Posted: 19 Dec 2018 12:00 AM PST
It doesn't really matter what your company is using for a phone system right now because at some point you're going to need to find something that will scale to support your growing business. A more advanced cloud phone and Private Branch Exchange (PBX) provider will offer fancier features and a path to Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS). It will also provide better performance for a growing number of users, heightened security, and more thorough call accounting and reporting capabilities so you'll have a much better idea of what you're spending and where.
As we discussed in last week's column, your first consideration needs to be whether you want a phone system in the cloud or in your building. There are a number of reasons to choose one over the other, but in general, cloud-based phone systems have a lower upfront cost and are much more agile if your company's communications needs suddenly change or your users want to adopt a new, cutting-edge set of features. That said, in-house phone systems have a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) and potentially better security.
But that's only the beginning. While you might just sign up with a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) provider and make do with whatever features it offers, it's probably a better idea to decide what you want the phone system to do, how you want it to interact with your existing business, and what features you think are necessary. To do that, you'll need to sit down with not only your senior leadership team, but also the business' frontline managers to determine exactly how your current phone system is being used. That's the only safe way to discover what features your workers absolutely need to keep and where there's room for improvement and new technology.
With that in mind, the following are 10 considerations and knowledge points you'll need to cover when choosing any new phone system:
You'll notice that I haven't discussed these factors in terms of a PBX located on premises or in the cloud because most of the same considerations come into play either way. But it's worth noting that some factors, such as a need for analog phones or heavy fax use, may eliminate a number of options. In its testing of VoIP and UCaaS systems, PCMag has noted that cloud phone providers offer a number of benefits for practically any business, including lower overall costs, a deeper feature set, and integrated communications channels that include not only VoIP phone calls but also video conferencing, texting, and online collaboration tools. But, while most businesses can default to such VoIP-based solutions, there are still on-premises PBXes being sold to some organizations, due mainly to custom or legacy software and certain security requirements. That's research about your business you'll need to conduct before making any kind of selection.
A number of IP PBX hardware solutions are based on open-source software, such as Asterisk or FreePBX, which also feature appliances built specifically for them. Others, such as 3CX, support open standards, and there are PBX systems from some of the original proprietary powerhouses, such as Avaya. While these solutions are expensive and certainly don't offer all of the flexibility of a cloud-based system, they're still in business due to legacy customers and those with compliance issues that can't be solved any other way. Check with your legal team to find out where your company falls.
A couple of other things to think about: First, when it comes to the physical handsets your employees will use, you can usually pick the phones you like because nearly all VoIP phones will work on hardware based on the same standard: the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) protocol. However, a few vendors, especially older ones that focus on enterprise customers, still use their own, proprietary versions of SIP, so you'll need to check what your desired phones support before buying.
Last, don't skip the part of the provider's sales literature that talks about professional service offerings and support. As discussed earlier, voice traffic and other streaming communication channels are different animals when compared with managing a straight data-oriented network. You'll be faced with reconfiguring routers, switches, and likely a significant percentage of your apps in order to not only make room for a VoIP system but also make sure your calls retain a minimum level of audio quality. Being able to employ the services of a knowledgeable support staff (at least at the initial deployment stage) can be key when deciding between competing voice providers.
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