Guide to Selecting a New IP Business Phone System

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1 Guide to Selecting a New IP Business Phone System A guide to identifying, selecting, purchasing and installing a new IP business phone system. By Trevor Jones, Director of Marketing & Product Development, GWI

2 About the Author: Trevor Jones Trevor Jones is Director of Marketing and Product Development at GWI. A fifteen year veteran of the telecommunications industry, Trevor has worked in sales and marketing roles for cellular carriers, independent telephone companies, CLECs and interexchange carriers during his career. He holds a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Southern Maine. Follow Trevor on Twitter 3

3 CONTENTS: Introduction Chapter 1: Need and budget analysis: Is it time for a new phone system?.. 8 Chapter 2: Premise or hosted: Which system fits your business needs? Chapter 3: Network analysis: Is your Internet and LAN ready?. 14 Chapter 4: How to select a hosted PBX vendor Chapter 5: The nuts and bolts: Understanding equipment and installation 21 Chapter 6: Roll-out: Training and implementing your new phone system

4 Introduction: Is it time for a new IP business phone system? This guide provides an overview of the process of identifying, selecting, purchasing and installing a new IP business phone system. We have designed this guide to support you in determining questions to ask of vendor, features you should understand and require in your phone system and to give you strategies for implementation. 5

5 Chapter 1: NEED AND BUDGET ANALYSIS: IS IT TIME FOR A NEW PHONE SYSTEM? Before you begin the process of selecting a new business phone system, ask yourself a few important questions. What has prompted you to research a new system? What are your financial limitations with respect to buying a new one? 6

6 As you consider the business need and your budget, ask yourself these questions: Is your current phone system meeting your needs? If not, could it be made to do so with minor modifications? Is your current phone system fully depreciated? Does the current phone system need regular service calls? Are you paying a provider to make frequent add-ons, moves and changes to the phone system? Is it easy to use? What is your current monthly expense for phone service, phone system leases, repairs, service contracts, and other related expenses like IT staff? Are additional dollars available for purchase or installation of a new system? Which critical features and functions does your business need in a new phone system? As you determine your company s specific service needs, start by breaking down the user processes in your company. This includes both internal user processes and customer processes. Your Users: What are their calling habits and usage needs? For most companies, the best approach is to segment your workforce by job type, and consider the calling habits and requirements of each one. What do your sales people do? Are they mobile? What about your company s customer service people, production, accounting, and management? Each has different needs and will likely require different phones with different feature sets. Continued on Page 8 7

7 Users who are frequently away from the office, for example, might need find-me follow-me service, which automatically routes calls to alternative phone numbers in the event they are out of the office. On the other hand, a user in an automotive parts department or warehouse may not need that feature, but will be best served by an IP phone with a cordless headset that lets them walk around the parts department to check inventory. Your Customers: How can a new phone system improve your customer service? Another useful exercise is to put yourself in your customer or client s shoes. As they interact with your company, how does the phone system impact that engagement? This critical step in your evaluation process will help you better determine opportunities for improving your client-company interactions via phone. How can features offered by hosting companies improve your ability to serve your customers or clients? Hosting packages including voic , point-and-click web portal control of calls, unified messaging and mobility options may significantly help team members in all roles use the system effectively in their customer engagements. This aspect of evaluating your needs will also help you determine which features really matter to your company, and which are just fluff. Don t skip this vital step! 8

8 CHAPTER 2: PREMISE OR HOSTED: WHICH SYSTEM FITS YOUR BUSINESS NEEDS? Now that you understand your economic drivers and the phone system features you need, the next step is to determine if a Hosted PBX phone system is indeed the right choice for your business or if you would be better served by a premise based system. Voice over IP technology comes in a broad array of options, including proprietary IP phone systems such as Avaya, open-source IP phone systems using the Asterisk platform, or Hosted IP PBX solutions offered by telephone companies, ISP s and other service providers. For many small businesses, a Hosted PBX will offer significant cost savings and operational benefits versus other IP Phone Systems. 9

9 Which phone system should you choose? Consider these 9 questions: 1. Is your existing phone system at end of its life? Phone systems typically last 6-8 years, but if yours is still functioning well and meeting your needs, why take on the added expense of a new system? 2. What features do you need in a new phone system? Installed IP PBX systems and Hosted PBX systems have different feature sets, and both offer a bevy of features your old system lacks. 3. How large is your business? Large businesses enjoy economies of scale: They can spread the purchase price of their central phone switch across a large number of employees. They also frequently have inhouse staff to support their system, and can spread those costs over a large number of users. 4. Are your employees centrally located, or do you have multiple offices? Older phone systems use private line connections, tie lines, and other expensive telephone company services to connect systems at your main and satellite offices together. Newer systems usually use IP connections for this, but may still require you to purchase a dedicated switch for each office. 5. Do you have staff working from home? Because Hosted PBX systems use the cloud to connect the phone to the central system, phones can typically be connected to any Internet connection and function just like they would in the office, with full access to features, attendants and voice mail systems. This may or may not be true of premise based systems. 10

