The counterpoint to what? Good question. I wanted to talk about some personal experiences with communications technologies. Since the sentiments in this article may appear to contradict ideas I have shared previously – taking more of an analyst, rather than a consumer point of view – I thought I would present them as a “counterpoint”.

Frequently, nascent technologies promise to improve the way we live and work. But at the early stages, both businesses and individuals tend to experience more challenges than benefits.

I work out of a home office, like many other professionals today. Organizations are becoming increasingly virtual and IT managers are struggling to deliver reliable, secure and cost-effective communications to their growing remote workforce. In fact, many technological advancements – such as enterprise mobility, unified communications and SaaS/cloud-based communications, to name a few – are touted as particularly appropriate for mobile and geographically dispersed users. But remote workers frequently face issues that negatively impact their ability to leverage the full potential of these advanced technologies.

Here follow some quick references to popular marketing pitches and my counterpoints as an end user:

UC and software-based communications provide a cost-effective and convenient communications solution for remote workers.

COUNTERPOINT: At home, I have a regular POTS line, as well as a Cisco IP Communicator client on my laptop. I am glad I have the Cisco client because it allows me to call home when travelling or call an international number from home – free of charge to me. However, the few times I have tried to use it to attend an audio conference or make a critical business call, the quality turned out to be so poor that I had to switch to the POTS line or my cell phone.

There are several “weak links” in this scenario and the soft client is just one. It may be the quality of my Internet connection. I have a DSL line (I believe 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream) and I frequently have quality problems (breaking voice or slow website upload) when using various web applications or soft clients. It may be my wireless router – which is integrated with the DSL modem. It may be my laptop RAM or processing power. It could also be an issue with my VPN, the size of my Lotus Notes mail box, or any other application I access on my laptop. It may be some cookies or software bugs on my home network.

So it could be anything! But my point is, I am not ready to dump my TDM line OR my desktop phone for a PC-based soft client any time soon. Though my experience is that of a home worker, I think business environments are not immune to such challenges. If you really believe PC-based clients are ready to replace desktop phones, maybe you need to make sure the money you save from eliminating desktop phones is properly invested in assessing and upgrading LAN and WAN connections, PC processing power, RAM and hard drivers, etc. In my opinion, soft clients make a great adjunct to desktop phones, but not a viable replacement alternative … yet.

SaaS and cloud-based communications enable convenient self service for SMBs and remote workers.

COUNTERPOINT: I strongly believe in the value of hosted/cloud-based communications for businesses with limited in-house resources. But I have an issue with the claims around self service. I suppose, self service makes sense at the very initial stages of service selection and provisioning. Certainly, IP telephony – hosted or premises-based – also enables self-service moves, adds and changes (MACs), which provides substantial cost savings. IP telephony also enables IT managers as well as end users to manipulate settings through software/Web-based interfaces – providing flexibility and cost efficiencies.

However, self service only goes so far. In fact, hosted IP telephony and other ASP services never gained much traction exactly because service providers were not able to provide sufficient network implementation and management support required for mission-critical, real-time communications.

Inevitably, hosted services involve some customer premises equipment (CPE). To begin with, LAN and WAN reliability and security are top concerns with both hosted and premises-based IP communications. Therefore, router and switch selection, proper configuration and management are critical. Further, telephony endpoints and the respective wiring still require someone to literally crawl under people’s desks. Small business and remote workers should not be left entirely on their own when implementing or managing hosted IP communications.

Most of the time, a remote worker, similar to a residential user, uses… well, “cloud” or hosted communications. The Internet service, the POTS line – it is all managed by a service provider. And remote workers frequently face some common challenges. For example, my intermittent Internet connection has been an issue for a while. Having to spend hours on the phone with a customer service rep and stick pins into the router to restart and reconfigure it could be immensely frustrating. My phone company, on the other hand, has so far left me without a phone service only once (for about 24 hours). But even that one time, the warning that if they come to my house and it turns out to be a problem with my internal wiring or phones, they’ll charge me whatever it is they charge, etc., etc. … well, it leaves a bitter after-taste.

So, my point is, small business, remote workers, even medium and large businesses – they all want to feel taken care of. They’ll expect someone to come in and install or fix things for them as part of the monthly service charges and will not be too thrilled about self service.

I hope my thoughts make sense. Let me know what you think.

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6 responses to “Counterpoint”

  1. AVAD Technologies Business VoIP says :

    Self service only works if you know what you are doing. Most Remote/Home based workers or for that matter, the average worker has no idea how a phone system or any other cloud based technology works, they just know how they need to use it and more importantly, they know when it is not working properly.

    How well a hosted service works in any organization is dependent on the quantity and quality of support from the organization and the service provider. Small businesses that use a Hosted VoIP solution will be very dependent on the service provider for support unless someone at the organization is willing to spend a lot of time learning a very complex system. Even if someone at a small company has taken the time to learn a system, they are still are going to spend a great deal of time on user training and Moves Adds & Changes.

    So, I agree with your Counterpoints. I think the term “Self Service” has been used a little to liberally. It is not like a self service salad bar.

  2. Jake says :

    24x7x365 Free Technical Support,System Maintenance is what you should get from the Service Provider.

    and i agree with AVAD Technologies Business VOIP over SelfService Counterpoint…

  3. Vincent says :

    “Self service” is meant as a benefit but is actually a burden. Most home-based/remote/virtual professionals are specialist in a particular area. They don’t want to be their own IT/Support department as well.

    Being at a client location and having to call in to a support line to get connected is not at all an ideal situation.

  4. Business Phone Guy says :

    This hits the nail on the head for me so far as VoIP goes. There are a large number of issues setting up a VoIP connection. Latency being the killer.

    The solution to that is to have a dedicated or corporate connection which can easily cope with the demand at all points in the day and then to have VoIP data given priority over other internet traffic.

    I would imagine the issues you had with conference calling was due to an abnormally large amount of data transfer relative to a normal call which would cause the packet to be queued in the system. This of course doesn’t work too well in real time when you’re trying to have a conversation.

    My overall point would be that while VoIP can be set up to work on any computer and internet connection, you can’t expect full functionality from it like you might a business connection. I think poorly implemented systems puts a lot of people off.

  5. Travis says :

    The article is definitely thought-provoking and provides some valid “counterpoints”. As a recent business graduate, I would consider myself somewhat techy and capable of finding solutions or DIY guides online. But even still, I’ve just started using X-lite (Counterpoint) with Google Voice and I felt the setup process even a little difficult, but manageable by following instructions.

    I can’t realistically picture the average SMB setting up a even more complex system, troubleshooting problems, and providing “self-service”. And the kicker, X-lite was built more than 5+ years ago, and it’s only within the past year that I’ve started hearing about the software.

    The concept is fantastic, but I feel the idea was ahead of its time, because of network limitations (cable, dsl, 3G etc…) On the other hand, if Gabpark were to be “officially” launched today, it’d be extremely popular and successful b/c of the rapid adoption of 3G data plans by consumers, which is partly due to the telecommunication carriers’ push for higher revenue sources and to recoup their capex on the network investments…

  6. mathew21 says :

    “Self service” is meant as a benefit but is actually a burden.The concept is superb, but I feel the idea was ahead of its time, because of network limitations.

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