Ask this question and you open a whole Pandora’s box of opinions and possibilities. The answer may change directions as often as the wind. To get to the heart of a reasonable explanation you need to be unemotional and pragmatic.Now by web based voice applications…. think Skype or Google Voice for example.Taking a step back and looking at it from the technology perspective, this has already had a huge impact all over the world. More and more businesses are cutting their travel budgets as they can now ‘meet’ over teleconference or online meetings, and this has created (as the others mention) a new type of competition for the traditional industries (both travel and phone companies).Google Voice, Skype are great alternatives to regular telephony, and I know various businesses who have already implemented it as a communication channel. I think this opens new possibilities in an even more globalized world, as we can easily (and sometimes even free) communicate with companies and individuals from all over globe. Markets open up more, information flows freely and it creates competition.The ability to transport voice communication over broadband infrastructure using a wide variety of software applications will continue to fragment the telecom industry in both the carrier services market as well as the equipment (hardware) market. This is going to become a very confusing place for the end-user, and performance will vary greatly.
Short term, I expect low impact on the enterprise telephony sector due to Google Voice or Skype. In fact, Skype has been around for some time now and I’m not aware of any customers that are using it as their enterprise telephony platform. Sure it can save $$ and make communications easier sometimes, but it lacks a number of features that enterprise applications need: reliability and support amongst some of them. Put yourself in the shoes of an IT Director, responsible for the well functioning of the telephony system, would you choose Skype as your enterprise solution? Or would you rather go to one of the lead vendors?The other aspect of GV and Skype is that they have been conceived for the end user market, not for the enterprise world. As such, they include the features and functionality that we require as users, but those might not be the same as what we require from an enterprise solution. It might be that we find some ways to stretch those applications and use them for business but even then I still find it difficult to imagine broad adoption in the short term.It’s going to accelerate what we already are moving towards, and that voice and data will all soon travel on the same path. Google voice is going to be a game changer, no doubt, but you cannot have the infrastructure of a business’s communications rely on a new platform until you can guarantee service levels of the internet. How can you hold Google accountable as a voice vendor without a service agreement? It may already be in the works, and until then, it will be a fun toy for CIO’s to play with.They work as a kind of throw-away solution at the moment, i.e. a company has a few remote workers in far-flung destinations and they want to talk to people back in the office. Actually I find that Skype works better than the high-end solutions in many situations.In my opinion not many sizeable or professional operations would hang their hats on the solution, i.e. Dear Mr Customer, please call my Skype/Google number. I see it as a kind of IM (MSN, ICQ) grown-up at this point in time.I think what these applications will do is drive the business vendors to push forward and up their game. I believe that many of the main business vendor solutions are poor… I could use the old term of ‘flakey’.The issue in my opinion is that you have traditional telephony vendors and their bods/developers trying to map their traditional solutions to IP/Operating system and at the moment and (in general) they are failing.. ‘some’ of their resellers/vars may also be somewhat to blame as they just don’t get IP and the related technologies (not really)… I know that some do and they do a good job with what they have to work with.
I think we are 3-5 years away from serious and reliable solutions that are purely internet based. Why are Skype and its peers working? It’s probably because they are starting from scratch (somewhat)… using IP and new technologies first, rather than trying to map old solutions to a new medium.What’s the answer? A bold vendor with true business solutions stepping out and re-writing their systems, rather than trying to port them.The older and true business telephony providers do have the upper hand with the business market. They understand the beast, they work somewhat and in their own markets… What about SME? This market is the biggest and the one at the biggest risk… It’s easier for the new competition to steal this business and push into enterprise than it is the other way round.If I was working for a customer and had to choose a vendor – chances are I’d pick one of the major business vendors at this point in time… Could I be swayed? At the moment, probably not… But the risk is there.This is just my opinion from what I see in the small and mid-range market.