10 6. How much time does your team spend on the phone? Most Hosted PBX systems charge a fee per phone or seat on the system which includes the ability to handle up to two simultaneous calls to or from the user s phone. Since the dialtone is included, you don t have the one-many concentration of phone lines to phones that you get in a traditional phone system. As a result, a Hosted PBX usually makes the most sense for businesses that have a high ratio of phone lines to phones in their traditional system. 7. Do you require detailed contact center reporting and management? If you are running a call center with multiple agents taking calls and need detailed call reporting to help you manage your staff, perhaps a premise based system is best. Most Hosted PBX systems lack these features or have very basic capabilities in this area. 8. How does your phone system factor into your disaster recovery plan? How much business is lost by being without phones for an hour, a day, or longer due to an outage in your power, phone, or internet service? 9. Are you most concerned with up front capital costs or operating expenses? If you re buying a premise based phone system, you ll need to come up with several thousand dollars for the base system, plus a couple of hundred dollars for each phone. Voice mail may or may not be included within the base price, so you may need to allocate additional dollars for voice mail. Armed with the answers to these questions, you ll be better equipped to make the right choice amongst the wide variety of systems available. 11

11 CHAPTER 3: Network Analysis: Are your Internet and LAN Ready? Is Your Internet Connection Ready? All users of hosted or premise-based systems are required to have high-speed Internet connection. To ensure high call quality and delivery, it's important to ensure that the Internet connection at your primary office(s) are engineered correctly to deliver a quality call. A competent local vendor should be able to help you with this. Here are some guidelines to help you with this process: 1. Start with a fast enough Internet connection to accommodate all of your phone calls plus other activities such as web browsing, , file transfers and cloud computing. If you don t use VoIP today, chances are your current connection isn t fast enough. It s also important to remember that upstream bandwidth matters with VoIP, so while asymmetrical cable modems or DSL based connections may be adequate for web surfing, a symmetrical connection is usually preferred for VoIP. This may mean upgrading to a fiber connection or Ethernet over Copper. How much bandwidth do you need? The rule of thumb for uncompressed VoIP is 80 kilobits per second per call on top of the bandwidth you already use. Your VoIP phone system provider can reduce this requirement by compressing voice calls. 12

12 2. The best Internet connections for VoIP services provide Service Level Agreements ( SLA ) that protect call quality. Most Service Level Agreements cover network latency, packet loss and jitter. Look for maximum levels for latency, packet loss and jitter with a defined penalty to the carrier (credit on your bill) in the event your connection exceeds these targets. A good SLA also has a minimum expectation as to the number of hours your connection can be down in a month with prescribed credits if you are out of service longer than that. 3. In some cases, your hosting provider may also provide Internet access. In such cases using your hosting provider's Internet connection for phone service delivery generally ensures the necessary service levels are in place and avoids "finger-pointing" between your Hosted VoIP provider and your ISP in cases of poor call quality. No one likes reading contracts, but getting some protection built into yours can help ensure the quality of your IP phone system. 13

13 Is Your Local Area Network (LAN) Ready? IP Phone systems usually operate on the same network as your computers, servers, and printers. Problems with them can cause significant quality issues with your phone calls, so it s important to conduct a VoIP Readiness Assessment, and address any issues it uncovers before you install your new system. Little things like slow web browsing and delayed print jobs are minor inconveniences for your team, but the underlying problems that cause them are big problems for VoIP. The following four steps will help you prepare for a move to VoIP: 1.) Configure your router to prioritize VoIP. Even with an appropriately sized Internet connection there will be times when the connection is clogged because of a big file you are sending or downloading. To prevent this from damaging call quality, your router needs to be set up to give priority to voice calls. Your IT consultant can help with this, or you can purchase a managed router service with WAN optimization from a service provider. Case Study: Learn how a growing digital marketing firm is growing with Hosted PBX. 14

