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Easing the pain of VoIP migration

Migrating to VoIP can be a painful process, but Nissan North America and the McKesson Corp. have made the switch. They shared their experience at VoiceCon.

SAN DIEGO -- Transitioning from one technology to another is always a challenge for large enterprises, and making the move to VoIP is no exception. With traditional telephony systems well entrenched, migrating to an IP-based telephony architecture often proves a slow and laborious process.

Proper planning, training and testing can help alleviate that pain of migration.

For many organizations the functional benefits of a VoIP network significantly outweigh its numerous growing pains. For others, transitioning to an IP-based telephony system is simply a matter of reducing costs.

At the opening user forum of this year's VoiceCon show, two veterans of the VoIP migration process discussed both the rationale for migration and some of the challenges associated with it.

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For Nissan's North American division in Gardena, Calif., system compatibility and aging phones were the impetus for transitioning to IP telephony, said speaker Steve Lydston, information systems manager of networks and security.

As late as 2002, the company was operating on multiple telephony platforms. There was no one common system running at all of Nissan's locations, which included manufacturing plants, corporate offices and large call centers. Consequently, breakdowns in communication were an all too common occurrence, Lydston said.

In addition, many of the multiple telephone systems were starting to show their age. Some were 20 years old or more. And with Nissan's business rapidly expanding, the company decided the time was right to make the leap to VoIP, Lydston said.

At McKesson Corp., cost considerations were the driving force behind its move to VoIP, according to speaker Daniel Crespo-Dubie, the company's vice president of telecommunications.

In an industry with slim profit margins, the San Francisco-based healthcare company made the transition to an IP-based telephony network to increase efficiency and consolidate overlapping functions.

Of course, both Lydston and Crespo-Dubie found implementing a VoIP system to be much more than simply plugging in some new phones and flipping a switch. They urged the attendees to spare no expense when preparing their organizations for the move.

"Performing a network analysis is critical to ensuring good performance," Lydston said. Through such an analysis, Lydston and his team were able to make certain that Nissan's network was capable of handling the added traffic that comes with IP voice, likely avoiding costly upgrades in the future, he continued.

Testing a VoIP deployment on a small and manageable scale is also critical. At McKesson, the company conducted a VoIP pilot program of just 100 phones to gauge its effectiveness and to project the impact an IP-based telephony network would have on the organization as a whole, said Crespo-Dubie. When the results proved favorable, the company began an enterprise-wide roll out.

Finally, both speakers stressed the importance of effectively training IT staff to handle the transition. Not doing so caused more than one disruption at Nissan, Lydston said.

In one instance, voice quality issues dogged the company's new VoIP phones for weeks before it was discovered that the solution simply required the replacement of a $20 cable. An IT department better versed in common VoIP-related problems could have solved the problem at a much quicker pace, Lydston said, saving the auto manufacturer valuable time and unwanted frustration.

"Spend the money to cross-train your support staff," Lydston said. "It's worth every nickel."

Taking in the proceedings was attendee Gerard Tanksley, manager of facilities and telecommunications at ViaSat, a satellite and wireless communication equipment manufacturer. The San Diego-based company recently made the migration to VoIP and Tanksley said he encountered many of the same challenges presented by the speakers.

Ultimately, however, Tanksley, like both Lydston and Crespo-Dubie, was impressed with the resulting improvements in functionality and efficiency.

"We didn't realize a lot of cost savings [by implementing VoIP]," Tanksley said, "but now the administration is simple and the footprint is small."

That is not to say, however, that VoIP can't save some enterprises significant amounts of money.

At McKesson, the company estimated that their overall savings on telephony costs would fall somewhere between 18% and 20% by switching to VoIP, according to Crespo-Dubie. To the company's delight, the actual savings proved to be closer to 20%-30%, he said, making the investment well worth the time and effort.

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