Small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) have been steadily adopting VoIP as their go-to telephony solution. Lower costs and simpler set-ups, combined with rapidly improving technology, are driving droves of decision-makers to VoIP.
But it can be unclear, or downright confusing, to the time-stressed and money-strained SMB owner what they should be looking for when it comes to VoIP.
We’ve been working with telephony for 2 decades. We’ve partnered with leading VoIP manufacturers like Cisco and Polycom. We’ve trained with them, and we’ve witnessed VoIP take hold. We’ve helped numerous SMBs in our community adopt the technology. We’ve heard the good stories.
Are you a small-to-midsize business contemplating switching to VoIP?
Let us help you.
VoIP for SMBs
When you’re going through the decision-making process, here are 7 important questions to answer.
1. Do you want on-premise or hosted VoIP?
VoIP, like a traditional enterprise phone system, runs through a private branch exchange (PBX). A PBX connects your phones to the public telephone network and controls internal connections. VoIP systems uses an IP-PBX, which is essentially the same thing, except it works by using the TCP/IP protocol stack to connect your calls.
IP-PBX’s can be broken down into two categories: on-premise and hosted.
On-premise means you own the PBX that’s doing the signaling and other activities over your network. The advantages of on-premise VoIP are related to control and long-term costs. Although on-premise VoIP systems will cost more up-front, they have the potential to cost less in the long term than choosing a subscription-based solution. Also, by owning your PBX, you’ll be able to tweak the settings to optimize your system. You won’t have to rely on what other people think you need.
Hosted means your service provider controls the PBX, and can be compared with cloud storage. It works through a subscription or leasing system. A host often has more robust equipment than an SMB can afford, which is advantageous for you, and could open up services that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Also, you won’t have to worry about dealing with configuring your system, and have the potential for scalability without adding greatly to costs. However, you will be reliant upon the whims of your contract with another company.
Choosing hosted or on-premise VoIP is the most important decision you face.
2. Are there additional features that can benefit your business?
Because VoIP is a telephone that is integrated with your computer network, manufacturers have expanded what a telephone means. For instance, investing in a desktop video phone might be a good way to kill two birds with one stone: you not only get a phone, but you get a video conferencing device as well. There are many additional features to look for. Here are only a few:
- Bluetooth for wireless connectivity.
- Android operating system for expanded line of apps.
- Noise cancellation for increased call-quality.
- Auto attendant for menu-driven triage.
- Conferencing tools for controlling multi-party conversations.
Vendors offer many other features. We recommend that you jot down a list of the 3-5 most important use-cases that you want your phone system to fulfill. With such a list, you’ll know precisely what features to ask about when shopping.
If you’re uncertain about what feature fulfills a particular use-case, get in touch with us at (262) 717-0037 or (800) 891-3388 and one of our certified engineers will consult with you.
3. How does your VoIP system integrate mobile devices?
Note that we didn’t write this question, “Does your VoIP system incorporate mobile devices?” but “How does…”
Smartphones are taking over the world. When shopping today, you must be aware of how the various phone systems your employees are going to use work with your phone system. Chances are very likely now that your employees will expect to use their own smartphone, part of what’s been labelled BYOD or bring-your-own-device culture.
VoIP has a real advantage over traditional phone systems in this regard: they can be integrated with smartphones. You might, for instance, set up automatic forwarding of calls from your workphone to your cell phone when you’re not at your workstation.
More importantly, you might be able to install apps or programs such as Skype for Business on both workstations and phones, keeping everyone in the loop, making your phone part of your content-sharing ecosystem.
The key to modern business is communication. Don’t put your phones in a silo.
4. Can your network support a VoIP deployment?
You need highspeed internet to use VoIP. By now, most businesses in the US have access to highspeed internet, so you should be covered. And VoIP is not nearly so resource-intensive a technology as, say, video conferencing.
That said, optimizing your network for VoIP is something to consider strongly. We’ve been called many times by people whose machines aren’t working as well as they could be, or at all, only to discover it’s a problem with their network.
Network solutions can be a bit complicated. In the coming weeks, we’ll be putting out a blog post dedicated to optimizing your network for VoIP.
Look out for it!
5. Will your VoIP system be scalable as your business progresses?
If everything goes according to plan, your new phones will help you grow your business. You’ll be connecting not only with clients, but more importantly with each other. Your employees will be working together; your work will be collaborative, creative, and best of all complete.
But what happens if you’re, well, too successful? If you outgrow your phone network?
Thankfully, you can start thinking about this from the very beginning. It’s the same deal that we tell our cabling customers: don’t just install what you need today. Think of next year, or three years from now. Installing a flexible, scalable phone system today saves many, many headaches down the road.
Plumping for a solution that only fits your needs right now and not where you want to be leaves you vulnerable to needing to scramble for new solutions just after you’ve solved your initial deployment problems.
To this extent, you might decide to go with a cloud-based solution, since you won’t be relying on expensive up-front payments to secure the necessary equipment.
6. What support does the manufacturer provide?
Make sure that you go over in detail what your VoIP vendor provides in terms of support.
Do they offer a strong warranty? Are there warranty-authorized repair companies like TriTech in your location? Is their software updated regularly to prevent attacks and open new capabilities?
For instance, if you decide to go with a cloud-based VoIP solution, what are the terms and limitations of what they give you. Will it be prohibitively expensive if your company needs to expand?
This is where on-premise solutions shine, because you only have the hardware and software level to really worry about. If you install everything properly and treat your equipment well, if your manufacturer offers strong support, you’ll be covered for the lifetime of your deployment.
7. Do you and your team like the UI/UX?
Finally, you need to ask: Do you like this system? Does it look nice? Is it intuitive? This might seem like a trifle, but when you are implementing a new technological system, design can smooth the transition greatly.
Systems that make little sense to you will likely make little sense to your employees. Systems that you can adopt easily will go over with your employees much, much better.
You might also consider providing extensive training to your employees, rather than setting them free with technology that they might not be able to understand immediately. Recent studies have shown that lack of training increases dissatisfaction with technological office solutions. Make sure your company doesn’t fall into that trap.