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Ten Tips For VoIP
Deployment Success

By Lori Bocklund
06/01/2006

The word on the street is that call center professionals no longer want or need to hear why they should implement Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) solutions. They have heard enough about the benefits for multi-site centers, and the resiliency VoIP offers for disaster recovery. Most people can see how VoIP can accelerate and simplify multimedia routing and reporting for their center and their customers. They now understand that VoIP can help their center get long wishedfor functionality such as screen pops -- at a lower cost and with less hassle. And they see that VoIP can help them change their customer care paradigms: tap into reserve resources for peaks and expert resources for escalation; expand their labor pool to home agents and satellite offices; and do it all at a lower cost and with more agility then they ever could before.

People get it. They know that VoIP is where the market is going, what the vendors are offering, and what they will inevitably have to implement. So as more and more centers plan for and implement VoIP, it is time to shift the focus to how to ensure success. This article presents ten important tips that start with the planning process and proceed through selection and implementation to postimplementation success.

1. DEVELOP A BUSINESS-DRIVEN ENTERPRISE STRATEGY.

VoIP presents a tremendous opportunity to address not only the big, powerful, well-funded contact centers' needs, but the small, often neglected centers as well. It also presents the opportunity to tap into resources across the enterprise to support customer contact needs. Whether you are a technologist in your Information Technology (IT) or telecom department, or a call center leader within a particular business unit, when you start planning for your new system you should go looking for others who could likewise benefit from VoIP.

An enterprise strategy should start with the business drivers. What goals are you trying to achieve? Whether you are trying to improve service, cut costs, or drive revenue, you will find value in VoIP. You must first understand your goals to define how best to leverage the technology's power. Armed with knowledge of what VoIP can do, you can frame operational strategies that will help you contribute to the business goals. These strategies could include changes in how you use resources that support or apply technology, or the resources that can directly or indirectly support customers.

For example, through presence capabilities showing available staff, centers could tap backup or escalation resources. Or, a centralized VoIP system could serve a variety of centers spread across many sites, delivering more robust functionality to all and enabling new approaches to backup and recovery. If these are key operational strategies to achieve your business goals, you need to get them on the radar and involve the right people in defining the requirements.

2. BUILD A SOUND BUSINESS CASE

With clarity in business goals and alignment of the operational and technology strategies, you will be better equipped to develop a business case. The initial business case should consider the total cost of ownership -- including both internal and external costs, and costs at implementation as well as ongoing. For example, significant strategic change could mean process, organization, call flow, and workflow redesign are key parts of your project that will incur additional costs.

Define benefits tied to key application changes: savings in labor costs (within the call center( s) or support resources); increasing revenue; enabling your center to support workload growth without corresponding labor increases. Look for infrastructure changes as well based on reduced hardware and maintenance costs, and reduced network costs.

3. USE A CROSS-FUNCTIONAL TEAM

Tightly linked to the first tip is the need for a cross-functional team. VoIP triggers the true "convergence" of voice and data. I actually prefer the term "mergence": VoIP is less a coming together at a common point as it is voice com- ing into the data world that already existed. Regardless, it requires the knowledge and skills of both IT and telecom professionals, working together.

VoIP is a potentially transformational technology, so any effort to pursue it should also include contact center leadership (from all centers), as well as other potentially impacted resources across the enterprise. If your VoIP project will trigger other significant changes in how you interact with customers, or the roles and responsibilities of staff, consider including marketing, human resources, or others. These folks may be important to ensuring people and process changes that accompany the new technology will succeed.

4. DEVELOP A CLEAR MIGRATION STRATEGY

VoIP does not look the same in all situations. There are "pure" IP, or IP-centric solutions. There are hybrid solutions, leveraging older circuit-switched technology along with IP trunks between sites, or IP to desktop endpoints. There is open standards-based VoIP, and VoIP that uses vendor-proprietary protocols. Some companies will gradually migrate from their older Time Division Multiplexed (TDM) solutions to VoIP. Others will have an event, such as a move, new site, or full switch replacement and change of vendors to trigger a more dramatic change. So part of doing VoIP "right" is defining your migration strategy.

Envision your end state, and then define a path to get there. Many factors such as application needs, existing infrastructure, existing vendors and relationships, maturity of existing equipment, cost, and risk must be factored into your migration plan.

5. CAREFULLY SELECT SOLUTIONS AND PROVIDERS

Of course one of the most important steps in VoIP deployment success is finding the right vendor and solution. It is a bit of a "crazy, mixed up" market out there, so doing your homework up front is critical, and focusing in on what matters to you is essential. With the variety of solution types (pure vs. hybrid, migration of existing platform vs. replacement, standards-based vs. proprietary, not to mention premise vs. hosted), and vendors that offer not only "phone systems" but a variety of other applications and infrastructure, it is difficult to get an apples to apples comparison. Add to that the challenge that in most cases, features and functions are not the differentiators: other factors will generally have greater weight in the decision process.

A proven means for sorting through this complicated situation is to carefully define the differentiating factors up front. Make sure the entire team is in agreement as to what you are looking for. It may be a few key features or capabilities that are the "hot buttons" for your environment. You may have a strong bias towards certain architectural characteristics, or the use of standards.

