Are VoIP applications about to arrive in force, or are they a pipe-dream created by vendors anxious to cash in on the raging interest in everything IP? As is so often the case, it depends who you ask.
"VoIP applications are starting to come on strong," says Will Stofega, senior VoIP services analyst at research firm IDC. Earlier this month Stofega warned "VoIP must prove that it is more than just a cheap replacement for POTS" (Plain Old Telephone Service).
"Everyone says there's a wonderful world of applicationsI don't see it," counters Art Schoeller, senior analyst for Yankee Group. Schoeller, author of "VoIP in Contact Centers is Inevitable but Not Imminent," nonetheless believes applications, not a lower cost of ownership, should decide whether or not to adopt VoIP technology.
While vendors excitedly promote VoIP as the answer to a number of enterprise-related tasks, the question many companies ask, after investing in VoIP is "'now what do we do?'" says Stofega.
Although in many instances the cost-factor got VoIP in the door, IP telephony must then "roll-out some real simple stuff," says Stofega. Click-to-dial integration of IP telephony and core enterprise tools, such as Internet Explorer or Outlook, are examples of the ground level applications needed to grow VoIP, according to Stofega. When AOL recently introduced its VoIP service, for example, click-to-dial integration with the Web was a highlighted application.
But VoIP applications won't stop there. Mobility and so-called presence-aware apps could be the first to reach the enterprise in force, says the IDC analyst. Already, contact centers are investigating VoIP's ability to create customer representatives reachable by phone, e-mail, IM, and the Web.
In 2004, Nortel Networks announced its concept of the "virtual enterprise." "Work is no longer somewhere you go," said Vickie Marvich-McGovern, director of Nortel's Enterprise Multimedia Solutions. "It's something that goes with you."
Right . . . but for whom?
The Yankee Group's Schoeller thinks it's not quite this simple. While larger enterprises may profit from presence applications, smaller companies view VoIP "as just the next new system."
"Contact centers are reluctant to consider VoIP unless there is a clear use case and ROI," Schoeller said. "Larger centers are seeing advantages for distributed operations because the technology facilitates increased agent utilization over traditional circuit switching."
Nonetheless, Schoeller cautions that, while VoIP can streamline contact center operations, for enterprises it also brings the added burden of managing a LAN/WAN, which can "largely offset the advantages over traditional separate voice and data networks."
Beyond click-to-dial integration of existing enterprise tools, IDC's Stofega sees speech-enabled applications as a potential stealth "killer app" for VoIP. A cottage industry has grown up around the marriage of VoIP and speech-recognition. Speech analytics brings data-mining techniques to the vast quantity of audio records compiled by contact centers to create searchable databases.
CallMiner's TrendMiner lets users search for a phrase amid contact center conversations. Phrases such as "cancel my subscription" or "your service is the best" can be searched and users notified if an inordinate number of 'hits' are revealed. Speech analytic techniques can even be tied to a certain date or event, further narrowing searches of recording audio.
Atlanta-based Nexidia even promises its Nexminer Enterprise 4.0 platform can search phonetically, rather than by simple phrases. The system can search a range of material, from broadcast-quality audio to cell phone conversations.
Along with the increasing accuracy in speech-recognition, phone conversations translated into IP packets makes recording easier and cheaper. A two-minute analog conversation takes up about 2 MB of disk space, according to experts. "Our vision is completely in line with where VOIP will take telephony", said Karl Erickson, Chief Technology Officer for VoiceLog.
VoiceLog's On Demand Call Recording and Monitoring applicationVirtualLoggeris an outsourced service for digital recording of call-center conversations. Along with recording VoIP calls, VoiceLog provides speech analytic software and call evaluation.
Continental Airlines recently turned to Witness Systems, another VoIP vendor in the speech analytics field, to handle call-mining at its Tampa, Florida Reservation center.
While such VoIP recording and analysis applications are new to the sceneand exciting in their noveltythey are not without their detractors. Some see the ability to classify and quantify people based on their voice leading to issues of privacy. We'll look at the dark side of VoIP applications in the next part of our VoIP Application Revolution series.