Monday, May 26, 2008

Is Business VoIP A "Nice To Have" .... Or A "Must Have"?

If you were considering a new phone system for your office, would VOIP be a "nice to have" or a "must-have" and why?

Answers to questions like this are never EVER simple. Though for me it's not a technology question as there is always a technology solution.

1. What are business outcomes to be achieved?
2. What critical issues?
3. What redundancy do you need in your comms?
4. How critical are your comms to your business?
5. Are you trying to integrate your "phones" into other systems?
6. Are you trying to reduce costs?

... the list goes on ...

There are good and bad technologies in both the keyed, hybrid or IP systems.

You can us IPTel just inside the office and still use a T1 or other PSTN trunk to the outside world, you and use an IP pipe and a gateway.

While the trunking side of IPTelephony is still it's Achilles heel with the right design it can work.

So in the end what is the business problem you are trying to solve .... and once you know that do you have the budget and will you achieve an acceptable ROI. (There are a 1000 different ways in IPTel to show ROI - very few are acceptable to the "bean counters").

I have been down this road with clients many times. Sometimes it's been a 'no brainer' and other times a much more difficult decision.

It comes back to "WHAT IS THE BUSINESS ISSUE"?

I vote for 'must have' for any office. assuming the budget is there. There is no question that VOIP is for real and here to stay. If the budget can't afford it, then a reasonable priced key system is a good option for smaller offices, 20 stations or less.

Now for the why? The primary reason is a VOIP system is software based and not hardware based. Therefore, you are not limited to certain applications or features based upon hardware requirements. The problem with a traditional (digital) key system or PBX is that is it hardware intense. You grow the system by adding station cards and cabinets. "Rack'em and stack'em" they say. Hardware fails, software doesn't.

Implementation should not be a problem if you do your homework first. You MUST perform an on-site network assessment to insure that a VOIP deployment will work. With the network assessment checked off, you can then get back to the features and applications that you want on your phone system.

VoIP versus POTS has more pros then cons when done correctly however, when there are cons, no one wants their mission critical equipment see-sawing

The recurring problem with VoIP is its implementation. Many times it is just wrong from the design phase on up. When its problematic there (beginning) it will be problematic on the install, and people will hate it. When done correctly though, it can be a powerful tool.

Most businesses switch over from POTS to VoIP because they're usually in search of saving money and keeping in tune with technology. The cost savings can be phenomenal and if done correctly from the design implementation, developmental testing phase, etc., as opposed to running out like a deer in headlights at the acronym "VoIP".

I've been involved in deployment of countless systems now. I've seen some beautiful deployments, then I've seen the horrors. As time goes on, things get easier but when things are bad, no one wants a phone system that doesn't function.

VoIP systems are pretty much here to stay, what's happening now is, vendors and providers are etching their marks. Traditional phone systems don't have a fraction of the capabilities that mini computers do. Keep in mind, most VoIP phones are nothing more then mini-computers, e.g., Linux, etc.

Companies love features! It seems many now want to be followed, emailed, Blackberried, etc., and this is something I haven't seen any non VoIP based system do with ease. Outside of this, VoIP systems have an easier mechanism to program them to do the most insane things. Can your POTS go out on the Internet, grab the weather, your stock quotes, a headline and play it back for you via a wake-up call?

An inherent flaw with many providers eager to sell a system is the design phase. Not much attention is given to what the client's network infrastructure is capable of. It's too common to deploy systems blindly and play catch up on the fly. Some companies do not like disclosing their topology....rightly so.

These are the companies that still don't get what VoIP is. The have an idea, but they don't understand things like: This system is not *really* going to play well with NAT. This system is not going to give you the guaranteed 48 calls per data T1 because you never iterated you were going to use tunneling, nor were you going to use g711 codecs, etc. Again, as time goes on, more companies will go the way of VoIP. After all, even CLEC's are pushing VoIP in their backbones now.

VoIP is a "nice to have" because it's not 100% necessary although any big business would be stupid to not go VoIP because of all the cost saving benefits it offers like eliminating calling costs between offices and increased efficiency by integrating with 3rd party applications. So really... for a big business of 100+ I'd say VoIP is a must have. For small business it's a "nice to have" because an IP PBX typically costs more than a key system and a small business will typically not take advantage of the same features a big business would.

I will argue till the sun explodes or until the internet is dramatically improved that running your business voice service over the internet is typically a bad idea for a big business because call quality can not be guaranteed.

Moving a business from a TDM system to an IP PBX typically requires more wiring making the investment in VoIP even greater. You might have wiring already for the computers and although it's a bad idea from a network engineering perspective, you can still daisy chain the computers through the phones and eliminate the need for separate voice cabling... but this I don't recommend.

Another thing.. depending on the size of your business, an IP PBX can be a much better investment than an old key system because of administration. Most phone systems now have very easy administration interfaces allowing even the most non-technical business owner to administer their phone system without having to pay their phone vendor to come in and make the change themselves.

Even for small businesses there are so many cost effective VoIP systems like the Asterisk based Switchvox that even getting an IP PBX can cost less than an old TDM phone system.

This being the case, although VoIP is a "nice to have" why would you not get it? It's like buying a VCR instead of a DVD player.... who in their right mind would do that! Sorry Grandpa....

To make it easier to answer this question specificly for YOUR business ..... take advantage of the no cost assistance available at: Business VoIP

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