The other day my colleague and I worked jointly on a sales presentation for a potential new customer. Seeing I was at my desk, he asked for my input on ROI projections. We brought another associate in on the conversation, who added relevant statistics directly into the presentation. We won the account, and the customer was impressed with our knowledge of all points of her business.
What’s remarkable about this exchange is that all of the participants were miles apart – sometimes by thousands of miles. I was traveling in Europe and my colleague, who found out about the pitch as a last-minute opportunity, had checked to see my status online using IM. He saw that I was “online” – and I was, using my own PC at a local coffee shop. So he rang my office phone where the call was routed automatically to my PC’s softphone application (thanks to remote SIP connectivity software from Ingate Systems). For my coworker, it was a seamless connection and, despite the fact that I was nowhere near my office, business got done.
This is the beauty of converged communications – the integration of voice, e-mail, instant messaging and a variety of forms of communication. They are all carried over a common IP network, delivered to the recipients in real time using their preferred method of communication (be it phone, e-mail, etc.). Converged communications makes connecting with one another simple.
How can you tell if your business is ready to reap the benefits of it? Here are six surefire ways to know:
1. If you’re already using VOIP or plan to
VOIP (voice over IP) is an application that allows you to put voice and data traffic on the same IP network. Many businesses use VOIP as a 1:1 replacement for traditional wire line telephony, using it for calls made within the company (corporate LAN). Telephony costs are reduced, or even eliminated, as calls are placed over the Internet instead of through the traditional telephony network.
Remote connectivity solutions make it possible for satellite offices, remote workers, “road warriors,” etc., to utilize the VOIP capabilities of your corporate PBX from anywhere – as long as they’re connected to the Internet. With this idea of taking VOIP a step further, beyond this LAN application, the potential for ROI is far greater.
2. Your company’s gone global
Even if your company just expanded to include satellite offices, you need to be able to reach employees at any time, anywhere, to keep business running smoothly. For your customers, working with your company needs to be a seamless experience. Do they need the latest pricing on a new product? The sales team should be only a click away via IM or click-to-call applications. Answers can be text messaged back to a cell phone.
3. Your employees belong to the “MSN generation”
The generation now entering the workplace is used to communicating via IM, video, e-mail and file sharing. They–and your customers–take for granted that these communication tools are installed in the working environment and that their colleagues, partners and customers are online and ready to communicate. Leverage their aptitude for converged communications by standing out as a front-runner in information sharing. Your business is open 24/7; your employees are available and ready to help out by e-mail, IM, phone–whatever suits your customers at that time.
4. You want to lower your communication costs
It’s actually a cost-saving investment to install VOIP and other forms of real-time communication. By using the Internet that is already in place, the need for costly PRIs (Primary Rate Interfaces) and BRIs (Basic Rate Interfaces) decreases. As long as your employees are connected to the Internet, no matter where they are in the world, they don’t have to use their (or your) cell phones and bill back high cell phone costs.
5. You’re looking to improve business efficiencies
Unified communications can streamline the way your employees do business and add value for customers and partners. Your development team can be an “always available” presence via IM – even from across the globe. Phone “follow me” features allow calls made to your desk to ring your cell or at your home office. Customers can use your own VOIP to call your company, and IM presence can facilitate the sales cycle.
6. Business gets done at home, on the road and on your cell phone
One of the key benefits with rich communication applications is making businesses run more transparently. Business can be conducted from anywhere in the world – regardless of time zones and locations (i.e., remote workers). Because of this, customers have maximum access to your staff. In addition, employees can access corporate resources from anywhere in order to save the company money. They can leverage expertise from colleagues in other offices or even other countries, or use SIP to provide customers with the best service.
This same technology for remote connectivity can be used for all clients, including PC-based softphones and IP phones connected to the Internet. This is an advantage of the SIP protocol: to be able to register multiple devices with the same address, i.e., phone number. A person can then, for example, use an IP phone/softphone at their home office and an IP-only phone in the corporate office – both registered to the same number. One number reaches the employee in multiple locations.
