New Cost-Saving Conferencing, Architecture Solutions Unveiled VoiceCon Vendors Play Up ROI to Win Over Cash-Strapped Customers
April 9, 2009 (Vol. 30, No. 8)
It goes against everything your gut tells you that you should do in a recession.
But now is a great time to shop for new communications technology, says Doug Carolus, director of consulting services and operations at Minneapolis-based technology consulting firm N’compass.
Traditional telephony vendors are feeling the pressure of Microsoft’s presence with the release of Office Communication Server R2, and they’re eager to seize the opportunity posed by a potentially vulnerable Nortel [see related story], Carolus explains. These factors, coupled with drastically reduced enterprise spending, have made vendors more eager to win your business.
Play your cards right and you could score discounts better than 50%, free licensing on UC apps (in the case of some channel partners who also work with Microsoft, you can get free OCS licenses), dedicated technicians (if you’re moving to a whole new technology and anticipate you’ll need tech support) or on-site project managers, Carolus says.
But even with all those perks, enterprise telecom pros need to show an almost immediate benefit to justify telephony investments right now. For example, no project goes forward at Wells Fargo unless there’s a 12-month ROI, explained Karen Bailey, the bank’s VP of voice and communications services and a panelist at a VoiceCon Orlando 2009 user forum.
So the vendors that gathered at VoiceCon on March 30-April 2 did their darnedest to persuade the enterprise representatives among the 5,000 attendees to open their pocketbooks. Attendees were tempted with promises of instant and significant ROIs, lower costs to pilot solutions and simplified multi-vendor management capabilities.
Siemens Enterprise Communications CEO James O’Neill even presented a five-point framework for enterprise attendees on how to pitch new investments to their CFOs.
Conferencing Shaves Travel Spending
Collaboration technologies like audio, Web and video conferencing were among the highlights of many vendors’ VoiceCon announcements. Indeed, conferencing investments seem to be among the easiest to justify.
Cisco demo at VoiceCon Orlando 2009
A Cisco-commissioned study by the Silicon Valley-based Crimson Consulting Group found that global companies reported an average breakeven time of 14 months on Cisco TelePresence, with some companies hitting breakeven in six months. One company reportedly funded additional TelePresence units solely from travel-budget savings.
But Cisco seems to realize that not every enterprise is going to spend $300,000 for a custom-built room with specialized cameras, screens, lighting and décor in this market. It announced the Cisco TelePresence System 1300 Series for $84,900. It’s the first Cisco TelePresence system designed to accommodate as many as six people in an existing, shared-use meeting room. The 1300 Series uses one 65-inch, 1080p HD plasma screen and three cameras.
Cisco also announced TelePresence for lower bandwidth connections. Cisco TelePresence Extended Reach can run over bandwidth connections as low as 1.5 megabits per second (T-1) in 720p resolution with QoS, the vendor reports.
With HD interoperability, Cisco TelePresence meetings can include video from any standards-based HD video conferencing system, as well as standard-definition video conferencing, WebEx and other desktop video applications like Microsoft Office Communicator. And Cisco’s WebEx Meeting Center and Unified Video Conferencing integration allows any device that can connect to a Cisco Unified Video Conferencing multipoint control unit to be deployed in a Meeting Center meeting to support TelePresence.
Cisco Capital offers special financing that allows enterprises and mid-size customers to buy Cisco TelePresence with no payments and no interest for as many as 120 days during solution deployment in the United States and Canada.
Alcatel-Lucent's VoiceCon booth
Alcatel-Lucent, meanwhile, announced a new version of its UC offering, now rebranded as OmniTouch 8400 Instant Communications Suite. The platform boasts new HD H.264-based Web video capabilities to enable video conferencing over PCs. Users can move from an IM discussion into an HD video call or a multi-party video conference, and the system supports voice-activated video switching, multi-image display, or both.
Polycom plays up benefits like reduced power consumption and carbon footprints in the marketing for its new VVX 1500 business media phone, which features a personal video conference system and color touch screen, and an open application programming interface and microbrowser for real-time delivery of personalized Web content and integration with business apps.
Telework Cuts Real Estate Costs
Verizon Business announced enhancements to its network at VoiceCon that will make it easier for enterprises to wring out real estate savings and greater productivity through telework. New Hosted IP Centrex features include the ability to have calls made from a soft phone appear to originate from the user’s business line, register a physical location for E911 and provision local business numbers for teleworkers.
The enhancements “help organizations employ telework as a strategy to do more with less, enhance workforce mobility and productivity, and achieve environmental objectives,” Verizon Business says.
New Architectures Aim to Reduce Costs
The pitches extended beyond specific applications to rethinking the entire enterprise network architecture.
Siemens' VoiceCon booth
Siemens, for example, introduced its “UC in the cloud” proof of concept with a demo of Siemens OpenScape Voice, unified messaging and UC apps running in Amazon.com’s Elastic Compute Cloud environment. Enterprises could eventually download instances of the applications and administer them from Web browsers, enabling endpoints with the same features they’d have with an on-premise solution but saving the need to invest in additional infrastructure and reducing administrative and operating costs.
Enterprise users could have hundreds of devices up and running in half a day, claims Paul McMillan, Siemens’ director of UC technical vision and strategy. He expects it will take several months before Siemens is ready to turn the proof of concept into a real “pay-as-you-go” offering for customers. The idea is to lower the barrier to entry and make it a no-brainer for enterprises to at least pilot the product.
Avaya, meanwhile, introduced its “Aura” architecture concept to simplify network design and reduce infrastructure costs. Enterprises can keep existing multi-vendor equipment and apps in place and use Aura – with a new SIP Session Manager at its core – to decouple apps from the network and deliver services to users in any location. Aura will be globally available in May 2009.
Cost savings come from centrally managed enterprise-wide dial plans and on-net calling, global least-cost routing and PSTN access from the most cost-effective location. Avaya says Aura also will allow you to eliminate local application servers and optimize software licensing across your whole enterprise.
A large global bank is saving $1 million a month (a 65% reduction) in carrier costs using Aura, and reduced its server footprint by 70%, Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy boasted during his VoiceCon keynote.
Avaya's booth at VoiceCon
Avaya’s Intelligent Customer Routing SIP-based contact center is the first solution enabled by Aura. It allows customers to use speech self-service to provide information like account numbers or transaction histories to get connected to the right agents using an enterprise’s global network of multi-vendor systems.
The new Avaya Voice Portal 5.0 is the speech self-service engine behind the Intelligent Customer Routing solution. It enables customers to use verbal commands or video menus to provide information, navigate options and complete transactions. Cost savings come from leveraging existing equipment and completing customer service tasks faster, Avaya posits.
Avaya wasn’t the only vendor to highilght interoperability. Many providers acknowledged in their VoiceCon announcements that “UC is a team sport,” as Siemens’ O’Neill put it, not a one-vendor solution. OpenScape UC Server and OpenScape Voice, for example, allow for open integration into other third-party cloud applications.
In other architecture-related news, ShoreTel announced an N+1 distributed architecture design that extends failover capabilities to maintain active calls during an outage by using a spare ShoreGear Voice Switch that can be located anywhere in the network. Using a single spare switch requires “a fraction of the cost” of using a backup at each location, ShoreTel claims. (