Evolving Telecom Roles
Voice’s Future in the Enterprise
Jan. 26, 2011 (Vol. 32, No. 3)
Voice is evolving into another application on corporate IP networks, operated by professionals steeped in the ins and outs of routing equipment. What does that mean for the role of the telecom manager?
Opinions recently shared in Voice Report’s Telecom-Talk community range from extremes such as, “TDM is dead; evolve into a network engineer/manager or retire!” to “I almost feel like we, the telecom engineers, are taking over the IT professionals’ spot in the market.”
Both sides are on to something.
There certainly will be less TDM infrastructure to manage in the years ahead. So the discipline as we know it is indeed changing. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t newer – and potentially juicier – roles for telephony experts going forward.
Top Trends to Tackle
There are two particularly strong trends affecting the telecom manager’s job description. One is voice’s metamorphosis into a foundational component of IP-based unified communications (UC) applications.
UC describes a suite of communications-centric real-time IP applications that integrate telephony capabilities with messaging, conferencing, white boarding, presence, location and other functions.
UC runs on corporate servers and cloud servers. The rise of UC opens doors for telephony professionals to become the go-to experts on all things collaborative, from straight phone calls to instant messaging to desktop videoconferencing and hi-def, life-size telepresence.
The other big opportunity lies in the exodus from PSTN landline phones to mobile handsets. While movement away from the PSTN means traditional day-to-day calling operations loads will shrink, mobility opens up a whole new landscape for problem solving.
With these trends in mind, consider the following tips:
- Maintain your standing as a foremost authority on the idiosyncrasies of real-time communications. Many of the best data network engineers still shiver in their boots at being held responsible for the performance of real-time services.
Unlike traditional routed data traffic, “retransmissions are not acceptable in voice,” notes Melissa Swartz, principal at Swartz Consulting in Kansas City, Kan., and a member of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants, Inc. You are likely to understand user expectations for immediacy better than your data counterparts, she says.
- Learn the basics of IP network engineering in general and server-based UC applications in particular. Stay on top of – and preferably participate in – your company’s decision to host and manage UC services in-house or to move to a cloud service alternative.
- Become knowledgeable about mobility management processes, products and services. Helping devise and implement a strategy to manage and secure the burgeoning fleet of mobile devices will keep you relevant to your organization if not make you an all-out IT hero.
Some telecom managers are already taking some of these steps and see a bright future ahead.
Build Upon Your Voice Expertise
Change is afoot at Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Albuquerque, for example. The large nonprofit is currently in the first phase of a four-year UC project, based on Avaya and Microsoft Lync platforms, that will put VoIP calling, messaging, conferencing and other collaboration application services onto the IP network.
The move calls for some organizational changes as to how voice is handled.
“We’re going to have a technical team and an applications team” within the telecom discipline, explains Marcia Birmingham, manager of network communications.
Telephony technicians will become part of the network engineering team, and will support standard voice features and functionality, like automatic call distribution (ACD), call-center operations, call-recording functions and telemangement, she says.
“Then we’ll have an infrastructure applications team that oversees server-based communications applications,” of which Birmingham will be a member. This is because “telephony is now so much more than just a standard phone on a desk. It’s about enabling communications in many different ways.”
She acknowledges, though, that, “TDM is still part of my world. There will be analog services well into the future.” She also remains in charge of mobility at her company.
Swartz agrees that voice is another IP network application to be procured, installed and maintained. “But there are aspects of it that won’t go away, like billing and service procurement,” she notes.
“Even as we transition into SIP [Session Initiation Protocol for voice-over-IP services], there will still be carrier and billing choices,” Swartz adds. “They’ll just change.”
What’s becoming obsolete is all the specialized telephony hardware, such as proprietary PBXs, says Bruce Garlitz, IT infrastructure director at Forest City Enterprises, a real estate company based in Cleveland.
Become the UC Expert
Garlitz observes that while voice is “just another application, it’s a unique application, just like SAP” and other business-critical applications that require architects, engineers and administrators to design and manage them effectively.
“So the telecom manager role is changed to be one of an application manager – a UC manager,” he says.
“A good telecom manager needs to be baseline Cisco-certified [in routing],” he recommends. “How can telecom managers have a QoS [quality of service] conversation with network managers if they don’t understand how QoS works” on an IP network?
The telecommunications manager at an East Coast financial services firm, whose employer prefers he remain anonymous, agrees.
“There’s more responsibility for those of us in this role to learn new technologies,” he says. “You can’t even troubleshoot phone systems the way you used to. What causes crackly voice is no longer necessarily the curly handset cord. It could be a routing problem.”
Get a Grip on Mobility
While the mobile revolution is in full swing, enterprises struggle to manage and secure their mobile environments. Mobility management is a budding market and a pressing concern as users go “rogue” in the enterprise with smart handsets that make phone calls but also store corporate data and access the enterprise network.
“There’s a gap there,” observes Swartz, who pegs the state of mobility management system and service deployments within enterprises as “all over the map.”
For one thing, “the management of [mobile] devices hits a blurry spot between telecom, network and systems administration,” observes the East Coast financial services telecom manager. “And security of voice could be a discipline all its own.”
In addition, there are more than 200 companies that offer software or services that fall in the mobility management category. So sorting out the features and functional differences is not for the faint of heart.
Still, “You can’t just stick your head in the sand and say there’s no such thing as iPhones and iPads and Droids,” says Forest City’s Garlitz.
His company has long been a corporate-liable Research In Motion BlackBerry shop, but is starting to embrace other platforms.
“If there’s a business reason – such as when only another platform supports a required application – we’ll acquire that device” for employees, he explains. “But they have to present a business case.”
Opening the door to additional devices means needing to add management and security support for them alongside the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). So as a tactical move, the company is putting its toe in the mobility management waters with Good Technology’s Good for Enterprise mobility management platform.
The Good suite supports security capabilities comparable to those of the BES for Android, iPad, iPhone, PalmOS, Symbian and Windows Mobile devices.
Consider How You’re Organized
Garlitz’s organization recast itself about six months ago in response to the convergence the company was seeing across telecom, network and server teams.
“They all report to me now, so there’s no pointing fingers,” he says. He adds that all his reports have gone through basic Cisco router training so they all speak the same lingo and that the company is adding a fourth group focused on client devices.
“As we saw all this stuff converging, we merged several groups into one that can look at the environment soup to nuts,” Garlitz explains. “Our BlackBerry specialist, for example, is now in charge of iPhones and iPads and sits at the same table as the desktop team.”
And the East Coast telecom manager says that the telecom discipline is turning more strategic in his organization.
“We used to be 20% strategic and 80% tactical, and that’s completely flipped,” he says, because there’s so much user self-service.
“But we’re providing a higher level of performance on our voice networks and more services than we did five years ago when we had a team of five,” which has shrunk to one part-time contractor, he says.
Swartz offers a final tip for remaining relevant: “Look at what needs aren’t being met, like the mobility gap,” she advises. “Start acquiring expertise in the area that no one is addressing.”
Joanie Wexler has spent more than 20 years analyzing trends and news in the computer networking industry. Currently an independent editor and analyst, she covers the gamut of hot IT topics, including data and voice network services and equipment, convergence, wireless communications and data center trends.Contact Joanie at firstname.lastname@example.org.