VoIP War Rocks Baltimore City Hall

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So it seems that the city of Baltimore came to the same conclusion as more and more enterprises of all sizes have – that switching to VoIP phone service can save lots of money. In the case of the municipal government of Baltimore, the estimate is millions of dollars per year. And that’s cold, hard taxpayer cash, folks.

It would all seem pretty straightforward, except for the fact that the transition to VoIP has sparked an ugly little turf war in the city. In one corner is Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. In the other is Comptroller Joan Pratt. The background is simple: The comptroller’s turf has included the city government’s telephone system going all the way back to the 1940s. Data processing, meanwhile, has been in the mayor’s province.

Rawlings-Blake set off a bomb when she bought 80 VoIP phones, using an existing city data processing purchasing contract. Pratt, who had plans for a VoIP system going out for bid, screamed foul. A few days ago City Solicitor George Nilson ruled that what Rawlings-Blake did was legal. Pratt’s threatened to hire an outside lawyer to review that opinion.

Basically what we have here is what’s emerging throughout the enterprise world (and government is an enterprise for purposes of this analysis). The simple fact is that VoIP rides on the data networks run by data departments. Traditional enterprise telephony departments are being cut out of the loop, and they don’t like it. Indeed its particularly hard for them to explain why the million dollar PBX they bought not that many years ago is no longer needed in this brave new world of the virtual PBX.

But, turf wars aside, what I see as most significant is that all sides agree that VoIP can cut an enterprise’s telephony costs by substantial amounts. And for smaller enterprises, all the way down to the SOHO market, the turf battles at large corporate entities aren’t relevant, since at smaller companies typically the same folk are responsible for voice and data.

Put another way, no matter who wins the turf wars, enterprise VoIP is the real winner.


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