Sometimes there's a mindset of mismatched expectations about VoIP existing between the customer, the implementers and the providers. Why? Because they failed to communicate, failed to put in the upfront time for discovery and planning stages and failed to perform a scientific network assessment. These all lead to the underlying issues that many face today when confronting VoIP.
It's a sobering reality in IP telephony because customers can cling to product marketing of a company and develop a false sense of security because it's "the brand" or the thing to do. In the small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB) space, it's often least-cost, seat-of-pants implementations, but SMBs don't hold the market on bad decisions or misguided efforts.
VoIP is improving, but it doesn't mean skill sets or practices are improving at the same rate. This disparity in real world vs. proposed world realities needs to narrow for the industry to gain credibility. Long ago, when I first wrote about our experiences serving the SMBs, I described the undertaking being akin to working onboard a submarine. On the boat, everyone works together, learning the other person's job by doing it. The critical backup isn't just two diesel generators in case the reactor must be serviced or shut down, but every crew member acts as a more important backup to the other guy. It takes a lot of years and tours of duty/missions to gain higher competencies in the many roles. The same is true with VoIP and much of it comes by way of field experience. Another constant that is found in both submarines and VoIP is change.
Meeting customer expectations also requires an intimate understanding of the details of how things work today and how to emulate what customers want working tomorrow; this can be one of the most time-consuming processes. When implementing a VoIP solution, are you demanding that customers change their behavior? Early disrupters in the market did and continue to do so today. This isn't what I'd call "best practice."
Whenever it comes to a voice project, there's always a degree of certainty that customers assume. First, they assume you already know everything about what they do today and how they use their telephone solution, and then they often think they are getting something new and improved including all they had prior to the change. The process of hammering out details of features and how customers utilize existing IP telephony systems and how to move forward is time-consuming. Putting skin in the game upfront not only saves time during implementation, but also pays off big after implementation. Less time spent on the upfront discovery and planning stages equates to a lot more time post-implementation, and this is usually reactive. Any time a company is forced into a reactive mode they spend more money, lose customers, credibility and focus on their core mission.
Discovery and planning stages require onsite walkthroughs, inventory and network assessments -- and I don't mean clicking on a Web page that does a simple test and reveals, "Congratulations, your Internet connections qualifies for 10 VoIP channels." The discovery stage requires a level of detail and attention to existing conditions, problems, inventory and configurations. The network assessment will show weaknesses in the LAN, WAN, routing and customer infrastructure. These taken along with gaining an understanding of what the customer does today, and again, how to emulate or best emulate what and how they use telephony. There is always some change in any new solution, and these changes need to be mapped out in such a way that the customer understands the new process and agrees with it or rejects it. Unfortunately, this is where sales quotas and the word "workaround" mesh together.
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This was first published in October 2011