Your phone system is an essential part of keeping your team connected to your customers, and to each other.
In many instances, a phone call is the first (and preferred) form of contact between companies and clients, which makes selecting the right solution crucial for business success.
Today’s phone system technology has advanced at such a rapid pace that the options have increased substantially, making the decision of choosing a solution increasingly more difficult. Add to this the sheer customisation capability of each solution and the options increase…
Whether you’re a small business or large corporation, centrally located or with a distributed workforce, the decision of choosing the correct solution, and from a qualified partner is significant. Finding a partner who works to understand your business will ensure that you get the value you need and deserve.
At its core, a phone system is a phone system – many of them do the same thing, and some will have a few things it does more, or differently.
Phone systems will be built or configured to provide the functionality which is relevant to your specific business, to drive your desired outcomes such as increased productivity, mobility and customer satisfaction.
The question of which one is right for you certainly depends on your company strategy, buying policy, and industry compliance, amongst others.
As we introduce you to VoIP-based phone systems, we acknowledge that there are other solutions and platforms in the market, however, most vendors only sell VoIP-based phone systems which can be supplied in physical form, or as a hosted service. VoIP-based phone systems have been instrumental in enabling new forms of work, such as the support for Work From Home (WFH) and remote call centre agents.
An IP PABX is a common upgrade from a traditional PABX, which is mostly software-driven, provided on a set hardware device from the vendor based on your required configuration. However, in some cases, the software can be provided separately and installed on a standard computer server.
IP PABXs are built and/or licensed according to your requirements, where things like users, with the required functionality are “switched-on” and activated as required.
With IP PABXs you purchase what you need upfront, and may even be able to choose where it could be installed – either onsite at your office onsite, or hosted offsite which is referred to as a private cloud PABX deployment.
Why an IP PABX?
A Hosted PABX or Cloud PABX, is a phone system which is delivered as a hosted service. This is typically where a provider has one “big” PABX which is shared by multiple customers and users.
Typically, Hosted PABX platforms offer everything a business may need, without the hassle and technical complexity involved in owning and managing a dedicated IP PABX.
With Hosted PABX’s you never own anything – you only pay for what you use, as and when you need it. You also needn’t worry about any of the service and upgrade costs as that is usually included in the monthly service fee. Hosted PABX providers help businesses to get connected quickly and easily, and from wherever they are, with their chosen device.
Why a Hosted PABX?
We can’t possibly rule on this one. This is a consultative process, and you should not rush to decide. The right partner will work closely with you to understand more about your business dynamics, vision and strategy, and then guide you to the option that best aligns with this strategy.
Although most businesses prefer to go for hosted platforms, the majority of the market is still using on-premise platforms and many of the mid to large market still find purchasing and managing a dedicated phone system favourable when compared to hosted options.
Connecting users to each other and to the business lines means getting each user a device to use – that can either be choosing from a wide range of VoIP phones, or going the software route by installing a mobile app or PC softphone as supported by your phone system.
Today, there are a variety of pieces in the communications puzzle – text, chat, video conferencing, and, of course, the phone – and these mediums are used everywhere.
No longer is the phone only present in the office and the home – it’s in your pocket with you throughout your day.
One example is a smartphone that can receive calls for multiple numbers, texts, emails, IMs, etc. This same functionality could extend to your tablet or even from a standard web browser, thereby enabling communication from anywhere, practically using any device which is available at the time.
As a base, a mobile app allows employees to make and receive calls through the business phone system using their mobile phone. This is also called mobile VoIP or mVoIP for short. Many phone systems support additional functionality to these mobile apps, such as instant messaging, SMS, video conferencing, and more.
A PC softphone is a software-based phone which is installed on your personal computer. You no longer need a physical handset – rather you communicate through your PC speakers and microphone (best with a headset) and usually comes with packed with additional features and functionality such as video conferencing, team messaging tools, and analytics of recent call activity.
When it comes to “talking” to and engaging stakeholders, we’ve gotten used to using other ways to communicate such as instant messaging and SMS.
Team messaging allows for collaboration spaces – streams where people can engage, share documents and collaborate using dedicated software or their web browsers. As remote work increases, the use of team messaging increases with it.
Video collaboration plays an increasingly important role as the world moves to remote working.
Conferencing brings participants together to collaborate and share content to participants anywhere in the world.
An auto attendant answers and directs calls based on the selection of your callers.
Using an auto attendant is a great way to reduce the load on operators, because it can be used to provide basic information, block spam calls, route calls more efficiently.
Voicemail allows your callers to leave digital messages for you to access by dialing in or receiving your voicemails via email.