14 2.) Network switches should be up to date. Each network cable in your office connects to a switch. These switches look at the data coming in to them from on one cable, and send it to its destination within your network. It s important that you use high quality100mb switches in your network that support VoIP QoS tagging. You should definitely remove and replace any old network hubs you find in your network. If you have to replace a network switch, purchasing one that supports Power over Ethernet (PoE) will enable you to provide backup power for your whole phone system from a central location, as well as eliminating the need for an AC power adapter for each phone. 3.) Make sure your network isn t congested. If your Internet connection gets slow when someone sends a large print job to the printer, or if there are times of day when everything seems to run slower on your network, this is a sign that your network is too busy, and switches and routers should be reconfigured to alleviate this information traffic jam. If you don t have an internal IT department, IT consultants and VoIP providers can help you address these problems. 4.) Get your network tested. Sometimes, network problems like jitter can impact VoIP phone service greatly and be virtually un-noticed in web browsing, , and regular network traffic. Your VoIP providers or IT consultant can use test equipment to check your network for these potential problems and fix them before they cause voice quality problems on your business phone system deployment. Local Hosted IP PBX dealers, including GWI, often have technicians that can come to your office to perform this readiness assessment (or site survey). If you're working with an out of state company that does not have local technicians, you may want to engage an IT consultant to review your network readiness to ensure a positive experience upon conversion. 15

15 CHAPTER 4: How to Select a Hosted PBX Vendor Consider More Than Price Once you ve made the choice between a hosted phone system and a premise phone system, the next step is it choose a hosted IP telephony provider. Of course price matters, but the choice between providers should not be made on price alone. Consideration that could impact service quality, reliability, security and support are equally important. 16

16 6 Things to Consider Other Than Price when choosing a Hosted IP Phone System vendor: 1. What features does your vendor support? There are a handful of platforms that power most of the providers out there and a number of less prominent systems your vendor could be using. Not all of these are fully featured. Make sure you compare the features available on one vs. the other. On the other hand, take care not to place too much value on a feature that isn t dictated by a business need and that you re unlikely to actually use. 2. What sort of network does your vendor have? Almost any computer can run software to make it a VoIP switch. Make sure your carrier has a switch engineered for high reliability with redundant power, processors, and connectivity. For voice quality reasons, find out if they provide broadband in your area as well. 3. How does your vendor assure voice quality? Not to put too fine a point on it, but any vendor that is providing a hosted IP phone system over the public Internet cannot provide you with any assurance of call quality. If they re not running their phone service over their own IP infrastructure, you could have call quality challenges. 4. Will you own the phones or lease them? Neither is bad, but it does make a difference to how much you pay up front vs. how much you ll pay monthly. It also may impact whether you have phones, useful or not, that you need to redeploy, reuse, or dispose of at the end of the relationship. 17

17 5. What happens when equipment breaks? Does your vendor take care of everything as long as you have service, or is your only protection the manufacturer s warranty on the phone? 6. What resources does the vendor have to support you? It s good to make sure your partner has been in business a while and has a large technical support staff available to assist you. At a minimum, make sure they have you covered for every hour you re in business, but 24-7 is always best. Also, remember that most local providers have technicians that can come to your office and install and troubleshoot equipment or train your staff how to use the system. With out of state, online sellers of Hosted IP Phone Systems, you could be on your own. Get a Well Defined Scope of Work A scope of work clarifies what work your vendor will do in support of the installation. It also clarifies what work you must take on in order to obtain a satisfactory result. This includes working with your IT department to complete upgrades identified in the readiness assessment and any other data gathering or other leg work you need to provide. Some important things to consider in creating this document include how installation will be handled, how employees will be trained on the new IP phone system, and how adjustments after installation will be handled. Beware of scope documents that don t spell out what you need to do, because like all managed service engagements, your cooperation is essential for a successful phone system installation. 18

18 Assign Project Managers Any quality vendor will have a dedicated project manager who is your go-to person for all aspects of installation. While this person may or may not be on-site for your install, they know all of the details of your installation and are able to help you with any adjustments that need to be made. You should also assign your own project manager who is responsible for keeping the project on track from your end. They ll be responsible for collecting employee requirements and feedback and passing it on to your vendor. One reason it s so important to have dedicated project managers is to facilitate regular communication before, during, and after the installation of your IP phone system. No matter how much planning you do, you re bound to find some requirements that were overlooked, and issues may crop-up as a result. If you have open communication with your vendor throughout the process, these issues will be dealt with faster before they become a big problem for your operation. 19

19 CHAPTER 5: Nuts and Bolts: Understanding Equipment and Installation Typically, phones and other equipment you'll use in your Hosted PBX deployment will be ordered from your Hosted PBX provider. These may be sold to you, leased, or provided as part of the service, depending upon the vendor's service delivery model. In some cases, you may have the option (or requirement) to buy phones on your own from a list of models certified as compatible with your hosting provider's servers. If you are buying your own phones, ensure that you shop around and use both distributors and credible web sites to source equipment, paying careful attention to whether equipment is new or refurbished and what warranties are in place. 20

