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Developing a voice portal solution is more complex than just putting the pieces together. Service providers need to focus on their business: customer acquisition and branding, not on technology. Time-to-market is everything, and getting to market quickly requires working with an experienced partner who understands both the technology and the requirements of competitive service providers. And needs change at Internet speed. Service providers and developers look toward suppliers who are flexible and offer a choice of open, standards-based building blocks. This provides maximum flexibility.

Another factor often overlooked is the importance of support, training, and consulting services. These serviceswhich allow faster development and deployment of voice portal servicesare an integral part of a whole product offering. Although many vendors say they offer consulting services, it's important to evaluate just how robust these services are before choosing a partner.

A service provider has three major options for deploying a voice portal solution:
1. Build and deploy the solution themselves
2. Purchase a system from a solutions provider
3. Have their service hosted

No matter which path a service provider follows, the following criteria are important to consider when considering a system and vendor:
Does the solution consist of components built to open standards?
Is it scalable?
Is there a clear and definable growth path?
Is there adequate flexibility in the platform to add/modify service offerings?
Does the vendor provide adequate support?
Is training available?
How robust are the consulting services offered by the vendor for system planning, design, and deployment?

Build It
Today, many service providers choose to buy all of the components of a voice portal solution (including voice boards, network interface, software development tools, applications platforms, and the necessary computing hardware) and build it themselves.

One option is to purchase the hardware components separately, integrate the platform and develop the application. Alternatively, they might choose to take advantage of a new level of building blocka fully integrated "application-ready platform". This is a preconfigured server platform that contains all the necessary voice hardware on which they can base their service.

In either of these situations, training and the professional services will help them put the solution together more quickly and easily and without the need to retain specialized developmental resources in-house.
Building solutions can be advantageous for the service provider because it provides ultimate control of cost models and configuration flexibility. The service provider can negotiate best price for components based on volume and control all the options in the delivered solution. Many times this approach is required to meet the requirements of a diverse customer base.

However, building your own solution can also have drawbacks. Fundamentally, the challenge of integrating these components is not for everyone. The cost of acquiring the integration expertise and maintaining that talent across customer segments is significant, especially when it is not part of the core business.

Buy It
Since a building solution is not for everyone, there are many choices available to the service provider who wants to focus on the delivery and leave the integration to someone else. As the market for voice portals matures, service providers will be able to choose among a variety of voice portal developers who already provide leading-edge applications. Examples include Web access, unified messaging, or virtual private assistants.

When evaluating sources for a complete solution, service providers should look for vendors that can provide all of the components stated above (voice boards, network interface, software development tools, applications platforms), plus the required computing hardware bundled in a single solution. By doing this, the voice portal solution can be readily packaged, branded and distributed in large quantity. In addition, individual hardware components can be optimized for a specific configuration, providing reliability and bulletproof operation. The applications that reside on such tightly integrated platforms can be turnkey products or tool kits that provide a ready means for making modifications.

On the data side, the Internet "ecosystem" has evolved to a model where space, hardware, and event content can be hosted by one or more third parties. The voice portal market is moving in the same direction.
A fully managed hosting solution provides the advantages of a bandwidth-rich environment that is built and monitored to ensure mission-critical reliability. Service providers can deploy solutions almost immediately. They do not have to manage any hardware or bandwidth. Instead of focusing on the technology, service providers can focus on their business. In addition to dramatically decreasing time-to-market, outsourcing offers scale and expertise, while allowing providers of voice portal services to concentrate on their business, rather than on technology.

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