Call recording can improve customer service, upgrade employee performance, retrieve missed details and prevent litigation, and better understand customer preferences.
Members can subscribe to extension groups to prevent phones ringing when you’re not around to answer. If you are added to a hunt group, you can answer calls for a team, as well as answering direct calls to your work number.
Telephone management systems are usually additional software systems which collect call information from the phone system and reports on costs and usage, amongst other trends.
A TMS helps reduce telephone abuse, such as extensive private calls and allows for better business planning and budgeting, which ultimately helps you to make better infrastructure decisions.
Pin and Account codes can be used in different ways, usually to control or allocate costs to users, customers or projects.
In some cases, what you are quoted will have a validity date, and may not be fixed for the duration of your agreement. This is usually the case for products and services which are sourced from international vendors, and as with anything you import, you will have to pay a fee based on the rate of exchange at that time.
Pull out your old contracts – look at the agreement terms, early settlement penalties or cancellation fees which may be applicable.
Chances are you’re moving phone line providers as you move phone systems, so you need to consider your phone service as a separate element.
Most businesses have phone numbers which they have used for years and need to keep these numbers even when moving to a new phone system. Not all SA phone numbers can be moved or ported between providers, and usually there is a cost to port each number between networks.
Make a complete list of all the phone numbers your business uses and share this with your provider who will advise how they can retain these numbers. And if you have a number which cannot be ported, you’ll want to understand how the current and future service will work together, as well as the costs involved so that you do not sit with unexpected extra forwarding fees.
If you intend moving away from traditional PSTN fixed lines (analogue or ISDN) over to VoIP, you’ll need to assess the impact that adding the additional bandwidth will have on your internet line and service.
In addition to this, If you’re like most other businesses, you probably intend sharing the same line you use for internet, email and so on, and not install a dedicated internet line for VoIP. Therefore, you need to carefully plan how to set up your internet line so that voice takes priority over other traffic, and that the bandwidth required for voice is consistent.
Anything that is based on the internet (IP) has a deep reliance on an internal and external internet network. Therefore, buying a new phone system and VoIP phones is not quite as simple as just plugging everything in and walking away.
Connecting internal networks (local area networks or LAN) may require internal reconfiguration to prioritise voice traffic over other network traffic. Additionally, any firewalls need to be made aware of voice traffic, and your cabling and power infrastructure needs to be complaint.
When working with your phone system provider, ask for a detailed rundown of the prerequisites and best practise for running VoIP and IP telephony. Ask this before you sign up to avoid unexpected investments to upgrade your network and other elements thereof.
Unlike traditional legacy devices, VoIP phones require power to operate.
Power can be provided by purchasing a local power adapter, or through your LAN as long as your LAN supports Power over Ethernet (PoE). Phones are usually shipped without a power adapter, so it is advisable to understand what your environment requires, and for you to plan accordingly.
A clear and concise work from home strategy is vital – consider your choice in devices solved!
Take time to write down all the functionality your business uses and requires in a new system. Depending on complexity or importance, you may even want to consider developing a formal Request For Proposal (RFP) specification or appointing a Consultant to develop and manage this process for you.
Having a well-defined list of your short-long term business goals and objectives, the current systems and channels used in your business, and agreeing on how you want to buy / pay for the solution are important factors to understand before you embark on your journey.
Work with your chosen provider to understand all the FIXED and VARIABLE costs involved in receiving the service for your business.
Fixed Costs – are usually made up of line rentals, subscriptions, hardware and service level agreements.
Variable Costs – are made up from usage-based services or ad hoc services, including any out-of-bundle charges.
Ask what costs there are at the different stages of your partnership too.
Start-up Costs – these could be costs related to any service activation, installation and provisioning, training and hardware required for the service.
Note: If there are no setup or hardware costs, make sure that you understand whether you are liable for any of these costs at any stage of the partnership.
Subscription Costs – these are the anticipated costs for use of the services. Be sure to understand what other costs may come into play and ensure that you agree to those costs upfront.
Conclusion and Exit Costs – at the end of the agreement term, ask what happens. Is there a cancellation notice period, is there an automatic renewal? What happens to the hardware, and are there any fees for removal of the equipment or infrastructure?
Having clarity and complete transparency on all costs will help you to do an apples for apples comparison between providers, and ensure that you don’t sit with any unexpected surprises.
We are committed to helping you to make an educated buying decision, and find the best telecoms partner for your business.
Having operated in the industry for over 20 years, we have the expertise and contacts to help you in your journey to telecoms success.