One of the key value propositions for voice over IP has long been the promise of deploying applications on top of what was previously only a voice infrastructurebut thus far, most enterprises have looked to VoIP primarily for cost savings, not for increased functionality.
Now that many companies have begun to be comfortable with VoIP as a basic telephony tool, that's starting to change.
Keith Nissen, Senior Analyst at In-Stat, notes that companies that have already deployed VoIP in order to take advantage of cheaper call rates are finally beginning to explore the technology's additional potential. "I think over the next couple of years you're going to begin to see that these enterprises will be focusing on rolling out the multimedia applications," he says.
To that end, VoIP software provider LiteScape demonstrated its offering earlier this month at the NetWorld+Interop conference in Las Vegas. LiteScape's Multimodal Application Platform is designed to make it easier to create and implement VoIP applications, enabling voice, data, and image streams to be delivered simultaneously to a wide range of phones and devices.
Creating broad-based collaboration
Farzad Naimi, LiteScape's cofounder and CEO, says one of the platform's basic selling points for enterprises is its ability to integrate text, audio, and video with Outlook and Lotus Notes for videoconferencing. It allows a wide variety of different devices to be connected at the same time, from laptops to desktop phones to PDAs. "A lot of companies use it for collaborationvery similar to WebEx, without actually needing a WebEx type of application," he says.
But it's not just about running a conference call through Outlook. Naimi says the U.S. government is currently using LiteScape's system to coordinate emergency response messages. "They use the streams for multimodal communication to thousands of units without flooding the network. And at the same time, presence management allows them to know who received the information and who responded back, all in real time," he says. "That's at a massive scale, 10,000 at the same time."
Erasing the telephony/data dichotemy
And a number of law firms, Naimi says, are also using the platform to minimize manual processes and paperwork by tying data to phone calls. "As a law firm, I can look at my time allotted to my clients and matters, regardless of if I'm in my office, at my home, or on my cell phoneand I'm always tied back to that VoIP infrastructure," he says. "It enables them to dial a number and have it assigned to a client and a matter and automatically billedno more paperwork."
For banks, Naimi says, the solution allows devices like ATMs to take on additional functionality. "I can receive multiple servicesI always have audio, and I have a help buttonif I press that button, the key differentiation is that all my customer information and the service I'm looking at will be delivered to an agent who is responsible and knowledgeable regarding that service," he says.
As a result, not only can banks differentiate themselves by offering additional functionality, they can streamline their contact center operations as well. "Today, 40 percent of a call center's traffic is transferred because you don't go to the right agent the first time," Naimi says. "That's why, when we talk to financial institutions, they're all putting their priority on VoIP."
Making telephony work the way you want
One company that has deployed LiteScape's solution is Singapore-based Chartered Semiconductor. Ronald Yan, Chartered's IT Manager, says the company switched to voice over IP in the summer of 2003. The key specification that Chartered was looking for in a VoIP solution, Yan says, was the ability to have an employee call into the office, authenticate, and then make calls out to international locations.
A solution like that wasn't difficult to find, Yan says, but the challenge lay in giving each employee their own account number and password, rather than simply providing blanket authentication for the entire officewhich would have been much less secure. LiteScape, Yan says, understood the need for individual authentication and was willing to develop an application to enable it. "LiteScape saw the potential, and they said, 'Okay, we'll develop it for you,'" he says.
Building in the business logic
The point, LiteScape's Naimi says, is that writing the applications isn't the hard partit's integrating them with a company's established business processes that's a challenge, and that's where LiteScape's platform comes in. "We can communication-enable those processes with a rule-based, presence management-based, intelligent platform that can sit on Avaya, Cisco, Nortel, Siemensit really doesn't matter for us," he says. "And we can deliver to any device which is IP-based."
The applications themselves, Naimi says, can then be defined and executed by non-engineers. "You will have so many different applications on VoIP that it's going to be mind-boggling," he says. "We're creating an environment so you can develop the applications on a massive scale."