Telephony Application Integrates with PBX Today and VoIP Tomorrow
April 21, 2009 Dan Burger
Unified communications does not begin or depend heavily upon voice over IP (VoIP). I wasn’t the only one confused about that. There was a time when IBM thought so, too. In the System i community, VoIP no longer is the only entry point into unified communications, which is the big picture view of integrating data with voice communications and collaboration software. VoIP was too great of a leap to make in one jump. Stepping stones are now in place.
It’s pretty clear that VoIP will eventually play a big role in business. It’s just not what it was built up to be. Have you heard that song before? Me, too. The IBM System i executives were singing it loud and often beginning in the fall of 2006. Eventually the volume was turned down after customers failed to sing along.
So why should anyone get into the unified communications (UC) game and how can it be done so that a return on investment and a plan for the future are both on track?
Michael Rousseaux, a key strategist in IBM’s UC program, and Karen Sedlar, CEO of iMessaging Systems, have answers to that question. Each is a proponent of integrating voice with computers , and the potential benefits this can bring, such as reduced infrastructure costs, simplified telephony, and improved service levels. Both are also seeing this from a System i point of view.
“Companies have to have an opportunity to get started at a very low cost without making any major decisions or changes in their infrastructure,” Rousseaux says. “We (IBM) went into VoIP thinking the System i community would adopt software-based VoIP wildly.”
That hasn’t happened and IBM has been adjusting its strategy and portfolio to better fit the user base. According to Rousseaux, IBM has 70-plus VoIP implementations on the System i platform.
That’s not enough to be satisfied. It’s no wonder that a reassessment needed to take place. “Our customers and partners were asking for new workloads,” Rousseaux recollects. We thought the adoption would be faster. It was forecasted to do better.”
Organizations not ready to abandon investments in traditional PBX phone systems and call centers needed an option other than VoIP. At the same time, independent software vendors (ISVs) needed a way to integrate their System i-based applications with help desks. For IBM this became an investment in the System i community and the ISVs in that community.
IBM and iMessaging have worked together since the early days of VoIP on System i planning. Although iMessaging is a great believer in the future of VoIP on i, it also provides what’s needed for customers and other ISVs to move forward without immediately making the jump. In January iMessaging announced a software-based product that allows end users and ISVs to write telephony applications into i-based applications. Even though the emphasis is on VoIP, iMessaging has not shut the door to non-VoIP options. Its new product is designed to also help organizations better utilize voice integration with existing telephony environments.
In short, the iMessaging product, iNspire, allows a System i developer–whether it’s an end user or an ISV–to develop applications that integrate voice functionality into business applications and get some quick productivity benefits. It also allows them to work with the PBX system they have today and be comfortable that applications won’t have to be rewritten if and when a change to VoIP comes.
Application software vendors probably have the greatest urgency to move forward in voice integration projects. Some have no integration capabilities and others have issues resulting from integration complexities with multiple PBX vendors and variations of the communication standards, mainly different flavors of Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), the core protocol at the heart of VoIP-UC integration.
Sedlar points out that many vendors in the AS/400 space have applications (GUI, Java, PHP, and green-screen) that are competing against Microsoft‘s UC lineup, which includes Office Communication Server. “Without offering this type of integration on Power Systems, those vendors are finding it difficult to compete,” she notes.
In many cases the System i solution is the nicer solution, but without the telephony integration capability, it becomes a deal breaker.
“I think they [System i shops] will eventually go to VoIP,” Sedlar says. “The key is making moves today that will not jeopardize what they want to do tomorrow.”
Traditionally the help desk integration with business applications has been built as part of the telephony solution. If voice integration is built into the business applications that run on the iSeries, that will be good for the community. Maybe those workloads that Rousseaux mentioned as being important to System i customers will find a home on the i.
A more in-depth discussion of voice integration can be found in an online session Wednesday, April 22, when Rousseaux and Sedlar discuss advances in telephony technology in a one-hour presentation that begins at 1:30 p.m. EDT. You can register for the Webinar at www.imessagingsystems.com/webinar_0309.