No Killer App, But

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2005-12-14 Print this article Print

Today's Internet-protocol telephony systems have grown into dependable workhorses, though many enterprises still use the technology sparingly.

Lots of Small Enticements">

Analysts say there's no single "killer application" for IP telephony akin to the spreadsheets and word processors that drove the adoption of personal computers in the 1980s.

But industry watchers expect new voice applications—tailored to specific industries—to start taking on more starring roles.

Wynn Las Vegas, the sprawling 2,700-room luxury hotel and resort that opened earlier this year, is using 4,000 Avaya color-screen phones across its property to act as information kiosks for guests.

For example, the phones let guests browse events scheduled at the resort, then press a button to connect to a ticket agent and book a reservation.

Other companies have used Internet-protocol telephony to improve business process efficiencies—sometimes in ways they didn't anticipate.

Two years ago JCB, a farm equipment manufacturer with U.S. operations based near Savannah, Ga., picked an IP telephone system from Mitel Networks mainly because it just needed a new phone switch; the company had hit the maximum 200-line capacity on its old Lucent Technologies system.

Only later did Paul Limon, JCB's U.S. manager of information systems, discover that the phone switch could easily pass Caller ID information for calls coming in to a customer-service number to the company's SAP R/3 enterprise resource planning system.

The SAP system looks up a customer account, determines the customer type—for example, whether it's a dealer or a retailer—and instructs the Mitel switch to route the call to the appropriate support group.

The SAP system can then show JCB's service reps, for example, the exact equipment models a caller has recently ordered.

"It's really streamlined our customer service," Limon says. "Instead of the customer service guy writing down serial numbers on sticky notes and running around, it's all tied into our database."

Meanwhile, Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga, Tenn., has sped up nurse response time to patient call requests between 30 percent and 50 percent with IP telephony, according to network director John Haltom.

The 803-bed hospital system provides 400 wireless IP-based SpectraLink phones to its 1,500 nurses.

When a patient presses the nurse-call button, the phone of the nurse on call for that unit rings and the patient can describe what he or she needs.

Previously, such calls were picked up by staff at a nursing station, who then had to find the right person to send to the patient's room.

That has cut nurses' response time an average of five to seven minutes, says Haltom, who adds, "It also saves a ton of walking."

But Erlanger is taking its time in moving the entire organization to IP telephony. It runs a phone system from Nortel Networks that handles both IP-based and traditional phones.

To date, it has switched over only 1,000 desk phones and those 400 wireless phones, with 8,000 still running in circuit-switched mode.

For each IP-based phone the organization deploys, Haltom estimates his group saves $40 in administrative and infrastructure costs (for example, only one wire needs to be strung to each workstation).

Even so, Erlanger is expecting to convert to IP phones only when a given area is under renovation. "Especially in a public hospital," he says, "if it ain't broke, you don't fix it."

Story Guide:

  • Talking Points: After years as an also-ran, VOIP is in the front ranks of business tech.
  • Leap to IP Is Still a Tough Call Despite advantages in cost and maintenance, it still takes a leap of faith to migrate, and a lot of determination to sell the idea to decision makers.
  • No Killer App, But Lots of Small Enticements Smallish efficiencies and the increasing number of apps aimed at particular businesses build up to make a good case for VOIP.
  • Boeing's Jumbo Phone-System Overhaul: Boeing moves 125 phone switches to IP, in what may be the largest corporate migration to date.
  • Non-Trivial Migration: 35,000 Users, 125 PBXs, Clusters, Servers…
  • Cutting Costs; Admirable ROI: 49 percent over seven years.
  • Unsupportable Optimism? Some analysts say Boeing and other companies may be ignoring potential downsides.
  • Cost Analysis: Functionality aside, do the costs justify a migration to VOIP?

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