As IP networks reach mainstream status, any business with a significant LAN and PABX should be thinking of moving to VoIP to exploit the protocol's flexibility for integrated voice and data services.
So says David Kennedy, telecomms research director Asia Pacific for Ovum, who adds, "The underlying driver is voice and data convergence, and the rise of VoIP is an inevitable consequence of convergence and of the technology renewal that follows from it.
"PABX upgrading is being driven, in many cases, more by technology lifecycle timetables than by an informed decision to adopt IP. Leading vendor offerings set the pace."
Small and medium business, he says, can also have confidence in the maturity of the technology and implement IP telephony as part of their technology investment strategy. "VoIP is simply the easiest way to implement voice services in a world where IP has become a universal platform."
However, because the main issues around VoIP are ensuring interoperability between vendors and networks, maintaining security, and achieving quality of service assurance, the IP network also requires new approaches to sourcing, Kennedy says. "An in-house approach is not economic, not 24x7, and lacks redundancy."
While Ovum research suggests that cost savings is the most common driver of VoIP adoption, Kennedy says it would be a mistake to see it only as a short-term cost-saving tool.
"Savings are there, but the way to approach it is not as a cost-cutting exercise; it needs a rethink about the way that communications and IT serves the business. If the business gets that right, the financial benefits will flow naturally.
"The sorts of drivers that are rising in importance are improved mobility and flexibility, teleworking, improved communications management, and collaborative working," he says, adding that companies need a clear understanding of what they want to get from IP networks. The key questions are, how communications underpins the business and what opportunities will arise with the new capabilities IP offers.
Kennedy says there's a commercial edge in IP, but that it comes not from the technology itself but from the successful integration of IP nets and VoIP with business processes.
"That's hard to copy, and generates sustainable advantage. And it requires more than just replacing an old PABX with new VoIP. It requires new business processes that take advantage of the integration of the desktop to generate superior customer service, for example."
And when you're on the hunt for IP comms, consider the service level agreements in the contract. While SLAs will differ for each business, the absolute minimum, Kennedy says, would be downtime guarantees. "But businesses are increasingly also demanding guarantees on bandwidth to ensure headroom for growth, better security services, and higher voice QOS."