VOIP: The next frontier

InfoWorld associate editor Richard Gincel interviews VOIP expert Jeff Snyder, chief analyst at Gartner, who reveals what the future holds for converged communications.

What's going on in the VOIP market?

What you're seeing is applications that are starting to deliver real value. But still, we're not talking across-the-board changes in how business is done. Instead, what you can do is improve the business processes of a particular team in a particular environment -- not create new ones.

Can you give an example?

Hospitals. Nurses and doctors are wearing badges with a wireless device -- voice over wireless -- which makes it so those people are accessible anywhere on the campus as long as they're in range of a hotspot, assuming they're all positioned correctly. So you now have IT managing communications with that class of users much better.

What about traversing disparate networks, let's say, from VOIP to cellular?

There are phones right now that can handle with those kinds of handoffs, but it takes some serious negotiation between the equipment providers and mobile service providers. We're still a ways off because not only is there the technology issue of handing off the call so that the call isn't dropped, but there's the business issue of carriers who naturally want to take some revenue for having managed a call that they didn't initiate.

What's the next frontier for VOIP apps?

In the short term, we're going to see tailored application in business units with specific needs. You can integrate voice into an ERP system so that you have a record from the order-entry clerk. So then you click on that record and it brings up a list of all the sales associates associated with that account. And by clicking one of their names it will generate a phone call so you can discuss the invoice you're trying to process, so you can speed up the ability to bill. Long term, we're looking at the network being aware of who you are ... and have it deliver the information over the networks appropriate to the device you happen to be using. There is no killer [VOIP] application. There is a killer environment in which these kinds of integrations are easier to do and the business processes you have can all run a little more efficiently. The killer environment allows small, incremental changes. Enterprises should look for incremental improvements, but nothing that's gonna rock their world.

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