8 Considerations for Choosing a Business VoIP Phone System
Communication is essential for any business in order to connect with its customers, prospects and suppliers etc, no matter what industry they operate in. For many small business owners, switching to and deploying a VoIP system has ranked fairly low on their list of priorities. In the past, business owners simply contacted their local telecoms provider, or System Integrator and followed their advice or recommendations and accepted whatever costs as a part of doing business.
Recently however, many small business owners have discovered that well developed and implemented voice over IP phone systems can greatly improve their core business process efficiencies. Which is great, but there is still a problem - how to choose a VoIP System? With the plethora of VoIP solutions available today, and the multitude of different pricing models, this decision in the vary least be confusing enough to put most people off or at worst seemingly impossible. This is why we have decided to compile a list of the top considerations to help small business evaluate the various VoIP Solutions and enable them to leverage the most out of their VoIP phone system.
1. Reasoning behind transitioning to VoIP?
What are the main motivators behind your VoIP initiative? You need to decide upon the most essential elements of your phone system as this will help you differentiate between certain VoIP PBX providers. The reality is, that most VoIP phone systems are fairly similar, and this is exactly why you need to know which features are of the most importance to you and which are simply “nice to have”. Make a list and compare this list to what your potential supplier offers. For example, features like Auto-Attendant vs IVRs (Interactive Voice Response) (yes - there is a difference) simple voicemail vs voicemail to email, find-me-follow-me functionality, integrated softphone, Call Center functions as well as CRM/ERP system integration all need to be considered and prioritised. The list goes on and on, but for reference purposes, we have highlighted our Top 10 essential VoIP features.
2. Which VoIP system type to choose?
Many providers offer a hosted system at seemingly low costs which can be attractive and may well fit your needs. Word of warning here, should you have 20 + users, it would be advisable to have an on premise system. That does not mean that if you have less than 20 employees a premise based solution is not a viable option, indeed it is, but by answering the proceeding questions, you will better determine which phone system is best for you. Having an on premise system may seem more expensive in terms of initial outlay and therefore less financially attractive, but that can be a rather short term view. In the long run, premise solutions have lower total cost of ownership (TCO) as well as potentially having greater ROI as they provide more flexibility in terms of features you choose to implement and develop, such as CRM or ERP integration.
3. Integration into existing business systems?
One of the most referenced benefits of a Voice over IP phone system is the ability to integrate with your existing business applications, such as your CRM or ERP platforms. If this is a hot priority for you, which it likely is if you are serious about optimising your core operating processes, then this question needs to be answered. A word to wise here; many IP PBX suppliers offer APIs (Application Programming Interfaces - sometimes more simply known as connectors) for certain programmes like Sugar or Salesforce CRM, but others do not. This will obviously affect your ultimate decision, as if a supplier may have everything else you need but not have the appropriate platform connector - which will defeat the objective of many of the other desired features.
4. How will your voice be transmitted?
When choosing a phone system, it is essential that you investigate phone service providers. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because you are buying a VoIP system, you will be able to make VoIP calls automatically. Most VoIP system developers will have partnerships with VoIP providers and it is essential that you make your buying decision with a provider in mind, and ensure the phone system you purchase is compatible with the provider. Another aspect to consider here is whether you will continue to use the PSTN (Public switched Telephone Network - basically traditional Landlines etc) alongside VoIP. The system you choose must be operable with both if this is important for your business requirements.
5. System deployment, support & management
Before making the transition to VoIP you need to answer one very essential question: who will manage the system? This leads into various other questions, such as do you have the personnel with the required IT skills in house, does the vendor provide training, does the vendor provide support services etc. If you do not have the necessary resources in house, then a choosing a vendor who is able to deliver additional services on top is probably the route to follow. Most VoIP system developers will have a network of resellers who can provide these additional services for you, but check that the vendor can fulfil this, either via the reseller or themselves whether it be onsite or remotely (also known as a Managed VoIP Systems). It is also recommended to research the vendor’s support infrastructure - do they have any documentation guides, or offer training in any shape or form as this will more than likely be essential at some point.
6. Can the system grow with your business?
At some point you will undoubtably need to expand your system, whether this be adding a new user, or networking new locations etc. Aspects to consider here include whether there is a maximum number of lines, users or devices. If the system cannot be grown as your company expands then eventually you will have to replace it. Ask for demos, showing you how simply this can be done, also referring back to the point above, check their wiki documentation as to whether these topics are covered and if so, how complex the instructions are. Another important aspect to consider is the upgrade path. Most VoIP phone systems are upgradeable with new features, bug fixes, modifications etc - this is particularly true if the system you are considering is a based on Open Source Software like Asterisk, but you need to uncover whether these are included or incur additional costs and how much these costs actually are. Perhaps more importantly, it is also advisable to find out whether these updates will function on your existing hardware infrastructure or whether you will have to replace your hardware.
7. Find out what your employees want
What use is investing in a system, if it does what you want it to do, but does not help your employees accomplish what they need to do? Find out which features they feel would be useful as well as investigating any current hinderances to your existing work flow processes that could be solved by implementing a VoIP solution. This will allow you to align your employee needs alongside your business needs ensuring that any solution you implement will fulfil all stakeholder objectives, which can only be beneficial for your business.
8. Investigate Total Cost of Ownership
We are all aware of the potentially huge cost savings VoIP phone systems can generate for a business, but it is imperative to look beyond this. Discover the upgrade costs, maintenance costs, new hardware costs, any monthly fees etc. By discovering the TCO of any system you will be better equipped to deal with decisions like hosted vs premise solutions, hardware infrastructure vs virtualisation as well as premise vs managed premise solutions. It is worth considering here, that a customisable solution is more likely to reliably fulfil your needs, are more flexible and scalable - that is why they cost more up front, but in the long run tend have lower total cost of ownership, faster and greater ROI as well as being future proof.
Generally speaking, an on-premise solution such as an IP PBX will provide you with the lowest total cost of ownership as well as providing the flexibility to manage and develop the system internally ensuring it actually meets your needs. That said, cloud solutions, such as ours, offer the same management benefits coupled with additional flexibility when it comes to OPEX pricing. As you may have gathered from this article, there is no substitute for doing your own research, speaking to vendors and discovering how VoIP will work best for your business.
If you are considering transitioning your telephony services to VoIP and would like more information regarding pascom and our Business VoIP solutions, contact us and one of our advisor will be more than happy to help. Alternatively, why try our Free Edition including free life time pascom.cloud hosting?
To find out more about pascom’s VoIP Solution and how we upgrade business communications, please visit our website.