable case, Frost says – by call center agents who dislike their new microphones and reposition their headsets in a way that invites distracting background noise.
 
Psytechnics has various ways of detecting those problems.
 
The company’s software identifies and resolves service issues.
 
“Using perceptual measurement Mean Opinion Score software algorithms and specialist voice quality analysis test equipment over many years, we have created a highly sophisticated understanding of a user’s perception of quality,” company officials say. “When companies such as Microsoft (News - Alert) develop new applications for voice and video quality they turn to Psytechnics for an expert solution.”
 
Now if only the football club players could find an expert solution. Their next match comes Saturday against Watford, a club ranked three places ahead of Ipswich in the league. Good luck, Tractor Boys.
 
Don’t forget to check out TMCnet’s White Paper Library, which provides a selection of in-depth information on relevant topics affecting the IP Communications industry. The library offers white papers, case studies and other documents which are free to registered users. Today’s featured white paper is The Compelling ROI Benefits of Contact Center Quality and Performance Management Technologies, brought to you by Voice Print International (News - Alert).

Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan
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