Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often are more nimble than their larger counterparts, but one area where SMBs face greater challenges than their larger brethren is when it comes to telephone systems. Technology is changing fast, especially in the telecommunications market; SMBs can get left behind if they don’t take care of preparing their telephone system for the future.
“Many interpret the bring your own device (BYOD) to work phenomena as replacing the need for phone systems. Actually, the reverse it true,” wrote Peter Bernstein in a recent white paper on the topic. “It is not necessarily about replacement but rather augmentation and enhancement.”
Whether because an SMB has maxed out the lines on its current system or because it is looking to upgrade, decision-makers need to both look at what they need now and how the solution will support growth over time. It should be a solution that mitigates the cost of adds, moves and changes, maintenance, electricity, communications network services and IT staffing, according to Bernstein. It also should be able to leverage innovations such as SIP trunking even if the technology is not currently part of the organization’s plan.
Preparation is a vital part in preparing an SMB telephone system for the future. When preparing for a telephone system review, do an inventory of what you have; know the fixed and variable costs, as well as return on investment and total cost of ownership, including on leased lines; learn about all the features available on new phones; determine what set of capabilities for the organization are “must have”; and make a wishlist of features that would be nice to have if the opportunity presents itself.
It also is important to look for case studies and customer references.
“You will need to know not just about reputations but also such things as warranties, and some details about services and support such as the number of certified techs who provide support and how long it takes for the trouble resolution services,” Bernstein advised.
Once prepared, SMB telephone system decision-makers should make sure they look at five key technologies when evaluating phone systems.
The first is whether the solution includes support for analog, digital and IP endpoints. IP-based calling is clearly the wave of the future, but especially with SMB telephone systems it is important that there is a seamless migration path that includes all types of calling.
The second question that should be asked is whether the solution supports mobility – both in-building and cellular. Cell phone usage in business is greater than ever, and the integration between mobile solutions and company phone systems will be an increasingly important interplay in the future.
Support for SIP trunking also is functionality that should be built into an SMB’s telephone solution, whether or not SIP trunking currently is in use. SIP trunking allows VoIP telephony to integrate with a company’s phone system, and it will be absolutely critical for businesses of all types in the future, Bernstein stressed in the white paper.
“You may not need it now, but you absolutely will,” he said. “In fact, it has been estimated that SMBs can save up to 70 percent over the cost of traditional telecommunications services so this is worth investigating.”
A third question to ask is whether the phone solution includes complete support for popular unified communications (UC) and collaboration and business process automation solutions.
Finally, does the solution under consideration allow for call center solutions? A full call center might not currently be used by the SMB, but it is important to have the ability to support multi-channel interactions with customers as necessary.
In addition to making sure to evaluate telephone solutions again the five functionality trends above, SMBs preparing their telephone system for the future also should realize that there are different vehicles available to fit the solutions into an SMB’s budget.
“It is more than likely that a great solution is going to have outstanding ROI and TCO, and may take only a few years to literally pay for itself,” Bernstein noted. “However, in the SMB market, because of the fluidity of SMBs in terms of their growth characteristics and concomitant frequent changes in office locations and the number and locations of remote employees, leasing systems and phones rather than purchase is common.”
He continued, “This is a main attraction of dealing with vendors and their ecosystems that along with great technical solutions and support can offer a lease or lease/purchase plan that fits your needs. It is also a big attraction for looking at the cloud and hosted solutions with an eye toward having the flexibility of adopting as your circumstances change, and technology evolves.”
One dependable vendor – Panasonic (News - Alert) – covers all of the bases by offering all of the absolute “must-haves.” For instance, analog, digital, IP endpoint support, mobility integration, SIP trunking, UC and apps integration, and call center feature capabilities are all found in the Panasonic TDE100.
“The importance of all of the five elements cannot be over-emphasized,” writes Bernstein.
Panasonic will be exhibiting at the ITEXPO West 2012. To be held Oct. 2-5 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, TX, ITEXPO (News - Alert) (News - Alert) offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations.
Edited by Allison Boccamazzo