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VoIP: Are we there yet?

MILWAUKEE - The benefits of switching to voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) was the focus of Einnovate’s monthly meeting at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee. Nearly 100 attendees listened to service providers and users share their experiences with VoIP.

Clear reasons for switching to VoIP were presented by Jerry Rocco, Cisco Systems, and Pat Scheckel, VoIP practice director for Berbee Information Systems. Brian Carlson, manager network/communications for Safway Steel, discussed the end user community perspective.

“It’s no longer a question of ‘if,’ it is a question of when,” Scheckel said.

According to the panel, until recently, VoIP was considered by many to be an uncertain technology, with complicated needs and an unclear future. The introduction of new chip sets and soft switch/media gateway standards are helping carriers to migrate large portions of their old systems over to a packet-based system.

Surprisingly, the group agreed that the number one reason for switching to VoIP is not saving money on long-distance calls. Rather, operational and equipment savings and end-user productivity were cited by the presenters as the major reasons for switching.
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Pat Scheckel discussed the return on investment according to the Meta Group, October 2003 study, in which they reported that the top three factors influencing the move to VoIP are:

Operational Costs Savings 63%
Equipment Costs Savings 39%
End-User Productivity 37%

VoIP systems utilize an open source software platform, which permits changes to the system to be made by remote IT staff.

“If Safeway calls me at home early in the morning, I am usually able to fix the problem from my home office,” Carlson said.

The presenters discussed the VoIP pay back period for investing in this new technology as typically being 12-16 months, following the initial capital expenditures for new equipment.

Sending voice traffic over enterprise LANs can result immediate savings in long-distance billing – ranging from 30 to 50 percent. This can be a big driver of change, for large companies with branch offices and international business and can greatly reduce their long-distance bills.
“We have one client who is saving $7,000.00 per month on conference calling,” Scheckel said.

Carlson listed several aspects of improved productivity including: improved administration functions such as PC-based voicemail and e-mail, unified messaging and call handling. End-users can view and respond to voicemail and e-mail on their PCs and have call forwarding and caller ID as additional options. Safeway has also set up its mobile phones to call in for voicemail and e-mail with voice-to-text messaging.

Carlson noted that he no longer has to back-up voicemail servers, although Safeway does maintain an analog gateway for faxes and any other devices that are not part of the converged network.

VoIP is now being used at several Wisconsin companies; Briggs & Stratton, Metavante, Harley Davidson, Acuity Insurance, TCF and Master Lock.

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Barbara Elliott Eaves is the executive director of eInnovate and the owner of SUM People Agency, which provides speakers for association and corporate meetings.

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