Imagine having to manage voice calls, emails, voicemails, video streams and internal communication simultaneously into and out of a single organization. Hold that image while you make your IT Manager wear a traffic policeman’s hat. The same frustration you may experience in a traffic jam, will be comparable to the confusion, lag and chaos your IT Department experiences on your company’s network.
The root cause of the chaos comes down to poor planning and infrastructure. You know what your origin is, you know what type of packets make up the traffic, and you know what the intended destination for each type is, but the confusion arises when the person planning your network doesn’t know what your business does. And if he doesn’t know that, then there is no way he can plan how to efficiently and optimally manage the flow of traffic.
What’s the priority on your network? If it is client service, then unattended client calls with no log in place for follow up; unmanageable voicemails and emails and inefficient use of bandwidth. Any of this sound familiar?
There is so much information flowing through every department of an organization, and even if you aren’t a company who engages in a great deal of customer interaction, you still need to have a strategy to manage all the internal traffic. The communication system, in any organization, is a backbone. The better managed it is, the more chances there are to identify problems and be proactive rather than flatfooted and reactive. Having an intelligent, secure networking environment is the need of the day for organizations regardless of its size.
With the shift being made towards IP, the efficient utilization of bandwidth and network security is a huge concern for IT departments throughout the world. With technology’s role in reducing operational costs and maximizing output, organizations need to be more aware of not only what is traveling through their network, but also who is accessing it. Converge all traffic and unify it. That’s what the need of the hour is.
Communication is now Unified Communications
The concept of Unified Communications was born from a basic PBX system installed in different organizations to act as a call handler. PBX systems provided a way of handling internal communications and routing external communications to internal extensions. After using PBX systems for many years, when companies started to implement computer networks in their organizations, companies such as Cisco introduced an add-on to their typical routers which supported communication over copper wires as well. In that case, the router itself acts as a PBX system supporting Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) with the help of FXO (Foreign eXchange Office) and FXS (Foreign eXchange Subscriber) cards. This was the instigation of IP-based telephony where the network was called an IP PBX.
Cisco, Nortel and Mitel realized the potential in IP-based communication and how it could save thousands of dollars every year and increase the productivity and the output level of the organization. POTS then changed to IP Telephony works with IP phones plugged directly into the switch powered by an Ethernet cable (PoE) and the call manager handling the call preferences. This includes features such as mapped telephone number for external uses, mapped extension number for internal communication, phone rings, voicemail, call forwarding, call recording and call divert.
These call managers are intelligent call handlers which provides ease of handling calls based on specific requirements. For example, a client calls the UAN (Universal Access Number) of a company and the primary extension is busy, the call manager forwards the call to another available extension. It is also possible to transfer a live call to another extension and also add another extension to the active call to have a three-way conference call. Even the time could be designated for the termination of the call.
Network Administrators can define call termination policies. For example, in terms of a contact center with multiple locations in different time zones providing 24/7 support, you can specify that all calls from 9am to 9pm be terminated at ‘Location A’, and from 9pm to 9am at ‘Location B’. All calls can be recorded on a designated server, which could be accessed through an FTP link.
While the network and UC solution can help you to better manage the traffic over your network, it can’t do everything for you. If you set up a Quality Control department for training and quality purposes, you can monitor calls live. Calls can be forwarded to other extensions or on to the voicemail. Telecommuters can work remotely and have their work phone numbers mapped on their cell phones or their home phones so even if they are not available in the office, they can still be reached. Voicemail notifications can be sent via email and the voicemails can be heard as audio files on laptops or desktops, PDAs and Smartphones. Implement Quality of Service (QoS), or a set of policies which define the way network packets should be handled. Along with voice and data, video streams could even be sent on to the same stream on the same bandwidth pipe.
The beauty of it is that all data and voice packets go into the same stream whilst using the same bandwidth pipe.
With data, voice and video converged onto a single network, security becomes even more critically important. With confidential information being communicated over an IP network, packet sniffing and other vulnerabilities could be detrimental to the competitive edge a company has in the market. Since data traffic also includes information generated through financial transactions such as ATM transactions, ecommerce payments, CRM software programs, security breach is really not an option.
To avoid security breaches and loopholes in the network for intruders, there are special firewalls designed to block outside traffic from company’s network thereby securing voice, data and video packets from sniffing.
Cisco’s approach to security is called ‘Cisco Self Defending Network’. This means that you can integrate security into the network and deploy an end-to-end security solution over IP which protects data, voice, video and all other applications over the network. All of this can be managed from a single location. At the end of the day it generates a meaningful report, analyzes, monitors your network and tells you exactly what is happening in your data, voice and wireless networks as well. Companies may need to install an additional firewall, which is a specially designed device for Unified Communications Networks but the integration of voice and video, according to the information available, does not affect the security of the data.
Everyone is looking for ways to use technology in cost cutting and optimizing the bottom line. Time means money, and when you are struggling to reduce budgets and still meet targets set before the global financial crisis, you cut what you can. While air travel and hospitality have to be two industries hardest hit with the number of people cutting down on travel, an increasing number of companies are using their existing infrastructure and networks to develop the concept of virtual meetings. With an existing Unified Communications network, this becomes a simple process of integrating and monitoring the voice, video and data traffic that a virtual meeting generates.
Cisco TelePresence combines high-quality audio, high-definition video and interactive elements to deliver an in-person meeting experience over your network. Telepresence is a technology which works across a network and has revolutionized the business meeting trends. Companies can now interact with their clients, partners and branch offices over secure telepresence. You can get real time audio-video feed from another part of the world which helps executives to reduce travel time, optimizing their work. (Please see Essential Technology in CIO Pakistan’s December 2008 issue, where we reviewed Juniper’s SecureMeeting and Essential Technology and the August 2008 issue, where we highlighted companies in Pakistan who have deployed UCs in their organizations).
Future of Unified Communications
Network Administrators from around the globe are working to integrate business applications across the Unified Communications Networks. Once you have the destination and origin of your data mapped out across your network, the integration becomes an easy next step to make.
As long as you have a UC running at the core of your network, applications such as CRM can provide centralized access, reducing the need to have replicated or bad data filling up records. The cleaner your data is, the faster your access will become.
So put on your traffic management cap and work with the various data silos to map out the most optimal travel routes.