The benefits of VoIP for companies include a standardized (convergent) network infrastructure and IP networks that are highly flexible in terms of configuration and maintenance. “Companies can harness a great deal of potential by utilizing VoIP, including improved integration of telephony in corporate and groupware applications, enhanced flexibility and increased availability of employees,” explains Thorsten Wichmann, Managing Director of Berlecon Research.
Integration cuts costs and increases productivity
He goes on to explain how integration of different media increases productivity and employee efficiency. Above all, dovetailing VoIP with state-of-the-art CRM and ERP systems, as in the case of SAP with mySAP Customer Relationship Management (mySAP CRM), mySAP ERP or SAP Business One, the small business solution, delivers added value for companies in the form of more efficient processes. VoIP calls and/or conversations can be saved and called up in mySAP CRM’s customer history. Telephone connections can be set up at lightning speed at the click of a mouse via a linkup with corporate applications. Employees in call centers or in the sales department can also view more detailed background information on the person they are talking to, such as company, contact person, customer number or order status, directly on the screen.
“By integrating VoIP with CRM applications, companies can process queries or complaints more quickly. This also helps them significantly enhance their customer service – an area where customer expectations have particularly increased in recent times,” explains Thorsten Wichmann. “VoIP helps SMEs in particular to meet these requirements, without having to set up large, expensive call centers especially for the purpose.”
During a telephone conversation, notes or reminders can be created and saved on a central database. This means all employees of a company have access to this information at all times if required and therefore all share the same knowledge base, which benefits customers and companies alike. Contact partners for customers and business partners are well-informed and competent, which ensures satisfaction with the service. These satisfied customers and business partners, in their turn, help secure the company’s long-term business success.
As well as high voice quality, companies that want to run VoIP successfully over the long term must be able to guarantee the security of the IP telephony system. The industry body Voice over IP Security Alliance (Voipsa) warns of various threat scenarios. Hackers who intercept telephone conversations can steal confidential data and spam or spit (spam via Internet telephony) senders can swamp a system with denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. Spoofing is also high on the list, i.e. assuming false identities for phishing purposes. Weakspots in the systems include call servers and their operating systems, telephones and their software, and the telephone calls themselves. When a company changes over its telephone system to VoIP technology therefore, it must also adapt its entire IT security infrastructure accordingly.
Markus Burkard and Marco Di Filippo have also recently explored the security problems and risks of VoIP in an article entitled “Sprachstörung” (“Voice disorder”) at heise online. As VoIP uses media that many users have access to, “you also inherit all the inadequacies and security problems of public TCP/IP-based networks and LANs that users currently have to deal with for e-mail traffic and surfing the Internet,” say the authors. However, according to Berlecon Research, risks associated with VoIP such as a drop in telephony quality and security gaps are to some extent exaggerated. These can largely be managed with careful planning and standard measures that have been established for data networks.
In general, however, SMEs should not change over to VoIP all in one go, as this is liable to entail costs which are impossible to calculate in advance and which can quickly become overwhelming. There are usually rental agreements in effect for existing telephone systems. An infrastructure that has, as in many cases, grown up over a number of years might become worthless in an instant if the company switches fully to VoIP. Rapid advancement of the technology (keyword: Voice quality) also makes full changeover at a later date more attractive. “Only a few companies will find it worthwhile to convert fully to VoIP at the moment,” stresses Thorsten Wichmann. He advises companies to prepare themselves for VoIP in any case, “the targeted use of the technology bringing quick wins, and therefore rapid cost savings.” For instance, the Berlecon Managing Director characterizes a VoIP-based telephone access point that is connected to an existing private branch exchange as a typical quick win. With correspondingly high telephony revenue, this saves on costs. Nor does a company have to acquire any new hardware, he says. This secures further cost benefits.
The benefits of soft migration
Experts and market researchers therefore also recommend step-by-step “soft migration” to VoIP. The aim is to integrate the new technology gradually into the existing infrastructure. The existing telephone system is first extended via a software or hardware update to include the new IP services. This makes it VoIP compatible and it then functions as a link between VoIP-compatible and conventional devices. The telephone system communicates with the existing terminals (telephones and PCs) and converts the voice data (alternatively, the data is converted by the provider). As a result, companies can then acquire IP telephones in stages, e.g. one department at a time or for new employees, until the changeover to VoIP is complete. A major advantage of soft VoIP migration is that companies can utilize the full potential of their existing infrastructure while at the same time benefiting from the wide range of possibilities offered by VoIP technology.
For further information
General: http://www.voipsa.org (Voice over IP Security Alliance)
Studies: www.gartner.com, www.keynote.com, www.soreon.de/site1/index.php/english
SAP: www.sap.com, www.sap.com/solutions/business-suite/erp, www.sap.com/solutions/business-suite/crm,