20 Pre-configuring Devices As a rule, phones will be configured by your hosting provider before they arrive at your office. Based upon the feature sets and configurations you ordered, you will usually have the ability to make minor adjustments to the phone's configuration. This simply means the addition of feature buttons and speed dials, after the phone arrives. Competent vendors use automatic configuration software that feeds the phone its configuration from a central location. These servers allow you to make these minor modifications via a web portal, and also allow your vendor to make more significant changes remotely upon your request, without the need to send technicians to your office. Vendors can even remotely push software and firmware updates to your phone when they are required to close security loopholes or provide added features. Installation of Phones and Software Installation of the hardware and software for your Hosted PBX can be completed by either your company or the provider. Since most companies will fully program all phones and equipment before delivery, the actual installation of the phones is often plug-and-play and it is certainly possible for your business to self-install a system if your provider offers this option. This can offer cost advantages. With that said, contracting the installation through your provider offers a number of functional benefits including: A professional LAN readiness assessment (see step 4) The installer can perform upgrades and changes to device configurations to accommodate user preferences on the fly If there are conflicts between your phone system and your firewall or other network equipment, an on-site installer is very helpful in resolving these issues. The installer-will often conduct initial training for your staff 21

21 If your provider does not provide installation services, bear in mind that important service installation information is provided in the installation guides provided. If your installation includes a desktop console or toolbar software that is installed on PC's-- then licenses are usually required. You may need to take a few important steps during a self-installation including: Connecting the phone to your LAN, and most often your PC to your phone Connecting a power cable, if your LAN is not Power over Ethernet (PoE) equipped Making adjustments to phone configurations as needed to meet user preferences Making adjustments to the auto attendant, voice mail, and hunt group configurations to ensure a working system Training users on the use of their phones (see below) For any company in the installation process, it helps to remember that phone support is provided by most reputable carriers provided to new companies and that these companies always have user websites with comprehensive information to guide you. Most companies have your best interests at heart because they seek repeat buyers, upgrade users and referrals from satisfied buyers. Some providers offer lower costs in exchange for self installation. Just remember, you have better things to do with your day than sort out wires. 22

22 CHAPTER 6: Roll-Out: Training and Implementing Your New Phone System Using your new phone system begins with installation. A general outline of the training process is outlined below. When training new users, each company department and each department's unique usage of the new system will require some review and attention paid to these changes caused by the installation. This means folks will have to shift some behaviors, and learn some new actions in order to adjust to the new system. 23

23 A locally based provider may provide much of the training for you If you've purchased an Hosted PBX system from a local firm that will be sending technicians on site to install your phones, these technicians will very often provide some basic training on the use of the phone and the web portal, and leave hard copy or electronic reference guides to aid your staff in acclimating to the new system. Gearing up to train on your own On the other hand, if your phones were shipped to you by an online provider, you or a member of your IT staff will most likely need to provide this training. If you do develop your own training, remember to keep the different functional groups your internal users and your customers/clients in mind. This will help you ensure that you cover the features that are most relevant to the particular user. A few other tips to bear in mind during this process are: The online provider's web site will very often have FAQ's pages and training information provided for new users. If you train department heads first, you can make the process a bit more streamlined. Once behavior changes are identified, you can then cascade the information down through your organizational leadership through your companies standard training program. Most HPBX supplemental information includes photos or drawings and easy to identify step-by-step processes that are backed up by phone support, installer support and websites providing every stage of support information. 24

24 Closing thoughts In this world of intensely competitive markets and uncertain financial gains for small companies, these new hosted IP phone systems have added advantages that cannot be underestimated. For anyone doing research on behalf of a user company who needs to upgrade its phone system, save and expand all at the same time this upgraded technology offers your business a variety of solutions. Thanks to the fast pace of the high tech industry-especially where automated phone and Internet are concerned there is no better solution. Choosing the best vendor to support the installation and roll-out of a business phone system is arguably the most complicated work involved. We hope this guide will serve as an ongoing resource as you consider selecting and implementing the best phone system for your business. Case Study: Learn How an Oxford County Nonprofit expanded service coverage with Hosted PBX. 25

25 Want to learn more about IP business phone systems? Explore the benefits of GWI s Hosted PBX business phone systems. Contact us for a FREE 30 minute consultation with our IP experts. We ll help you build a customized systems that fits your unique business needs. For more information about any of our business services and solutions, please call , or use our simple inquiry form.

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