Your enterprise is installing a new telephony system. This means training, and lots of it—right? Well, that depends. As telephony systems evolve, and the distinction between telephony and data blurs, training requirements actually diminish. At least, that’s the word from Shoreline Teleworks , a Sunnyvale, CA, company that provides IP-based voice communication systems for distributed mid-sized enterprises.

Making the switch
How hard is it for an administrator to switch from a traditional voice system to an IP-based one?

“Unbelievably simple,” says Gary Moody, Shoreline’s vice president for customer operations. “From an administration perspective, we’ve taken what is typically a two- to three-week training exercise to get someone to understand simple commands like adding a user, moving a user…to a point-and-click configuration.”

“Because our system operates more like things in the IT world, it’s much easier for the network administrator to get in and tool around with it, because it looks and operates in a familiar way,” says Bill Quinn, director of Shoreline’s corporate communications. “The voice service is based on an NT platform. So those guys are already all over that. And the desktop part of it is just like any other application.”

The Shoreline system consists of ShoreWare server and client software, and the ShoreGear IPBX voice switch family. The system is administered with the ShoreWare Director software. Both the administration software and the desktop client software, which lets users manage their calls and voice mail, feature Windows-based graphical user interfaces (GUIs).

According to Moody, his company can train an administrator simply by walking that person through the process of creating the user database. Depending on the package the enterprise purchases, a Shoreline tech may or may not be on-site for the installation. Shoreline’s Install Lite package provides “remote project management to guide people through the process,” Moody says. “We require remote access to their server. As such, we can go through a training exercise with them as they’re beginning to build their database. We can actually be online with them while they’re doing it.”

Building training into the product
“Typically, in the telephony world, you look at delivering about 80 percent of your competency through formal lab training,” says Moody. “The next 20 percent usually occurs after you’ve gone through the training and you really don’t remember a whole lot; then it’s the wait-in-queue strategy where you wait for somebody in technical support to help you with something. Our vision is to take that 80 percent of formal classroom and leverage the technology to be able to deliver that competency.”

In line with that philosophy, end-user training consists mostly of wizards built into the product, as well as print-based scripts that walk end users through various processes, such as placing a call through the GUI.

Of course, issues can crop up when integrating telephony with existing data systems. “It’s typically an issue of putting the product within their network and working out some of the kinks within their current environment,” Moody says. “As an example, we require DHCP to manage the IP addressing. Depending on how you’ve got that set up…sometimes you can use a dynamic IP string where you can continue to change your IP addressing and it doesn’t create any problem. Within our product, the IP address of the particular voice switch needs to stay constant. And that is typically where we find opportunities to work through” with the network administrator.

Leveraging managed services
Quinn and Moody are both high on their product, but IP-based telephony is far from standard yet. Meanwhile, more traditional telephony vendors—and telephony training—abound. UniDial , a Louisville, KY, telephony company, provides managed services to its customers. “We’ll work with our systems integrators and our partners to provide [the customer’s] phone systems, their data systems, and their data CT and hardware,” explains Tony Hunt, director of training. “We’ll not only manage their network piece, but we’ll also assist in the management of their phone systems and their data systems, pretty much from the network piece all the way through the hardware. When it hits the server, that’s where we rely on them internally to take over.”

Because companies can outsource so much of the work to UniDial, training tends to focus on selected areas within the enterprise. For instance, one of the top priorities is to train the enterprise’s controller on Call Vision, UniDial’s billing information package. “We work with them on not only how to set it up and run it, but how they can utilize the reports to manipulate data to understand more about their calling patterns—where their calls are going to, where their calls are coming from, understanding cost centers inside the organization,” Hunt says.

The line tends to blur between user training on specific products and services and a broader-based user education. Running down his list of training demands, Hunt says, “On the phone system side it’s ‘How is their phone system going to interact with our network piece?’ And on the MIS and CIO side, it’s how to educate them to more efficiently manage their data transmission between locations, and/or the development of Internet applications, utilizing specialty things like Web sites and extranet sites to help them better manage and market their business.”

But back to basics: How does UniDial deliver its training? Most of the training on the billing system is done via CD-ROM; other than that, training materials tend to come in printed format, Hunt says. UniDial provides classroom training to its corporate partners but not to customers. Next year, the company plans to improve its training system by presenting most materials on an extranet. With that system, the customer will have 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week access to training and support

Katy Yocom is a freelance writer based in Louisville, KY. Prior to launching her solo career, she worked in the computer publishing industry and has a large collection of T-shirts to show for it.