Shoretel’s CEO, John Combs, presented a keynote address recently at IT Expo West, providing very relevant advice to IT managers and others buying a voice over IP (VOIP) phone system. He used the MAC iPhone as an analogy, to illustrate how new technology can quickly dominate an industry. In the case of a VOIP business phone system, IP technology is poised to dominate correspondingly over existing analog (TDM) systems.
VOIP telephone systems can greatly increase user adaption rates, leading to improved productivity in an organization. An IP phone system allows the collaborative and reach aspects of unified messaging technology. The VOIP telephone system generally includes features such as teleconferencing, unified messaging (voicemail in email), web collaboration, mobile integration (cell phones), presence (to locate employees quickly), instant messaging, video conferencing and business process integration (customer relationship management, sales, accounting, etc.).
What differentiates one vendor’s small business phone systems from another’s? Mr. Combs suggests a a very structured selection process when choosing office telephone systems with VOIP for business. He proposed 8 evaluation criteria to be used by the evaluation team making the choice of a new VOIP business phone system:
- Usability. There must be an onsite demonstration including the exact hardware to be deployed. It is often advisable to have two or more vendors demonstrate side-by-side, or on the other hand to install alternative prototypes at two separate company offices and then exchange systems and locations to find out which one was best.
- Reliability. What is the anticipated failure rate, based on actual deployed systems using Bellcore/Telecordia standards? Mr Combs pointed out that academic failure rates are not sufficient for confidence in deploying a new system. You don’t want to the the “guinea pig” for a vendor’s prototype or Beta testing.
- Availability. Make certain understand the impact of downtime on the business based on the planned configuration. Count the points of failure are there in the vendor’s configuration?
- Scalability. What are the costs should you need to double the planned configuration?
- Architecture. What methodology was used to design the system? Was it well thought out or technology patched together from disparate systems and conflicting architectures?
- Total Cost of Ownership. Most of the time upfront costs (hardware, network and implementation) amount to only 20% of the complete system expense over the system’s lifecycle. Day-to-day costs (training, move/add/change, system management, network and utilities) can amount to 80% over the system lifetime. What is the case with the systems under consideration?
- Vendor Financial Status. Make sure the vendor has a solid balance sheet, or be prepared for support issues should they encounter financial difficulty.
- Vendor References. Your team should contact their industry associates for information relevant to the vendors being considered Did they make a wise decision with this vendor? Do they know of other references? How do actual costs compare to vendor estimates? Is it easy for IT staff to support? What about any “raving fans?”
When evaluating to upgrade small business phone systems, the usual choice is a VOIP business phone system. A careful evaluation of each vendor’s offerings and in particular the presence of “raving fans” for any VOIP business phone system are critical in getting all the benefits of VOIP for business.