Without a doubt, mobility and everything related to it is casting a long, wide, and influential shadow across seemingly every facet of the enterprise. This includes VoIP and PBX phone systems. Mobility, however, isn’t the only notable trend that’s occurring within these markets that IT managers need to be aware of, whether they are making decisions about an upgrade or deploying a new phone system.

The following details some of the notable trends influencing the VoIP and PBX sectors, as well as features and considerations that can influence buying decisions and infrastructure upgrade requirements that may be needed.

Taking The Trend Pulse

Of the trends influencing the VoIP and PBX markets, Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) is particularly noteworthy, says Nick Galea, CEO of 3CX (404/465-3660; www.3cx.com). WebRTC essentially enables video and voice communications through an Internet browser without a need to download additional software/plug-ins.

Galea says WebRTC is a “game changer” for UC in terms of offering easier, more affordable real-time communication options. 3CX has incorporated WebRTC into its videoconferencing solution and Galea says time- and cost-savings (via the ability to host virtual meetings) as well as face-to-face communication benefits are results.

Tim Banting, principal analyst at Current Analysis, says a shift to UC and integration with other types of collaborative solutions (enterprise social networking, business productivity applications, and more) is another general trend. Few organizations see the business benefit in upgrading an old phone system with a new IP-based one, he says.

There are hard-dollar cost-savings with IP telephony, however, namely maintenance, cabling, administration, and staff cost-savings, he says. Other benefits for companies with a highly mobile workforce and those seeking to cut costs associated with moves, adds, and changes are also possible. That said, telephony features aren’t as important now as years ago when IP telephony adoption started gaining critical mass, Banting says, because workers now look to other means for communication and collaboration.

Banting also adds that soft clients running on desktops, tablets, and mobiles offer greater productivity for mobile workers than office-bound desk phones, thus many organizations are sizing up employee needs before determining how to replace aging phone systems.

Try A Fresh Start

Today, enterprises choosing a new phone system have numerous “try and buy” options, Banting says. “You don’t have to have your own communications room or data center with square feet carved out for a large lump of tin anymore,” he says. Most solutions can now run on industry-standard servers as a virtualized PBX in a data center or be privately hosted or delivered as a service, he says.

Banting cites himself as an example. His company procures voice services from a domestic vendor, allowing him to have a desk phone with a United States number in his U.K.-based home that’s connected to the public Internet. An as-a-service approach, he says, can appeal to those companies with limited IT resources or that want to buy on an OPEX model. It also enable companies “to flex up or flex down” in terms employee numbers quickly.

Galea says if implementing a new PBX, look at all costs and benefits carefully to obtain the solution best-suited to company needs and that offers the best value for the money. A notable hidden cost, for example, is charges for adding additional extensions, he says.

Insufficient scalability within a VoIP service plan can increase costs quickly, especially for growing businesses. 3CX’s software-based PBX phone system allows for adding unlimited extensions at no extra charge, he says. Other key considerations include availability to tech support; the VoIP service plan itself; and necessary infrastructure upgrade costs. Proprietary PBX vendors, for example, often ask companies to use vendors’ certified hardware, Galea says.

Features To Utilize

Mobility is an increasingly important area to consider in phone systems today. For productivity reasons, staying connected to colleagues and customers is vital, Galea says. The “one number” feature is particularly popular, as it lets employees answer office calls on mobile devices, he says. Presence is also significant in terms of letting employees identify if a colleague can take a call and enabling remote workers and those in businesses with multiple offices stay connected.

Similarly, Banting recommends seeking solutions employees can use across various devices. This avoids getting locked into technology dead-ends and provides the most flexibility, he says. Also seek extensibility, or the ability to integrate features into business applications, he says.

Overall, beyond presence, specific features to utilize include IM, voice services (transfer, forward, pick up, etc.); video; and desktop sharing (documents, presentations, and more), he says. “Most of these capabilities can be combined into one desktop application that allows you to escalate from one means of communicating to another,” Banting says.

Provide The Right Tools

To support a new VoIP system as viewed from a network perspective, IT managers should be sure to buy what the business actually needs and not assume every worker needs everything. Many systems now include licensing models that provide access to key areas of functionality, Banting says. Also, survey employees to pinpoint exactly who needs what tools to avoid overspending.

The infrastructure should be up to standard, as well. Many partners perform a network audit to assess if the underlying data infrastructure can support a new system. “This is a key requirement of all VoIP systems and the lowest common denominator,” Banting says. Typically, infrastructure will represent the biggest investment area, including in terms of ensuring QoS to prioritize real-time traffic (voice and video) over and above data, he says. “IT needs to do that because real-time traffic runs into all sorts of problems if all IP packets are treated the same,” he says.

SIDEBAR

Ask Your Employees What They Need

Tim Banting, principal analyst at Current Analysis, recommends surveying employees in order to compile a list of requirements for a new phone system before making purchasing decisions. “Don’t just replace dial-tone with dial-tone. Swapping out one PBX for another IP PBX is not adding value to the business,” he says. “Ask your employees what they need to help them do their jobs better.” Mobility, time spent in the office, preferred communication means, and most used features are all considerations.

SIDEBAR

Cover All The Bases

Involve personnel from all departments and not just IT in evaluating potential systems and making buying decisions, says Tim Banting, principal analyst at Current Analysis. “If the solution isn’t easy to use and fit for purpose, the ROI on which you made your purchasing decision will not get realized,” he says. For this reason, doing a trial evaluation is well worth the up-front investment, according to Banting.

SIDEBAR

BONUS TIPS:

Plan Long-Term

Nick Galea, CEO of 3CX (404/465-3660; www.3cx.com), says in addition to being wary of getting locked into long-term contracts with proprietary providers, take caution against adopting consumer communication apps, because doing so could open up the network to inappropriate use among employees and viruses.

Upgrade Software

Installing a software-based phone solution can lead to an immediate reduction in telephony costs via free interoffice calls and no call costs for remote workers, says Galea. In fact, his company has seen some organizations cut telephony costs by up to 70%. Beyond cost-savings, other benefits of this approach can include improved customer service and staff productivity.

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