labels: cisco systems, infotech, it features
Channeling IP solutionsnews
18 October 2006
The future of IPC in the small and medium-sized business market clearly depends as much on collaboration and partnership as it does on the utility of the solutions themselves, says Pramodh Menon, vice president, channels, Cisco Systems (India & SAARC).

From family-owned stores to hospitals to middle schools, today''s small and medium-sized business organisations face myriad challenges. They must improve operational efficiency, lower costs, and increase revenue despite budget and staffing constraints; compete in an increasingly global market against larger companies with greater resources; and still keep up with the rapid pace of change in available technologies and in their own businesses.

Networking solutions are designed to help companies manage the challenges, but many small and medium-sized organisations with disparate networks have found that while a new solution might resolve one issue, it can also create another.

For example, if a new application on the data network does not function smoothly with existing applications on the voice and video networks, it can be expensive and time — consuming — particularly for a company with limited funds or staff-to discover the source of the problem and then resolve it on each network. To streamline operations and improve efficiency, many businesses are migrating to IP-based networks.

With an IP infrastructure, all data, voice, and video applications can be integrated onto a single, secure network. New applications work reliably with existing applications because they are all based on the same protocol. Features that were unavailable or too expensive with traditional systems — high-quality video at every desktop and phone, for example — can be deployed relatively easily.

The compatibility of IP with existing technologies allows a company to eliminate its traditional phone system at its own pace. Plus, with just one network to manage and maintain, a company is better able to scale its network to meet changing business needs and user requirements. Furthermore, having an IP network enables a small or medium-sized business to use the same IP applications as a large enterprise, which improves its competitive advantage.

Yet for all the ways in which small and medium-sized businesses can profit from a converged network infrastructure, some might be hesitant to make the migration because they are unfamiliar with what an IPC solution can do for their business or they are concerned about the speed with which employees will learn to use IPC.

Thus, the future of IPC in the small and medium-sized business market is strongly influenced by the ability of solution providers to address these issues with customers-and the ability of solution developers to design relevant applications and devices that are user-friendly.

IPC Solutions — Meeting the Unique Needs of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses
IPC applications and devices are user-friendly and are designed to be used by people who do not have a technical background. Fortunately, the ubiquity and flexibility of IP enables IPC to be tailored not only to the needs of individual users but also to the specific requirements of a business.

IPC solutions accommodate varying service densities, interfaces, security, and communications parameters as effectively as varying user-skill levels. When properly implemented, they can enable employees of a small or medium-sized business to perform many functions, including:

  • Forwarding and screening calls in real time or in advance
  • Using a phone''s LCD display to access company calendars, purchasing reports, personal contacts, corporate directories, and other important information instantly
  • Accessing personalized features-such as contacts and calendars-from a shared IP phone simply by logging in to that phone
  • Using a laptop to receive and place calls, check voicemail or even participate in a conference call from any location
  • Taking advantage of integrated conferencing applications to collaborate with colleagues in real time behind the safety of the corporate firewall

As an example of how a company might take advantage of IPC, consider a healthcare provider with several offices. A physician in one office can use an integrated conferencing application to discuss a patient''s condition with physicians in other offices.

With the network''s data, voice, and video capabilities, the physicians are able to see and hear each other during the conference call as well as securely share files, slides, test results, and other patient information in real time.

Other examples include the following:

  • An organisation with branch offices, frequent travelers, or telecommuters can provide all users with reliable, secure access to the network applications available at the main office without requiring a separate phone extension at each remote location
  • A law office can set up a phone system to automatically record caller names and call times for streamlined billing calculation and improved accuracy
  • A city government can install network ports in each building so employees can quickly move locations as needed without IT personnel support.

Benefits of IPC
Regardless of which applications they deploy, small and medium-sized businesses can benefit greatly from IPC. In addition to the competitive and solution flexibility of IPC implementing an IPC solution can help companies in three vital areas: cost of ownership, employee productivity, and operating expenses.

  • Lower Cost of Ownership: A converged network infrastructure saves costs associated with operating and managing multiple disparate networks and streamlines operations business wide.

    Companies can also lower employee training costs, thanks to the intuitive interface of IP phones, and reduce the money previously allocated for travel by taking advantage of the conference-calling features of those phones.

  • Improved Employee Productivity: IPC applications are available to anyone on the IP network, making it easy for mobile users to stay connected while working on the road or from home. This capability also allows an employee to change locations quickly and easily; she or he is instantly accessible simply by plugging the IP phone into a network port.

    Because applications can also be shared between computers and IP phones, employees are better able to multitask. For example, employees can view customer information instantly on their LCD displays or in "screen pops" on their computers when calls come in rather than putting the callers on hold to look up the information in the system.

  • Reduced Operating Expenses: All calls made on a wireless IP network are transmitted over the corporate intranet, eliminating long-distance fees and allowing employees to focus on their work rather than on the cost of their work to the company.

    Conference-call fees are also eliminated with IPC conferencing applications, a significant benefit considering that conference calls account for more than half of all call minutes for some small and medium-sized businesses. Additionally, businesses can save money by consolidating work space because employees have the ability to share devices such as IP phones and still access their own features using a personalised login.

Deploying IPC-the Channel Partner way
Once companies understand how IPC can benefit their business, the next logical step is to focus on purchasing and deploying the appropriate solution. However, most small and medium-sized businesses do not have an in-house IT staff to direct this process; even if they do, the staff is generally-and appropriately-reluctant to attempt such a complex installation without assistance.

Vendors recognise that SMB organisations have unique support needs — since the procurement and deployment of solutions within these organisations is undertaken by the widespread channel partner community, a robust channel partner training program focused on small and medium-sized businesses would best help the cause of vendors.

Channel partners that earn an IP Communications Specialisation have the requisite training and experience to design, install, and provide ongoing support for IP technologies, IPC solutions, and IPC applications. The certification program helps assure small and medium-sized business customers that the partner has invested in their success and that they will not receive less attention simply because they are not as large as other companies.

By focusing on specific technologies and customer types, the channel partner programmes can prove its value to customers and partners alike: Channel partners can help customers understand and implement IPC, which propels sales; customers can benefit from IPC, which improves their profitability and competitive advantage. The future of IPC in the small and medium-sized business market clearly depends as much on collaboration and partnership as it does on the utility of the solutions themselves.

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