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Phone System Buyer’s Guide

Things You Need to Consider Before Deployment

There are a large number of business phone system options available on the market today. Traditional PBXs continue to rule large established organizations, but the playing field also has other various solutions which often come with confusing terms like VoIP, cloud-based, hybrid and hosted. 

The right phone system is an asset which not only delivers tangible returns on investment (e.g., lower operating costs) but also boosts productivity and collaboration which are intangible assets of a team. On average, businesses change phone systems only once every seven years. So it is a long-term investment and because of the interactive nature of today’s businesses, one that is fundamental to the operational strategy of the company. With all this said, it is extremely important that companies spend a lot of time to investigate the potential options and deliberate over the right questions to ask, in order to shortlist the best vendors and platforms.

DEFINING THE SCOPE

What are the events triggering the decision to buy the phone system?

The events which motivate companies to consider new installations, are generally called “Business Drivers.” It is important to consider the “why” behind a long-term investment like a phone system so that down the line, the return on investment can be measured against reasonable expectations. Some common business drivers are:

  • Operational Needs: Adding an office, shifting to a new building, recruiting new employees, these are all operational needs, materializing as a consequence of business activities. Under such circumstances a new phone system needs to be the ideal solution to the issues arising from the operational needs. For example, if a company is expanding rapidly, a key feature of the system needs to be easy and cost-effective scalability.
  • Technological Advancements: Sometimes a legacy system is no longer a viable choice because of technological advancements, as vendors may withdraw support for certain obsolete models. Under such circumstances, it is very important to ensure that the new system has all the latest features to give the company the needed competitive edge and also the robustness to remain adequate for at least five to seven years. For example a business that is rapidly expanding to newer markets may require many new features, like ‘find me, follow me’ and the ‘auto-attendant’ to competently handle larger call volumes and encourage shorter resolution times.

Once the triggering event is clearly defined, the whole approach of the buyer changes. Evaluating a solution becomes either ‘finding the best fit’ or ‘focusing on specific features’. Each approach further shapes cost, timeline and deployment project constraints.

What are the specific requirements of the business?

Every business has specific requirements and improvements it expects out of a new phone system. If the previous consideration has been properly investigated, by now prospective buyers should either have specific desirable features or the address pressing issues. The next step entails understanding employee needs and asking the right questions.

It is a good practice to hold small focus group conversations with business employees who will use the phone system on a regular basis, especially if the triggering event is a technological advancement. If the cornerstone of a business is nurturing repeat clients, a phone system with easy integration to CRM is the right choice. However if the company in question thrives from new sales, it may be a better to choose the ‘group hunt’ feature that allows an incoming call to ping several connections simultaneously to find the first available representative. If the triggering event is more tactical or strategic in nature, a focus group with the management is needed.

What are the ‘premium’ features the business needs?

With new vendors emerging all over the market, innovation is the name of the game. Identifying the basic system features is rarely enough. These essential features are recommended by employees and other business stakeholders, who may not even be aware of the latest, cutting edge value-add features available for deployment.

Businesses may call in communication technology consultants and specialists to evaluate the features list and identify “premium” additions that benefit the company. According to Charter Business, the most popular advanced features required are:

  1. Unified Communications (UC) or the ability to transcend VoIP and knit instant messaging, video conferencing, mobility and collaboration capabilities seamlessly.
  2. Selective Forwarding or the ability to forward incoming calls to different nodes depending on the schedule of the representatives and the identity of the caller.
  3. Auto Callback or the ability to continuously call a busy number without redialing.
  4. Voicemail and Fax to Email which is revolutionizing not only communication AND project management by allowing all resources pertaining to a particular client to reside in one virtual location.
  5. Auto-Attendant which is the most dominant call center trend of 2015, in line with the growing popularity of effective self-service.

What are the possible calling patterns for your business?

This is a specific consideration which is necessary to identify the business’s calling patterns and trends before shortlisting vendors. If the business is global, it is reasonable to assume a large number of international calls will be made. Local businesses are more reliant on short distance voice conversations. 
Not only do different vendors have different call charge plans, the whole operation model of the phone system may also be influenced by calling patterns. Depending on these patterns a business may want to choose a system with features and functionality designed to specifically create savings and other efficiencies on long-distance and international calls.

PRE and POST DEPLOYMENT DECISIONS

Some businesses prefer selecting a vendor and then proceeding to the pre- and post-deployment considerations. This is a big mistake. The assessment of certain pre- and post-deployment considerations generally ends up changing (sometimes considerably) the definition of the support required from the vendor (and ultimately the cost) to set the project rolling as well as to maintain the system annually in the future.

Will the present infrastructure support the new system?

This may seem like an obvious consideration, but one that is not always investigated properly.

Prospective buyers should start out by evaluating:

  • The hardware present in the office. If a legacy system is being replaced with a VoIP, then IP phones and newer-generation switching equipment are often required.
  • Cabling and wiring infrastructure. Cabling and wiring are particularly important if a new on-premises system is being installed in an old building. During phone system deployments many companies discover that their cabling is inadequate or worse, that they have potentially dangerous wiring. This is an expensive and time consuming delay which needs to be contended with before the actual implementation begins.

What are the possible 3rd party software updates needed?

Many businesses these days have a CRM, a marketing automation platform and an ERP in place. To provide leads and prospects with a positive experience, it is imperative to integrate these systems and the phone system (including contact centers) together. The platform being purchased should ideally connect to existing databases and systems. If the phone system is more important and maintenance intensive (like an on-premises model), then it may be a good idea to swap CRM or Marketing Automation vendors in favor of ones which do have available APIs to take advantage of.

What training and support is provided by the vendors?

Training and support are two fundamental requirements both during and after deployment. Oftentimes, these factors can sway the favor of or against a particular vendor. The best vendors offer training sessions to improve adoption upon roll out. They will also offer free on-line training tools for end users and a post-installation period of support for IT or system admin staff. If not, your in-house team may be left grappling with the bulk of responsibility for user training and orientation.

This list is just a brief look at some of the more important factors to be considered before purchasing a phone system. Prospective buyers should chose a vendor only after considering these and other key business requirements then proceed with the final round of negotiations.

What is the estimated total cost of ownership (TCO)?

The total cost of ownership is simply a measure of what the technology and systems of a company will cost to own, manage and operate over the life of the system. But TCO is vitally important when comparing phone systems and unified communication solutions because it allows companies to evaluate competing services on an equal level. A solution with a low TCO can create significant cost advantages in implementation, training, system maintenance and day-to-day management. When you combine a seven year life expectancy with increased system complexity requiring greater support and management, TCO is an extremely important factor to consider than ever before.

If you are ready to connect with someone who can help you get started with choosing a new business phone system, contact our ShoreTel Solutions Account Team about a VoIP Readiness Assessment for your organization. You can get the answers to all your questions about installation, management, expansion, ease of use, IT impact and total cost of ownership.

Resources

Is Your Network Ready For IP Telephony?
Mobility: Unified Communications on Smartphones
Phone System Buyer's Guide
ShoreTel IP Phone Training for End-Users
Signs You Need a New Phone System
The Changing Role of Mobile Communications
Unified Communications: A Guide for Small Businesses

Phone System Buyer’s Guide