Other differentiators can include the financials or market position of the vendor, their vision and direction, or their ability to demonstrate they will be a good partner, focusing in on your business and what you are trying to achieve. Experience or expertise in implementation, as well as ongoing support, can also be significant factors to consider. Notice that price is not in this list. It is my belief that generally you can get a fair and reasonable price through negotiation, so you want to make price a secondary criteria.

6. ADDRESS THE "TYPICAL" CONCERNS

Four typical concerns arise when implementing VoIP: security, scalability, reliability, and quality. Each is an addressable concern, but the planning, requirements, and evaluation need to consider them.

The design and configuration of the voice system and the vendor you choose will impact some of these factors. Others are a function of the underlying network the voice will ride on. Network assessment and planning are prerequisites to success. Before you implement VoIP, you need to assess your network for capacity, the ability of your switches and routers to support quality of service (QoS) controls, security, and resiliency. You need to craft a QoS strategy, and determine if you will change your Wide Area Network (WAN) approach. Most vendors offer assessments as part of the solution sale, and some require it (whether delivered by them or others).

Your requirements should define your reliability needs, so that vendors can bid the right level of redundancy and diversity in their solution. If scalability is key, you will need to include planning both in your network and the solution requirements to ensure adequate growth in the proper timeframes. And your security strategy needs to be rock solid -- for all your applications, including voice.

7. DEVELOP CLEAR TECHNICAL DESIGN

Another key to success in VoIP deployment is technical planning. Several factors can play a significant role in your design:

  • Standards strategy: Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) has emerged as the "winning" standard for VoIP. Major vendors are adopting native SIP. Standards present some of the advantages that drove this industry change in the first place: lower costs, increased competition, choice and interoperability. A standards standards strategy is critical to effective evaluation.
  • Technology upgrades: The result of your network assessment may mean switch and router upgrades. Cabling may need to be improved to support VoIP. You will likely desire Power over Ethernet (PoE) to support linepowered phones, so your infrastructure should be made ready for PoE.
  • Encoding plan: Voice can be compressed to reduce capacity requirements. However, compression slightly compromises quality. While all the encoding plans (G.711, G.729, and G.723) provide adequate quality according to Mean Opinion Score (MOS) testing (3.5 to 4.5), the tradeoffs should be considered. Most people say "bandwidth is cheap" so you may not want to compress voice locally. However, as you move large amounts of voice communication across a wide area network, you may want to consider compression.
  • Integration strategy: One other key element of technical design is integration. Part of the promise of VoIP is to simplify integration between the voice and data worlds. But you should define your strategy and requirements for integration with existing or planned systems, considering Computer Telephony Integration, Customer Relationship Management, call recording, or other solution integration points in your environment.

8. ADAPT YOUR SUPPORT MODEL TO YOUR NEW ENVIRONMENT

At the end of a big VoIP migration planning project (including a complex business case) a client said "Well Lori, that was the easy part." I wasn't sure what he meant, as it had not been easy, but then he continued: "Now we have to figure out how to support this new environment." That was the relatively hard part. If you change your paradigms, use new technology in different ways, centralize management of a distributed environment, put voice on your data network, leverage standards- based IP solutions instead of proprietary telephony solutions, you will inevitably need to change some things about your support models, organizational roles and responsibilities, and accountabilities.

The operations, administration, and maintenance of the core infrastructure undoubtedly belongs in IT. Specialized contact center applications definitely belong in the center(s), close to the operation and the people. But what about the management and application of all those core call center applications such as routing, reporting, prompting, IVR, CTI, workforce management, quality monitoring, call recording, and analytics? You need to figure out who is responsible for what, from general care and feeding, to daily changes to adapt to business needs, to new projects, and troubleshooting. Your support model will be a key factor in the technology optimization out of the gates and ongoing.

9. TAKE THE TIME TO DO IT RIGHT

Your move to VoIP can't be rushed. Planning for VoIP needs to be comprehensive, with careful diligence and appropriate upgrades and preparations for the new environment. During implementation, in addition to the testing becomes critical. Component testing for functionality and performance, integration or end-toend testing, load testing, and failure and recovery testing are all critical steps to ensure a VoIP system goes into production ready for action with low risk to the customer interactions.

A pilot with a sub-team, or perhaps an internal facing contact center, is a good step to take. Then you can roll out the solution according to the migration strategy -- across sites, groups, or functions.

10. DON'T STOP

In any technology project, it is quite tempting to view cutover as such a significant milestone that you can celebrate and declare the project "done." With VoIP, you must continue to monitor the network, voice quality, and applications for performance. And you will want to continually improve by optimizing the applications, using the system in new ways, and perhaps rolling out functionality to other groups.

Achieving success in deploying VoIP in the contact center is not an impossible task. It is, however, one that requires dedication of the appropriate time and resources, thoughtful planning, careful execution, and diligent support. We all care about our customers and our industry, so we have an obligation to do what it takes to ensure successful VoIP deployments. Apply these tips and take time to learn more from others who have gone before you to ensure your center's success.

-- Lori Bocklund is a recognized industry leader in contact center strategy, technology, and operations. She is founder and president of Strategic Contact.

 

 

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