As a growing business, your communications system is the life blood of your organization, enabling customers to reach you for sales, service, and other issues. When you find that it’s time to replace an aging phone system or purchase a new one, you have lots of decisions to make, with a range of options to choose from. How do you get started? What type of solution makes the most sense for your organization? What features and capabilities do you need? Which vendor or provider should you work with? There have never been as many options as today, so understanding the alternatives and making intelligent decisions is crucial.VoIP or TDM – The Tide Has Turned
To start, it helps to have a basic understanding of the differences between Voice over IP (VoIP) solutions, and the more traditional TDM solutions based on the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Most phone systems and services today are VoIP- or IP-based, as they are more cost effective, flexible, and offer advanced features that traditional systems can’t provide. While there are still some companies that want to stick with analog systems or PSTN-based services, the tide has turned and IP systems and services have prevailed. In fact, many service providers are turning off their legacy phone switches, and completely transition to the more advanced VoIP services.
Cloud or Premise – The Tide is Turning
There are essentially two options for communication systems today - cloud-based or on-premise solutions. In the past few years, cloud-based services have seen tremendous growth, as companies recognize the many benefits that they provide. Cloud services offer many advantages over traditional premise-based solutions, including reduced complexity, lower operational overhead, and minimized IT requirements, These services are generally much simpler for organizations to deploy and manage, as they don’t require special facilities, servers, ongoing maintenance and upgrades, and capacity planning associated with their premise-based counterparts.
When deciding between cloud and premise-based offerings, ask yourself the following:
- Do you have a limited or small IT staff?
- Do you want to move from a capex model to an opex model and pay on a monthly basis rather than upfront?
- Do you have a distributed workforce, with remote and mobile workers or need to connect branch offices?
- Do have flexible staffing requirements and need to add or remove users based on seasonal fluctuations or other reasons?
- Do you want to have predictable operating costs based on a monthly service fee?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then a cloud service makes the most sense. With a cloud solution, the service can be available quickly and easily, without having to install and implement servers. Users can have a solution up and working in hours, rather than months. There are little or no capital expenditures, and companies only pay for the services needed for the end users on the system, and can scale up or down as needed, paying only for what you need at the time. Also, redundancy and disaster recovery plans are typically included in the base monthly service. Cloud offerings are particularly attractive to companies that may not have a large or dedicated IT staff. In addition, new locations and users can be turned up as needed, without impacting the company’s IT staff.
Features and Capabilities – Move Up to UC
Both premise and cloud solutions offer a variety of capabilities and features. When deciding what features you need, think strategically by identifying your goals and what you are trying to accomplish, as the capabilities you want will differ based on this. Getting a new communication system or service is an opportunity to deploy new unified communication (UC) capabilities that were previously out of reach. UC services bring together multiple communications capabilities, including telephony, unified messaging, instant messaging, presence, conferencing, collaboration, and mobility, using a unified interface that is accessible from almost any desktop or mobile device. Rather than simply replacing an old phone system for a new phone system, use this occasion to provide enhanced capabilities that make your workers more productive and effective at their jobs, while improving business processes and helping to increase revenues. While many of these features were previously out of reach and cost prohibitive to SMBs and growing businesses, they are now easily accessible and cost effective through the cloud.
Talk to your workers and find out what capabilities and tools they need to help them be more effective at their jobs. Some will need mobile capabilities such as find me/follow me or single number reach, while others will need collaboration capabilities such as audio and web conferencing. Involve end users from different parts of your organization, such as sales, marketing, manufacturing, etc. in the process - the more information you have, the easier it is to avoid potential problems.
When getting started, it’s helpful to involve the right people in the process to ensure successful deployment. Form sponsorship teams, including a project leader to champion the UC project, help evangelize it and get all the buy-in and approvals.
Vendor Selection – Focus is Important
Lastly, select a vendor. While some organizations see this as the first step, it’s important to identify what type of solution best meets your needs, and then select a vendor that provides the type of service and capabilities you require. Look for a vendor that will provide the training and support needed, while offering the capabilities you’re looking for at an appropriate price point. If you’re a small or midsize business, look for a vendor that focuses on SMBs and understands your needs, while providing the capabilities you need today and as you grow.
Embrace the Opportunity!
When it becomes time to replace your aging phone system or get a new one, you have many decisions to make and options to choose from. Embrace the opportunity to go beyond basic calling functionality, to new cloud-based enhanced unified communications capabilities that provide cost-effective advanced capabilities, while enabling you to focus on and grow your business.