IP telephone vendor ratings down, and complexity is the culprit

The role of enterprise VoIP continues to evolve, and many executives recently surveyed report that VoIP providers are struggling to provvide them with the unified messaging solutions they need. This has opened the door to value-added resellers (VARs) to provide third-party solutions that meet existing and growing customer demand.

With Robin Gareiss, executive vice president and senior founding partner of Nemertes Research. In late March, Nemertes released a report, "Voice Over IP: State of Deployment, Architecture, Vendor Ratings," which noted a decline in customer ratings of IP telephony vendors.

Question: What did the study look at?

Gareiss: We talked to 120 IT executives between September 2006 and January 2007. We delved into details on how they are using technology, what is driving the technology, all kinds of data points on VoIP and other technology used by the virtual work force.

Question: What were the major findings?

Gareiss: We definitely found the networks themselves are more complex than four or five years ago. [Then] maybe they had VoIP in one location or used it for bypass. Now we see it extending to all branch locations and integration with the WLAN. Companies are looking at VoIP as a first step to a unified communications strategy. Companies implementing VoIP also need to look at unified communications, IM, presence and all the other collaboration applications. Networks over last four years definitely have grown more complex.

Question: How have vendors responded?

Gareiss: One of first steps is simplifying the network layer itself. They are saying let's look at layer 2 and 3 [of the Open Systems Interconnection model] and collapse it all into an MPLS-based service. They get the network straightened out and look at other areas.

Question: What comes next?

Gareiss: VoIP tends to be the first step to the larger unified communications strategy. Unlike if they were implementing VoIP a couple of years ago, now they say, "Hey, maybe we can tie in the WLAN, maybe we can tie it into presence." Now all the discussions are happening right up front. Also, unified communications may be tying VoIP in with directories and contact lists. You very often see it tied into WLAN.

Question: Why have the ratings of vendors dropped in last year?

Gareiss: We are not saying all the vendors are bad. We talked to very intelligent IT executives who say vendors are better than in the past, but they are not keeping pace with the increasing complexity of networks [from the] ease of implementation and troubleshooting points of view. Let's say [in addition to VoIP] a company also is integrating with existing contact centers and WLANs. Now all of a sudden there is more complexity. Some vendors are not as up to par as they should be and that's why we're seeing a lot of ratings go down.

Question: What else did you find?

Gareiss: Another tangential trend is an increase in the number of companies using third parties to help them with installation, ongoing management service and, in some cases, network design. That increased 6% up to 14%. The use of third-party management of VoIP implementations is starting at larger mobile enterprises. They are naturally going to be more complex.

Question: Does the use of third parties make things more difficult?

Gareiss: That's another thing causing problems with some vendors. They need to work more closely with channel partners, with third parties to make sure they properly train the third parties and have a process in place.

Question: How long will the technical complexity continue to grow, and how will that impact vendors going forward?

Gareiss: At least another five to 10 years … it's a huge change in so many companies. And it's not a fork lift. The trend is for enterprises to move to VoIP and unified communications in a more evolutionary fashion.

This Executive Briefing originally appeared in a weekly report from IT Business Edge.

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