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Where Web 2.0 Meets Voice 2.0

Effective Practices for Integrating Rich Media

In today's financial environment, the demand to extract more value from IT has never been more important within the enterprise. The pressure to improve productivity and streamline processes has been at the heart of the first wave of Web 2.0 adoption, where teams have used collaborative tools like wikis, forums, and online communities in their quest to streamline work processes. This first wave of Web 2.0 tools and practices has similar qualities in common. In many cases adoption of these tools has been employee-driven and the primary mode of communication using these tools has been text-based. So what's next? This article will explore this next phase, which combines social collaboration tools with enhanced voice functionality into business applications.

Vendors have already begun embedding enhanced Web 2.0 functionality within traditional enterprise applications and Web-based services. Furthermore, as new voice and rich media technologies emerge, mainstream enterprise software vendors are integrating Web 2.0 collaborative features and enhanced voice features - like click-to-call, automatic conferencing, and find-me follow-me - into existing enterprise applications, such as customer relationship management and other database applications. As a result, the business software and Web services that knowledge workers use continuously throughout their workday will begin to include this level of collaborative functionality. These integrated voice features promise to enhance collaboration as younger Web 2.0-savvy workers discover the power of voice through verbal conversations, which provide added nuance and emotion that simply cannot be delivered through text-based messages. By adding voice and rich media functionality to CRM and other business applications, employee productivity increases due to the ability of customer service and sales representatives and other knowledge workers to connect with more customers in less time. In addition, some voice-over-IP-based telephony features can also reduce operational expenses from long-distance and international calls.

By integrating voice, mobile, and rich media features within traditional and Web 2.0 applications, these tools become more productive and easier to use, transforming how employees work. With this functionality embedded into their daily work, software, and Web environment, employees can seamlessly access this functionality as they work, without having to learn new interfaces and software commands.

Driven by the need to stand apart from competitors in this grim economic climate, business owners, software vendors, and Web services vendors are exploring their options for embedding these new voice-based Web 2.0 services and features into their offerings. Yet this next step - integrating voice and rich media features into existing applications and services - requires skills and familiarity in technologies associated with telephony and VoIP that most Web and application developers lack. Telephony and VoIP experience is vital as businesses navigate the complexity of telco language, practices, and regulations. As a result the vendor, service provider or solution provider may depend on a hosted platform and network to deliver advanced rich media features as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Deployed in a hosted architecture, the Voice 2.0 application servers are managed through a hosted infrastructure and all calls are routed to or from a hosted global managed service network.

What are the options for integrating Voice 2.0 and rich media capabilities into existing applications? Enterprise managers face three choices: upgrade their business applications to the next version, contract with a systems integrator, or explore the communications equivalent of software-as-a-service. To determine which approach will work best, enterprise managers should weigh their options depending on their relationships with vendors, solution providers, and service providers, based on the following questions:

For software vendors:

  • What does their product roadmap look like? Which features will they roll out first?
  • What is involved in upgrading to gain social media, voice, and rich media features?
  • How complex an upgrade is required? Do the new features adhere to established standards for interoperability?
  • Will the new application play nice with other business software or cause other applications to crash?

For solutions providers:

  • Can they easily integrate the new features into the installed base without taking down the entire system?
  • Are the deployment costs high or can the new voice and rich media features be purchased and used on-demand, minimizing up-front risk and capital costs?
  • Are the new features easy to use or will they generate a backlash from disgruntled employees who struggle to use them?

For service providers:

  • How are the calls delivered - through the public switched telephone networks (PSTN) or through VoIP networks and peering partners?
  • Will the new features reduce or increase operational communications costs?
  • How reliable are the voice connections?
  • Will telephony costs increase or drop as a result of the deployment?
  • How reliable is the infrastructure? Can the provider guarantee quality of service?
  • Will the new voice features connect calls throughout the world or only within specific regions?

Evaluating Options with Software Vendors
Currently, the largest database vendors are involved in partnerships to integrate Voice 2.0 and Web 2.0 collaborative features into the next version of their products. They should be able to provide some insights into which features will be available in their next version and whether those features will involve an ongoing service fee for voice communications or whether the costs will be included with the upgrade. As the software-as-a-service business model continues to gain adoption, more vendors are giving some of their offerings as a service. For enterprise managers, this trend should help them reduce deployment costs and allow them to pay based on usage instead of facing a flat upgrade fee, regardless of whether or not knowledge workers use the new features.

How will this new functionality affect the rest of the enterprise applications in place? The vendor and the solution provider responsible for the deployment should be able to highlight any potential side effects from installing and using the new features. Enterprise managers should make sure vendors are adhering to industry standards for interoperability rather than using proprietary protocols, which can be disruptive and introduce risks to the enterprise infrastructure.

One factor that should be considered before deploying new voice capabilities is the level of up-front risk involved in paying as the voice services are used. With a number of vendors offering on-demand rich media and Voice 2.0 capabilities, it is possible to deploy these new capabilities without incurring high up-front capital costs. Therefore, it is important to determine the payment model to reduce up-front risk and costs as much as possible.

No matter how easy the new interactive voice and collaborative features are to use, no business can tolerate poor or lost connections. Phone calls initiated through the enterprise application will eventually need to connect to a local network to complete the connection. Therefore, enterprise managers should hold the service provider responsible for offering a reliable infrastructure that delivers carrier-class service quality and reliability. Does the service provider connect with a global carrier to manage calls and services through the traditional PSTN or though a VoIP peering grid? While calls delivered through the PSTN are reliable, any convenience gained through the Voice 2.0 deployment is countered by higher telephony charges.

On the other hand, while VoIP peering grids offer the potential to reduce operational costs, it is important to evaluate the peering grid in use on reliability and performance. In this case, consumer-grade services have an uncertain performance record that may not be sufficient for the enterprise. Therefore, it is important to determine that the service provider is using a global peering grid that can guarantee carrier-grade performance and reliability. It is advisable to check that the service provider has strong peering partners who can provide sufficient points of presence (POPs) to complete calls through the world. Look for peering grids that already handle large traffic volumes to ensure they have sufficient scale to manage heavy volumes.

In today's grim economy, it is vital to make sure everyone responsible for deploying and providing Voice 2.0 services is financially stable. Will they be around in the next year? The next five years? The next 20? If the vendor or service provider is a startup, do they have funding secured? Are they generating revenues or simply burning through cash? Obviously, the success of the partnership will in no small way rely on both partners remaining viable businesses.

As more vendors and solution providers offer enhanced voice and rich media features along with Web 2.0 functionality, enterprise managers will face a wide range of options. By following the guidelines provided in this article, they can help ensure their deployments are successful and generate both top-line and bottom-line benefits for their organization.

More Stories By John Hart

John Hart is SVP of Business Development & Marketing, IntelePeer, where he directs all business development and marketing initiatives. An experienced marketing and sales executive, he was most recently Vice President, Business Development at VortexDNA. From 1975 to 2006, he has held senior management positions at AT&T, Gould Inc, DEC, Saville Systems, GeoTel, EMC, Comcast and Ubiquity. John received a BA in Political Science from William Jewell College and attended Law School at the University of Missouri. He is a senior member of the SCTE, holds a patent for signaling control for IP, and has published articles extensively for Marketing and Media. He is a noted industry speaker and has published a book and over 75 articles.

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