IS wrestles telephony

Deploying IP telephony often generates a struggle for power and jobs

By Stephen Lawton

When network managers run data networks and facilities managers handle building infrastructure and telephone systems, job responsibilities and disciplines are clear. But today those lines are blurring. A former IS or facilities manager--or several managers from different backgrounds--might now be responsible for a converged network in which voice and data share the same wires and telephone carrier.

As CTI (computer telephony integration) becomes more common, the responsibility to manage data and voice networksis becoming a point of contention. Power and job security are at stake.

The two sides in this tussle come from disciplines that emphasize contrasting priorities. Uptime is paramount for phone systems, for instance, but flexibility and innovation are key in getting the most out of data networks. (For more on these cultural differences, see "CTI forces tech transfer," Jan. 5, Page 29.)

"If a data network is up 99 percent of the time, that's great. If the telephone network is up 99 percent of the time, it stinks," says Blair Pleasant, director of communications analysis for The PELORUS Group, a consultancy in Raritan, N.J.

As the two network types converge, user organizations must decide how to combine the practices of each--or which one should dominate. At this early stage, decisions appear to cross a spectrum of choices.

Taking the data side
Although he has a telephony background, Jeff Pulver, president of Pulver.com, a consultancy in Great Neck, N.Y., and chairman of the Voice on the Net Coalition--a nonprofit organization that promotes Internet telephony technology and advocates it to federal regulators--expects IS personnel to gain control of converged networks at the expense of the telephony staff. This is mainly because IS is already in charge of the digital data networks that will be the basis of the converged network.

Pulver says that as IS managers gain more control over the corporate infrastructure, the power base within the company will shift from facilities to IS.

During the period when many telephony managers' jobs are phased out, numerous companies will experience chaos while data-oriented engineers learn telephony, according to Pulver, but ultimately networks will improve because they will be more reliable than today's data networks and cost less by being a single entity.

Additionally, with the new services that a converged network can provide, it will offer "a value-add you just can't get today," says Pulver. Such services include making voice calls and sending faxes over the Internet, as well as running an office telephone system through an Ethernet data network.

Steven Finch, director of IT services for the Kansas City School District in Kansas City, Mo., heads the district's CTI operations and has managed network administrators who come from both telecom and data backgrounds. He says it's easier to train data staff on voice technology than vice versa because telephone installers and wiring specialists who know low-voltage wiring generally have a tough transition to programming, which requires a different kind of logical thought. But in many cases, Finch says, managers need to be trained on routers and gateways regardless of their backgrounds.

Responsible for approximately 16,000 PCs and 4,000 telephones at the district's 83 sites, Finch also has experience in facilities management. The key to making a smooth transition to a converged network, he says, is to define company goals clearly and explain how to best prepare employees for the convergence and cross-train them.

"There's no discussion as to whether this is a voice or data network--it's just the network," Finch says.

The voice vote
In contrast, Terry Thetford, facilities manager at Healthfirst Medical Group in Portland, Ore., favors having a telecom/facilities manager run a converged network.

"The data group doesn't know what it means to drop calls," he says. "They don't understand project management like facility guys do. They don't provide the [necessary] service level, such as for moves, adds, and changes."

Facilities managers demand that the network be up all the time, but data managers are accustomed to network downtime. That's why Healthfirst brought the telecommunications expertise in-house, Thetford says.

Telephony staff are more experienced with both analog and digital networks, so they have an easier time learning data networks than data people who only know digital networks. According to Thetford, the cross-training telephony managers already have is superior to the strictly digital training of data managers. So telephony managers--with their joint analog/digital perspective--have the initial edge in running convergednetworks.

Both Finch and Thetford say that training is important to a successful network transition, but Thetford cautions that resellers do not have the time or motivation to train data managers in telephony issues unless their customer is "so big that you make it [a contractual] part of your conversion."

To bypass training and other issues, Cindi Williamson, network administrator at TexasBank in Weatherford, Texas, works with two managers who run the data and voice networks separately, but they cooperate on joint services. The bank uses a MICOM Communications Corp. V/IP phone/fax IP gateway for its interactivevoice response (IVR) phone bankingsystem.

Williamson, who has a background in data networks, says that by having her telecommunications manager work with Southwestern Bell, the local phone company, many potential communications problems are eliminated.

Craig Lantagne, operations senior vice president at Passumpsic Savings Bank in St. Johnsbury, Vt., agrees that communicating with the telephone company is critical. Like TexasBank, Passumpsic uses its voice/data network for IVR.

Because it has a small communications staff, the bank uses Network Services Inc. of Burlington, Vt., as a go-between with the phone company. "Network Services talks the same language we talk [from a data perspective]," Lantagne says, adding that the bank has used the agent for four years. "They know the [telephony] terms. They can talk circuits [with the telco]."

The Kansas City School District also has contractors for many of its telecommunications services. Siemens Business Communications Systems Inc. handles moves, adds, and changes, and network monitoring and training for the district.

Finch also says that internal expertise is not always required. The main reason for running a converged network, he says, is to get "much more bandwidth for less money."

Or not at all
Over the last 25 years, Passumpsic's Lantagne has been involved in a number of data conversions at the bank, but this one is unlike any other. "This conversion has been headache-free," he says. "I've been waiting for months for the other shoe to drop. It hasn't."

In this emerging market, however, not all conversions are so easy, and some fail completely.

Planning the backbone
California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, Calif., for example, signed a $3.3 million agreement with Ericsson Enterprise Networks to unify the school's voice and data networks. After the telecom provider built a converged network, data professionals would run it. James Feld, coordinator of network administration, was assigned to implement and oversee the process.

The goal, Feld says, was to build an ATM backbone on which the same fiber strands would handle all services for 8,000 computers and 6,000 telephones. Over this backbone, the university would run voice, data, and video. It was not until the initial stages of building the "converged" network that he discovered Ericsson had actually planned to build parallel networks over separate fiber strands.

Eventually the contract was canceled, Feld says, because "Ericsson integrated only parts [of the network] and required duplication of all equipment."

After analyzing the bids from the four finalists--Ericsson, Lucent Technologies Inc., Northern Telecom Ltd., and Fujitsu Business Communication Systems Inc.--Feld determined that all of them essentially called for separate voice and data networks with at least some duplication of hardware. "None could do true voice/data integration," he says.

Instead, Feld plans to use his existing ATM backbone to integrate data and video; voice will continue to run over a separate network. "It's not perfect, but it's do-able," he says.

If there was any question as to who eventually would own a converged network at Cal Poly, Feld had an answer: "There is no way I'd allow a PBX company to come in and take over the data network. I'm convinced that integration is a long way off."

 


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