Call Considerations

How is strategic telecom spending keeping communications current?
Call Considerations

John Norton, vice president of sales and marketing, Cross Telecom, Bloomington
Projects that add business value or have definite return on investment are still up on companies’ priority lists.
Our customers continue to flatten, consolidate, and extend their communications systems platforms for added efficiency, consistent experience, and expense reduction. We’re also seeing interactive voice response projects prioritized that can automate tasks previously performed by contact center agents at a much greater expense.
However, scheduled manufacturer upgrades—projects just to “keep up to date”—are commonly being put off as customers remain cautious with cash. The decision process now is longer, and procurement professionals and the CFO are commonly involved in these decisions before the project moves forward.
Companies should challenge their communications partners to engage at the business level and work with their leaders to develop the communications systems they need.
The challenge for customers: Educate your communications partners so they can deliver on that promise. Integrate their teams with your teams so communications technology needs are clearly understood.
Jim Hickle, president, Velocity Telephone, Inc., Golden Valley
I have not seen a slowdown for our services, but I have seen the services scrutinized as customers work to eliminate waste and try to get more for less. They are more likely to consider hosted solutions that show them value and reduce costs.
Virtual, office-hosted phone systems are the main thing our customers are exploring and purchasing. Cost, ease of use, and ability to work “virtually” all play a major factor in the evaluation of this service. Customers are looking at unified messaging, enhanced call forwarding capabilities, and especially, being able to work from home.
Customers are prioritizing collocation services with data backup and disaster recovery, and fiber-based Ethernet services, which provide faster Internet connections. We are developing some solutions for our customers that reduce costs by 30 to 50 percent or more and increase bandwidth by up to 1,000 megawatts.
Several new customers are looking to hosted solutions rather than spending capital to own the technology. The demand for these services is extremely high, especially in small to medium businesses.
I see many companies looking at telecom and data as part of a unified infrastructure. Most are moving to IP solutions for voice and increasing bandwidth as fast and as much as they can. Finding the biggest and fastest connection, putting as many services as they can on that connection, and making it redundant is the priority. Even AT&T is predicting the demise of the public switched telephone network, which will make voice an application on data networks in the future.
Steve Knutson, chief information officer, Marco, Inc., St. Cloud
As businesses are increasingly watching their cash flow, clients really start with their ROI first and how they purchase their hardware and software second. For example, they want to know how much they have been spending, how much they will spend, and how they can purchase the equipment so it is a monthly expense versus a capital expense. Upgrade decisions are becoming less about the telecom system itself and more about how it can be purchased.
Many customers are trying to drive efficiencies and cost savings through unified communications—which includes mobile applications, remote worker applications, videoconferencing through the phone system, presence management, and corporate instant messaging. These tools allow employees to more efficiently manage their time and communication while reducing travel, training, telecommunication, and facility costs for the business.
Clients are also now considering hosted VOIP systems to reduce costs and enhance business continuity efforts. Leasing options have become increasingly popular for businesses looking to upgrade.
More companies are looking at workflow, document management, and IP telephony applications and evaluating how those things fit into and improve their business processes. Don’t pick the hardware and try to make it work; look at what technology makes the processes work properly.
We have clients upgrading their voice platforms in a phased approach so that they interface to Microsoft Exchange Messaging and can take advantage of single application and voice mail unification under one administrative touch point—Microsoft Exchange Server. SIP trunking is also gaining traction as a source to save equipment costs and reduce long-distance charges. It allows companies to use VOIP outside of their enterprise networks through an Internet connection.
Larry Schmidt, vice president of sales and marketing, Comm-Works, Plymouth
We are finding that unified communication solutions are a priority because they are able to optimize both human and technology resources from multiple locations.
Customers are looking to integrate employee productivity tools such as “mini” call center applications, time clocks, and customer-facing applications. Another big area, especially with our retail customers, is mobile applications, including wireless telecom handsets that allow those working on retail floors to be available to better serve both in-store customers and those on the phone.
Some customers are evaluating their telephony hardware and software due to the advances in session initiation protocol and recent changes in the manufacturer market, such as Avaya’s acquisition of Nortel. The market is shifting from primarily hardware-focused to more software- and application-driven. This reduces some of the barriers of entry for new players in the market and creates more options for our customers.
We are seeing projects prioritized that have a solid return on investment, such as energy- and loss-prevention solutions. Many customers are re-evaluating maintenance purchases to slow down expenditures. However, we have also worked with customers who are making calculated investments in technology that enhance the customer experience.
Primarily, we see a hold on larger capital investments. Some are choosing leasing options that can come out of an operating budget instead of a capital budget. Customers who have a multi-site environment, like those in the retail market, are taking their existing voice systems from recently closed sites and re-deploying them at newly opened locations instead of purchasing new systems.
We have a number of customers who have migrated to a VOIP-based system and are now enjoying lower administration costs for remote sites, due to VOIP’s remote management features.