Deploying VOIP via the Internet

Over the past few months we have been seeing a larger and larger portion of our customer base inquiring on the feasibility of running agents over the Internet for voice.  This is being further driven by ultra high speed connectivity provided by FIOS or the one getting all the press this week which is Google’s high ultra high speed internet project which has communities across the country begging to be a guinea pig.  A good example of this in the contact center comes from this arictle on Pizza Pizza which is the largest pizza company in Canada.  They are successfully deploying at home agents over the internet to lower their cost and decrease turnover.
For those of you who have been in the IP Telephony business for any period of time you probably feel like I do that managed networks are the key to successful IP Telephony rollouts.  I know all the folks on my team recognize that since my biggest pet peave is dropped packets and bad audio caused by them uploading the latest picture to Facebook while they are on a conference call!  However, the mass migration to high speed internet is starting to change the opinion of a large portion of our customer base using the idea that bandwidth alone can solve all problems.  While this is true in a lot of ways, migrating to the Internet for your voice path requires some upfront homework to minimize the impact of an unmanaged network (aka the internet).  The following are items you will want to analyze closely to ensure success.

1) High Speed Internet – Every ISP claims to provide this but all are not equal.  When rolling out to remote folks make sure to check not just the download speed which is advertised but also the upload.  The delta can be extreme particularly in DSL environments and even some cable internet providers.

2) Delay – Nothing is worse than getting on a call with a customer service agent and the phone call behaving more like a walkie-talkie than a phone call.  "I’d like to place an order….OVER."  The following table outlines the acceptable delay parameters you are shooting for.

3) Security – For those of you old enough to remember Phreaking, the practice is still alive and well.  In the past Phreaking involved calling into phone systems to guess user PW’s but as VOIP has proliferated a wide range of tools has cropped up to identify unsecured IP Telephony devices (more on this in a later post) in order to utilize them for the hacker’s purposes.  As such, it is imperitive that any deployment facing the internet have a major security component involved in the deployment including the utilization of security devices like VOIP aware firewalls and VPNs.

4) Agent Interface – In the Pizza Pizza article you can see how they not only utilize the web for the phone traffic but also created a robust agent experience that runs on the users PCs.  These types of interfaces allow supervisors to monitor the agents, analyze voice quality and ensure that an agent working at home or in a small remote office have all the tools they need to succeed.  A good example can be seen below in this SalesForce.com integration for remote sales teams.  You can see that this customer integrated the call control, recording etc directly into their web based CRM application to enable at home and travelling users.

As you begin to evaluate Internet base telephony be sure to check these four requirements off your list.  At the end of the day however remember that your customers are going to be using these connections and the services you provide are your face to that customer.  We have seen varying levels of success with these types of services and a lot of the pass/fail criteria have to do with the education you provide to your users and the expectations they set going into the deployment. 

If you have successfully deployed at home or small remote offices over the internet I’d love to hear your success stories.  Heck, I’d love to hear any bumps along the road as well so I can add them to my list.

Tom Fisher