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IP Telephony Development Tools

Kevin Brown describes how the power and flexibility of IP Telephony systems can enhancing the way a company does business.
This article was written for Certification Magazine, April 2004
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IP Telephony Development Tools

A traveler sits in her hotel room at the end of a long day, watching television and getting ready to order room service. She depresses an icon on her phone. This IP phone, with a visual display and touch-screen capabilities, interacts with the hotel room-service application and displays the full menu on her phone. She makes her selections by touching icons, which updates her requests in the hotel database. After making her selections, she depresses another icon and leaves a detailed message asking that they go "light" on the mayo for her sandwich and that they bring extra croutons for the salad. Her voice message is subsequently "attached" electronically to her order.

In the hotel kitchen, the phone rings, goes off-hook and through the speakerphone plays a pre-recorded message indicating that a new room-service order has been placed. The kitchen employees can access the order visually on the phone or on the computer terminal. A minute later, our traveler's phone rings and displays a visual confirmation of her order with expected time of delivery. The options are limitless.

The hotel did not spend valuable dollars on a paper menu. The hotel did not restrict itself from seasonal offerings just because it did not want to print a new menu. The hotel did not have customers "waiting in queue" on the phone to place their order. In all, the customer has a great experience, and the hotel has saved money while providing a better experience to its clientele. Such is the power of IP telephony. This is not a hypothetical concept. This is an example of an application that exists today.

IP telephony deployments are underway worldwide, with companies realizing that convergence applications offer opportunities to achieve key initiatives. The applications are taking front stage as companies begin to understand that the most tangible benefit of a migration to IP telephony—enhancing the way a company does business—remains hidden as long as new IPT-based applications are not embraced.

From this hospitality example to secondary schools, where applications are using IP phones to visually and audibly notify school resources of potentially dangerous situations, "business impact" is the phrase of the day regarding IP telephony.

"How will this technology change the way I do business?" This is the question companies are now asking. While just a couple of years ago, companies were deploying IP telephony because they needed a new phone system, today more and more companies are looking to IP telephony applications to impact strategic objectives beyond the PBX. IP telephony has evolved to the point where these applications are readily available. An impressive suite of development tools is now available to help developers create these new capabilities quickly and cost-effectively.

Aptigen Designer, from Aptigen, is one example. It streamlines and accelerates the IP telephony application process by allowing non-technical staff to dynamically create and maintain applications. Using a simple Windows-based interface, Aptigen Designer lets companies develop and maintain Cisco IP telephony applications without requiring extensive XML knowledge and often without involving a software developer or applications team.

Another example is The Design Studio from Net6. Design Studio is a point-and-click, visual development environment used to transform a companys XML- and HTML-based applications into the proper format for employees or customers using IP telephones or wireless devices. The benefit is that it accomplishes this without a single change to the underlying application. Further, it allows applications to be driven to screen-based IP telephones from virtually any manufacturer. Finally, the NORA bubblet technology from Norstan CDG enables companies to develop customized functionality to enhance the capabilities of the virtual interactive agent, NORA. This enables PC users to have enhanced interaction via voice, video or a number of forms of messaging with other users or information sources, customized for their particular industry or requirement. This is proving to be a cost-effective option for companies looking for a controlled introduction of convergence capabilities without requiring a full-fledged migration to IP telephony.

It is interesting to note that the IP telephony movement has finally matured to the extent that not only are applications widely available, but the tools to develop these applications quickly and easily are just as common. This fact, along with a market that continues to vote with its purchasing dollars, tells us that IP telephony is going to be here for a long time and that the market's expectations have been raised beyond just placing phone calls.

Kevin Brown is the author of IP Telephony Unveiled, published in January 2004 by Cisco Press (www.ciscopress.com). He is the vice president of professional services for Norstan, leading its client IP telephony strategies. Formerly with Selsius Systems and the IPT (IP Telephony) Market Development Group with Cisco Systems, Kevin has more than 20 years of experience with PBX, data and IPT markets.

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