Enterprise IPT Hits An Inflection Point
The business case for replacing a perfectly good desktop phone with a new IP phone is increasingly difficult to make.
In the past few weeks I've had the opportunity to consult with several large multi-national organizations on their IP telephony plans, as well as speak to several others for our ongoing research on unified communications and collaboration adoption. One point has become clear: large companies are resisting the call from their vendors to accelerate replacement of their legacy phone systems with IP.The problem isn't IP telephony. Most IT leaders see value in IP telephony features such as easier integration of mobile devices with the telephony systems, desktop softphones, using unified communications to integrate voice systems with presence/IM clients, and the value of implementing SIP trunking. Those that have deployed to existing or greenfield locations report saving money in terms of move-add-change and wiring costs, and are generally happy with system performance.
The problem is the digital telephone in existing locations not slated for a network refresh. The business case for replacing a perfectly good desktop phone with a new IP phone is increasingly difficult to make for two reasons: the need for line power and the growing trend toward virtual workers.
With respect to power, I'm reminded of an audience member who at a VoiceCon session on telephony trends a few years ago rose during a discussion on unified communications to ask "While all this UC stuff is interesting, my immediate concern is powering and cooling my closets to support IP phones!" That concern has grown, especially in difficult economic times where it's hard to justify the often massive investment required to upgrade existing Ethernet switches or deploy in-line power adapters. The costs aren't just in the PoE hardware; IT planners must often spend to air condition closets or improve air circulation and they often must bring additional power to closets to support the needs of stackable or chassis-based switches delivering 15 watts per port.
As IT planners evaluate PoE costs, they come up against another question: "Do I need to make these huge investments in wired infrastructure when my users are increasingly virtual or are more reliant on their mobile phone than their desktop phone"? This question is especially critical for those who were early adopters of IP telephony and are faced with the need to refresh phones that are now reaching obsolescence. Instead we're seeing folks ask whether it makes more sense to focus investments on integrating mobile phones, deploying softphones, or even utilizing 802.11n-based phones with a local power adapter.
Our research shows that the softphone-only approach is still problematic. Screensavers get in the way. Choices for Apple Mac users are often limited. And, most people still want that flashing red light to tell them that they have a message, their speed-dial, and a speakerphone. While USB devices can address these concerns, older operating systems such as Windows XP don't reliably support the performance needs of a voice client. We even heard one example of a softphone user who was dumped out of a critical call because he didn't notice the "windows will now reboot your computer" message after an automatic security update. Softphone strategies also can run into a brick wall if they aren't coordinated with plans to roll out virtual or thin-client desktops incapable of supporting real-time applications.
While mobile phone usage increases, we still hear concerns about gaps in coverage or poor reception inside of buildings. Some companies are reluctant to promote cell phone-only approaches for fear of potential linkages between cell phones and brain tumors. Costs may increase as well, as users are switched to unlimited rate plans from lower cost programs. Users have to remember to keep their battery charged and may be without a phone if their cell phone is lost or broken.
Given these concerns, I expect that we'll see more organizations adopt a mixed approach, integrating cell phones with telephony systems, increasing options for softphone only or softphone with USB hand-sets/speakerphones, and preserving desktop phones for those who can justify a desktop device. I also expect you'll see IT shops put charge-back programs in place that pass the cost of supporting traditional phones directly to business units to try and encourage a wider migration to softphone deployments. Finally, I expect you'll see a wider variety of solutions for supporting softphones in a virtualized desktop environment. What I don't think you'll see is a continuance of one-for-one replacement of digital phones with IP phones on a large scale.The business case for replacing a perfectly good desktop phone with a new IP phone is increasingly difficult to make.