Making The IP Telephony Business Case

Selling IP Telephony to senior management is no different than selling anything else - stress features, advantages and benefits.

As government continues to migrate to full implementation of IPv6, the question for government IT professionals is: as they upgrade infrastructure, should they actively plan for VoIP and ways to deliver a variety of IP Telephony features over a single pipe?

As they grapple with this issue, advocates face a tough task selling the “one pipe” concept to some in senior management. While senior execs love the cost savings potential, some are less than willing to give up the “two is better than one” safety feeling they get when voice and data are on separate networks.

During his tenure at Education, Pete Tseronis took on the tough sales task of selling VoIP and IP Telephony to senior management. When he started traditional silos for voice, video and data were the norm at Education. When the process was finished and “you become a truly converged unified office, it's all under one roof,” explained Tseronis.

Even though IP Telephony is being implemented throughout government, there is still room for growth.

“We had 18 people supporting not three silos but one. And that's a very exciting thing to see happen,” Tseronis said. “And it can only get better if you continually have leadership that supports that innovation. That's the recipe, not for success, but how it needs to be done and done right.”

So how did Tseronis get from Point A to Point B?

It's no surprise one major obstacle to installing business grade IP Telephony is the perceived cost - especially having to buy new IP Phones which can retail in the $700 range.

Why so expensive? “This is a networking appliance; it's not just giving you dial tone any more. Why does an iPhone cost more than a regular cell phone? You are doing more with it. Why does a laptop cost more than a desktop? It's more mobile. It can do more things, per se. So they cost more. But you can't say I'm buying that switch just because I want to do IP Telephony. That's not the argument,” said Tseronis.

What Tseronis did was present management with ROI with and without VoIP. And he talked about spending in terms of upgrading infrastructure versus buying a new system.

“It was time for us to upgrade our network and we were doing a large overhaul,” explained Tseronis. “It's time to look at the big picture again,  not just there is some money to burn, so I'm going to put in a phone system. You've got to think this whole thing through. And if you do that, if you actually look at it like what would be the best time, not this year but next year, you start building the case then.”

So instead of just saying you are investing in a $10 million VoIP system, you are investing in your IT infrastructure and whether it's this year or next you are going to have the capability to put voice on it.

At Education, that reasoning resonated with the CIOs and the Assistant Secretaries because they understood that even if they don't have voice on their IP network, they are still going to need to upgrade that network equipment to deliver faster bandwidth to the desktop, provide more security e.g. a firewall for content filtering.

“That's a capital investment that you had to do anyway,” Tseronis said. “Voice is just a thing that you can add on to it.”

To show the value of the IP Phones, Education did a pilot. The conclusion was when you buy that IP Phone you are buying much more than a phone. You are also buying user satisfaction.

“We did a 30 question survey after we had deployed these phones and one of the neatest features that people liked, or they were most appreciative of is the fact that they could hit a button and see how many calls did I miss,” Tseronis remarked.

Additionally you can check your voice mail through email now, through Unified Communications and have the option of listening through the phone or through the PC. You also can save money by leveraging the IP Phone to have multipoint video conferences from your desktop, eliminating the need to go to a separate room or facility that's run by a different video crew.

Tseronis stressed the need to talk about a vision and where you want to get to in concrete terms. “So in terms of making the case, you have to have a visionary technologist's outlook on how it's going to benefit those in finance. Here's how it's going to benefit those in procurement.”

Everyone in government is leveraging the Internet in different ways. Everyone wants to save money. One way is to save the cost of resources that are supporting these disparate networks that many agencies have, voice, video and data.

But to do that everyone – from senior management on down – must trust the network and feel confident that it is as secure as can be; and that risk mitigation processes are in place to protect voice, video and data.

In addition to getting senior management on board, Tseronis also talked about the importance of having strong industry partners.

“You must communicate with the vendors and the telecom and networking groups; you have to partner with the same people who are going to supply that service for you,” Tseronis noted.

“It didn't matter who we were talking to, we had to make sure that we were working with all these folks when we ultimately built the design. It's not something you buy and plug it in. We are very dependent on integrators, telecommunications service providers and the long distance carriers because they are the ones who will ultimately carry this data.”