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What's Your Biggest Concern?

In a VoiceCon Webinar a couple of weeks ago, Sandra Palumbo of the Yankee Group presented some survey data they'd collected from enterprises about technical concerns when it came to IP telephony and Unified Communications. (Go here for the replay.)

Here's a bit of a surprise: The conventional wisdom about IP telephony voice quality--at least from the vendors--is that it's rock-solid, absolutely at parity with TDM systems. For the most part, they're probably right, but there are a few caveats. Yankee Group found that almost 40% of planners in enterprise IT cited "uncertain voice quality" as a main technical concern about IPT and UC; the figure was just over 25% for the deployers in the enterprise--who presumably have a more intimate acquaintance with the technology at work than do the planners.

If I were a planner, I think I'd automatically be concerned about voice quality, if only because voice quality is just about the most important thing, so you're kind of being paid to worry about it. But with even a quarter of the deployers saying it's a main concern, you clearly can't dismiss this issue out of hand. And here's an especially telling figure: 55% of financial services firms in the Yankee survey called voice quality their number one issue.

My gut reaction is that this isn't about the IP-PBXs, it's about the underlying IP network. John Bartlett's ongoing posts here at No Jitter, which focus on QOS and data network performance, are consistently among the best-read on the site. A host of problems can bedevil even well-designed networks, and my guess is that enough implementers and planners realize this.

Nevertheless, voice quality was actually a little way down Yankee Group's list of main technical concerns. Number one, for both planners (50%) and deployers (40%), was "high upfront cost for IPT equipment." Kind of self-explanatory, I guess.

The next tier, at just over 40% each for planners, was "single point of failure," "network security" and "high upfront network costs." Interestingly, the percentage of deployers concerned about these issues was relatively close for network costs (about 35%) and security (about 32%), but significantly lower for "single point of failure" (20%).

Throughout this survey, planners showed consistently higher levels of concerns about IPT and UC technology than deployers did. There was only one exception: On the issue "Lack of skills" twice as many deployers (just over 20%) expressed concern, versus just over 10% of planners.

So the large majority of enterprise IT decision-makers really didn't see a lack of skills, but it's noteworthy that the deployers--those who are out there, hands-on--are much more likely to identify this as a problem than are the planners. Sounds like this is a factor whose status the planner would do well to understand within his or her enterprise before proceeding. After all, most of those other concerns--voice quality, security, availability--will likely play out as either more or less of a real-life problem depending on the skill level of the folks deploying and operating the systems.

As for those high costs: Certainly the upfront costs of IPT aren't any lower than traditional systems, and the concern over network costs indicates that ongoing savings aren't expected there either. If you're going to control communications costs via IPT and UC, you'll have to do it on opex (which is possible; see this post).

But that, then, gets us right back to skill levels.