How to Tell if You’re Ready to Deploy Converged Communications
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How to Get to Converged Communications
One of the easiest first steps to unified communications is through an application called SIP trunking. Offered by many service providers, SIP trunking bridges the gap between those using VOIP and those still on the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). It is often seen as a gateway to shifting telephony to IP because it can be very simple to deploy. Plus, it can produce immediate (and radical) cost savings. In-depth background on SIP trunking can be found at the SIP Trunk Network.
Unlike in traditional telephony, where bundles of physical wires were once delivered from the service provider to a business, an SIP trunk allows a company to replace these traditional, fixed PSTN lines with PSTN connectivity via an SIP trunking service provider on the Internet. With SIP trunks, it is no longer necessary to purchase ISDN, BRIs, PRIs or local PSTN gateways.
There are three components to setting up a secure SIP trunk connection:
1. An IP-enabled PBX.
Newer PBXs usually have IP technology built in. If your PBX is not IP-enabled, MGCP, H.323 and SIP are all protocols that can be used to do so. However, SIP has a number of advantages that the other protocols do not. The most important advantage of SIP is that it supports rich communication (while, for example, H.323 is a voice-only protocol).
2. An edge device that can handle the traversal of SIP traffic.
The enterprise edge component can either be a firewall with complete support for SIP or an edge device connected to the firewall, handling the traversal of the SIP traffic. The majority of current firewalls and NAT-routers are not designed to handle full person-to-person communication, which will not reach users on the LANs unless the enterprise firewall has specific SIP support. SIP traversal of firewalls and NATs is becoming a commodity in the sense that most vendors advertise support for the protocol. However, the basic SIP support offered by most of these vendors does not have the richness of features to fulfill the needs of a complex enterprise environment. It is critical that IT managers evaluate their current firewall solution to ensure that there is proper SIP support when new firewalls and NAT routers are installed.
Edge devices, such as the SIParator from Ingate, are what we usually recommend to customers, as they solve these problems and more – while adding critical features such as:
-Handling, and resolving, interoperability issues between the IP-PBX and ITSP
-Reliability when adding survival features (i.e., failover for VOIP, etc).
-Security when taking SIP traffic outside the enterprise and transporting it over the public Internet to other networks or service providers. The security aspects of eavesdropping, call hijacking and call spoofing need to be addressed. The edge device can incorporate TLS (Transport Layer Security) which encrypts the signaling stream. This enables all the important setup information to be kept private over the public Internet. It can also support SRTP (Secure Real Time Protocol) which encrypts the voice, video and other media packets. Using TLS in combination with SRTP secures the communication, making it almost impossible to eavesdrop on.
-The edge device can also firewall the LAN, as well as the SIP traffic, serving as an all-in-one security component of your network.
3. A SIP trunk from an ITSP.
A traditional voice telephony service provider typically offers one or more T1/E1 trunks to the enterprise for fulfilling its needs for voice communication outside its own premises. The service provider is then connected to what is sometimes referred to as the world’s biggest machine: the worldwide PSTN. Connectivity between the networks of the different service providers that constitute this “machine” is achieved by bilateral interconnect agreements between the various service providers. There are also wholesale service providers that aggregate the traffic from several local service providers and make the interconnect agreements for all of them collectively.
The SIP trunk offering is just another way of connecting the enterprise subscriber to the network. The interconnect and wholesale aspects remain the same. With an SIP trunk, the traditional T1/E1 interface (“trunk”) is replaced by an IP-based connection that runs over the Internet connection to the enterprise. Nowadays, most enterprises already have such a connection to be used for their data traffic. As a SIP trunk is software and IP-based, it is much easier to manage remotely and therefore cheaper for the service provider to maintain than the traditional connections.
Global Connectivity: The Widespread Adoption of Converged Communication
One of the goals in creating SIP was to facilitate global connectivity: everyone reachable anywhere, at any time. Converged communications presents the next stage in the telecommunications evolution toward global connectivity. Once embraced, the entire business community – from smaller start-ups to large enterprises – will truly benefit.