By Jeff Erlichman
, 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media
VoIP = Value of Increasing Productivity
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications equipment manufacturers, service providers and government telecom managers agree the movement towards VoIP technology is inevitable.
The beauty of VoIP technology is it allows you to use your Internet connection to make and receive telephone calls.
Simply by adding voice capability to your already existing data network, you immediately reduce costs because now you need to manage – and pay – for only one network connection instead of two.
Plus there are other benefits such as: easily adding, moving or changing phone extensions to increase flexibility and productivity; or enabling your staff to use the system whether in the office, on the road – anywhere a broadband wireless connection to your network is available; or having just one phone number that follows workers everywhere, thus reducing the number of lines needed and their costs significantly.
What government manager wouldn't say “yes” to those savings?
“Bluntly 99% of the people that go that way stay there,” declared Sprint's Joel Whitaker in a recent interview with 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media. “VoIP is a wonderful technology; you can do all kinds of stuff with it. And once people get there they like it, because it gives them more flexibility and power in their day-to-day uses of their phones and how they do things.”
But “whoa Nellie”! If VoIP is so great, why isn't every agency feverishly ditching their old two connection model?
“There are some things you need to think about and you should try to deal with,” Whitaker cautioned. “When you are converging voice and data on the same data infrastructure, if there are issues with that data infrastructure, your voice can be down.” That is a big no-no when it comes to making the business case for VoIP to senior executives.
Your readers need to think about how important is it for a specific site or a specific group of users to have access to voice all the time Whitaker told 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media. “I do think you need to put in additional steps to make that voice more survivable. In other words, have alternate means for voice services to that site.”
You have to make the business case that no matter how much you can improve productivity and do some really cool stuff with VoIP, having just one connection – like having one engine in an airplane – is a real concern that has to be addressed.
Making a sound business case for VoIP overcomes objections and demonstrates the value of making sound investments that reduce your total cost of ownership.
So, somewhere in this technology migration, inevitability and practicality have to meet as government IT and telecom managers now confront the imagined and real technology risks of migration, which are:
1. Is VoIP as or more reliable than the existing system?
2. Is VoIP as or more available than the existing system?
3. Is VoIP as or more secure than the existing system?
Making The VoIP Business Case
Pete Tseronis is the Deputy Associate Chief Information Officer at the U.S. Department of Energy and co-chair of the IPv6 Transition team. When he was at the Department of Education, he gained a lot of experience making the business case for VoIP.
For Tseronis, the issue of reliability was a non-issue; the issue was really security, because if your data network is reliable, then your voice network will be reliable.
“My business case was I had a CIO who said 'I want my voice and my data on their own networks; and unless you can prove to me that it is going to be secure, then they are going to stay that way',” explained Tseronis in a recent interview with 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media. “So I went back to the drawing board and looked at some of these assumptions, risks and threats.”
Here's what Tseronis did to make the VoIP case to senior management.
1. Show how VoIP leverages your existing IT investment.
“You are not necessarily going out and buying a brand new set of equipment that supports your data network today,” Tseronis said. “You are able to say: maybe we buy a specific switch to support the ports, but we are going to be taking some things away, which typically is old infrastructure.”
“So we are going to leverage those existing IT investments that we had. If we are buying a switch today because we need enhanced broadband? Well guess what, that same router and switch is going to support Voice over IP for us.”
According to Tseronis while there is surely a capital expenditure in year 1 – the cash to buy the phone or the video or the new PC, the reality is you are able to leverage what you already have if you've recently done an upgrade to now send voice over it. That's the nonrecurring cost.
“Yes, you might have to upgrade, or you will possibly bring in staff to support that operation,” said Tseronis. “We had two people; we had a video expert and a voice expert we brought on board. And all the people who were there supporting our data network became educated; they understood and learned how to treat now both a data and a phone system.”
2. Show how VoIP reduces total cost of ownership.
While saving dollars and no separate bill for long distance are VoIP selling points, where real savings comes from eliminating costs for installs, moves, adds and changes. Instead of paying an hourly rate for that, Tseronis said with VoIP, you could pick up the phone – and since your IP phone number follows you – put it into a hot jack in another room without having to be assigned a new number. That is in addition to having only one network connection to pay for.”
“Thus you are providing the quality of service, availability and performance and enhancing your business communications and productivity; plus you are addressing the voice of the customer and ensuring liability, survivability and redundancy for all locations,” Tseronis advocated.
3. Address Security Concerns
In 2004, NIST published special publication 800-58: Security Considerations for Voice over IP Systems; a document Tseronis relied on to enhance security in Education's networks.
Security concerns are real. If your network is not secure, people worry about eavesdropping and the same denial of service attacks issues and problems that face any data network.
“The security of networks are the same thing, you are just adding voice to it,” said Tseronis. “So you have to build in mitigation, you have to build in access controls, resistant firewalls and build in certain types of agents into things to make your network more secure because now you have voice traversing it.”
What Tseronis did at Education was to put together their our own manual that addressed concerns and told management how we are going to deal with separating voice and data on logical different networks and different subnets and referencing RFCs. “That was a sign that this is getting pretty serious if NIST is going to come out with a special publication talking about securing your systems.”
Two Flavors Of The Same Thing
So, as you continue your inevitable journey down the VoIP road, be confident.
“The first thing I would say it don't be afraid of it, don't fear it,” counseled Sprint's Whitaker. “It is a brave new world in some cases, but there are lots of people out there with lots of experience that are more than happy to help you. So don't be afraid of that.”
Whitaker added that you need to probably start thinking about voice and data as just two flavors of the same thing, rather than totally different things.
“It's happening now and it will continue to happen so don't think about voice as a separate thing from data. They are all part of the same communications infrastructure that you need to deal with.”