Users cite VoIP's convenience, cost savings

During sessions at VoiceCon 2005, IT managers described the hunt for the killer voice-over-IP app in many different terms. But convenient messaging, especially for on-the-go workers, was cited as a strong selling point for VoIP by multiple attendees.

For example, Janet Selinske, vice president of technical resources at Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles, said the film studio's executives "absolutely love" using PC-based softphone technology with VoIP because they can travel to a foreign city, plug a headset into a laptop and make calls over an IP network without incurring the typical calling costs.

"They can be traveling, and people think they're at home," she said. Paramount has also seen an increase in usage of videoconferencing over IP, replacing an older ISDN connection, at tremendous savings and convenience to users, she said.

Several IT managers who are VoIP end users themselves said they enjoy the convenience of having unified messaging capabilities. That makes it possible to download voice-mail files into e-mail before boarding a plane and then play back the audio files while in the air, some noted.

Conversely, other IT managers said they can use drive time to listen to e-mail messages that they've converted to voice via the use of text-to-voice technology.

One of the best business cases for VoIP applications thus far has been in call centers, IT managers and analysts said.

Allan Rubin, manager of network engineering at Delta Air Lines, said the company's rollout of VoIP systems at its 17 call centers cost less than US$10 million.

Rubin added that Delta expects to save more than US$10 million annually on what used to be a US$35 million budget for operating the telecommunications technology in the call centers.

New York-based Lehman Brothers has 15,000 VoIP endpoints globally and has deployed several applications in an effort to improve worker productivity, said Philip Palevo, vice president of network services.

One example is an application called QuickDial that's used by Lehman Brothers' equity research group to call customers and give them urgent information, he said. The firm's analysts can talk directly to investors if they answer or leave short prerecorded messages if they don't, Palevo said.

Lehman Brothers built the applications using the Metreos Communications Application Environment from a small company called Metreos in Austin. The CAE includes some packaged applications, an application development tool to customize applications, a voice application server and a runtime environment for testing.

"We've had IP telephony for four years, but the next step is to be more productive with it and leverage custom applications," Palevo said.

In the past year, the talk about VoIP has moved beyond gaining toll call reduction and infrastructure efficiencies to a discussion of how to build effective VoIP applications, said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston.

"The killer VoIP app is yet to come and it won't be provided by Cisco or Nortel, but from the development community," he said. Application development kits such as that sold by Metreos "provide a good first step, but just a first step," he said.

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