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Mystery And Margin

Over at No Jitter, consultant Gary Audin has posted a blog based on a new report that looks at IT services costs. The report, from the OnForce analyst firm, finds that VoIP is by far the most expensive IT component to service; the average VoIP work order is more than half again as expensive as the next-highest category, wiring and cabling, which of course also can be a significant contributor to VoIP/IP telephony expense, too.OnForce attributes VoIP/IP telephony's higher maintenance cost to its relative youth as a technology. In the report, it writes:

We're not at all surprised to see VoIP at the top of this list as the most expensive IT service category, given that it's an emerging technology compared to established categories like Networking and Computers. In our conversations with VARs and solution providers, this is attributed to the idea that "where there's mystery, there's margin."

This perspective jibes with some data that Robin Gareiss of Nemertes Research presented in a recent VoiceCon Webinar. Nemertes's survey of enterprises found that the typical enterprise's telephony troubleshooting/problem isolation costs actually will increase by 26% in the first 12 to 24 months of an IP telephony deployment. On the other hand, costs for "moves, adds and changes, software updates, routine maintenance of PBX, phones, monitoring" typically fell by 24%, mitigating the higher troubleshooting cost.

Troubleshooting IP telephony will probably always be more involved than the legacy TDM systems made it, because when you have a problem with an IP telephony system, you don't just have to look at the PBX, the phone, and the line between them. The problem that's causing bad quality or dropped calls, or whatever, could be in none of those places; rather, it could be in the IP network -- any number of things could be degrading network quality, so multiple teams might have to get involved in finding the answer. As Nemertes' data suggests, this should shake out within a couple of years, as IT staffs develop troubleshooting routines and, probably, add management tools, that isolate problems more quickly and efficiently.

But this is an element that has to be taken into account when calculating the ROI for IP telephony. On the one hand, there are quick savings to be had from IP telephony, especially if your enterprise does a lot of audio conferencing or has a big international component to its voice traffic. The latter can be a double savings -- not only can you put international voice traffic on IP trunks and save expensive PSTN charges, but an increasingly important -- and often hidden -- cost hits enterprises in the form of international cellular roaming charges for employees who travel abroad. Several enterprises have spoken at VoiceCon about their decision to press internationally-mobile employees to implement softphones on their laptops, so that when they travel overseas, they can do their calling on the enterprise VPN and save those roaming charges, at least when they're calling from their hotel or remote offices.

The flip side of the cost savings is that, as the OnForce report states, the technology brings mysteries to your IT picture, which means either margin for your IT services provider or costs for your internal staff. This shouldn't be overlooked when calculating the cost of IP telephony.

And if you think there's mystery with basic VoIP, just wait until you get to full-blown Unified Communications.