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At Your Service

We've got a pretty cool one-two punch in the Features column over to the right: Our old friend Hank Levine of the law firm Levine, Blaszak, Block & Boothby recently sent an article on ways that the carriers will try to get you to spend more money during the economic downturn; and I recently posted an article written by Byron Battles, longtime consultant and one of the heroes of the epic VoiceCon blizzard of 2003. Byron's writing about one of the carrier offerings you've been hearing more about recently: Hosted IP communications services.Hank focuses on a range of carrier services, and he dwells more on managed than on hosted offers. But both Hank and Byron remind us about some basics that I think are important to review, especially because the personnel responsible for enterprise voice systems has changed since the time when services like legacy Centrex were a significant market option. I think it's fair to say that IT folks are more open to outsourcing portions of their infrastructure than more traditionally-minded telecom people are.

In his article, Hank recounts the many tricks that the carriers keep up their sleeve - things ranging from clever new ways to hide charges, to the methods they have for boxing you into bad terms or bad deals. The underlying reality--why this is important information now--is that during tough times, we all try to generate extra revenue however we can. And as Hank points out, when a carrier needs to generate extra revenue, guess where that extra revenue is supposed to come from? (Hint: You).

In his article, Byron describes how Hosted IP services differ from Centrex; how these services are architected, sold and managed; and what you need to beware if you are one of those enterprises that's taking a new look at communications as a recurring operating expense, rather than as capex. Among many important points, he reminds us that you can't just buy a hosted service and wash your hands of the voice function: You must maintain a voice-grade internal IP network, you have to manage the service provider relationship, and you may have some capital expenses anyway as you make your network IP-telephony-ready.

Carrier services are a necessary part of any enterprise network, so you can't just refuse to deal with these issues. You may see yourself as a technologist rather than as a negotiator, but if that's the case, then you need to find a negotiator. If you install money-saving technology like voice over IP, but allow the service provider to drain the savings out from under you, the whole exercise will have been pointless.

It sounds like I'm painting the carriers as the bad guys here, and that's because I am. Their interests are not aligned with the enterprise's, and this is really the premise of Hank's article: They want more of your money, at just the time when you want to spend less of it. Ultimately, some of their services may truly provide you with value, and that includes Hosted IP communications. But it's not a move to make lightly.

The phrase that comes to mind when I think about these 2 articles is the warning that George Washington gave in his farewell to the nation: Beware of any "entangling alliances."