VoIP Phone Systems
Why you haven’t changed your phone system
When it comes to legacy phone systems, you don’t really think about change very much. You may not even remember how long ago it was bought, or it could just as well have been here before your time.
Legacy phone systems were built to last, and only a total breakdown would give you reason to buy a replacement. Small businesses are typically cash-strapped, and to give this any further attention, you really need a compelling reason.
Legacy telecom vendors have little incentive to transition you to VoIP, and as long as the phone system is working, you’ll need to discover those reasons yourself. This guide has drawn from carefully compiled research about how SMBs think about phone systems and the triggers that lead to making a change. From this, we have identified five such reasons that tell you the time is right for a VoIP phone system.
Any one of these can provide a strong rationale, and however much thought you’ve given this, we believe it’s not likely that all five have come to mind for you. If that’s the case, this guide will provide new perspectives along with a deeper understanding on two fronts. First, we want you to see how much your legacy system is holding back the business, and flipping the coin, to then see just how much that can change once you decide to invest in a VoIP phone system.
Five Signs for a Business Phone System Change
A first principal with VoIP phones is that like all things IP, these technologies are designed to be self-managed. This means the onus is on you to initiate change, and once that happens, you’ll be moving into a new world. This may seem daunting, but these guides have been researched and written to help you navigate your transition to VoIP. Unless your legacy phone system simply breaks down, you need to be on the alert for signs that a VoIP phone system will be a better choice . This section highlights five such signs, and any one of them could be reason enough to make the move
Before VoIP can come to you, you have to know what to look for. This means getting a good grounding in the basics of VoIP, especially in terms of how they can be drivers to support your decisions for telephony. Not only that, but your legacy phone vendors will not likely be steering you this way, so don’t count on them for the best advice. In short, you need to be proactive, and to do that, you need to know what to look out for.
Sign #1 – Cost
This will likely remain the prime driver for any decision your business makes around telephony, but it’s not the only clue that a change to VoIP is in order. At face value, if the math adds up, and all else is relatively equal, this can be an easy decision to make. However, “adding up” can actually be quite complex, and needs further consideration.
Putting IP telephony aside for a moment, if your legacy system is paid up, it would be a mistake to assume there are no costs beyond the service from your telco, Not only are there ongoing maintenance costs, but your telecom vendor may be in no rush to steer you over to IP . As your legacy system ages, maintenance and support costs will only rise, and this represents good revenue for the vendor. You don’t want to get into a situation where your phone system becomes more of a liability than an asset, so without even looking at the cost of VoIP, there may be enough issues here to shape your thinking.
Another consideration is the notion that legacy phone systems are expensive, and cash-strapped SMBs will keep them going for as long as possible. If you’re thinking about this high cost extends to VoIP phone systems, that will inhibit you from moving to IP . In other words, if the new technology is viewed as costly, there is less incentive to make a change from legacy, especially if you are not confident that VoIP is up to the task.
The reality is a bit different, and you may be pleased to learn that VoIP phone systems are affordable, certainly compared to a legacy PBX. This could be a nice surprise that changes how you view the relationship between cost and phone systems.
To be fair, you also need a realistic sense about the costs associated with a VoIP phone system. There is little question about VoIP service being cheaper than , and you should know that your legacy system can support both. As such, you can reduce that aspect of your overall telephony spend without changing the phone system.
This is a good example to show how “adding up” the costs is harder to do than it looks. Not only that, but you’ll largely be on your own when doing the math. Legacy telephony vendors have a nice business model, and while they know times have changed, they still want to milk that model for as long as possible. They are keenly aware that IP phone systems bring in less revenue, and require more support given the constantly changing technology related to VoIP.
The main message here is that cost may well be the best indicator for making a change, but make sure to get the whole story. Cost trends are not uniform for all modes of telephony, and the drivers for legacy are not the same as for VoIP. In most cases, the final tally should favor VoIP, but the spread could also end up being too close to call. When the latter does occur, you should by no means discount the other clues in this section as drivers for a change. They are not impacted by cost and need to be assessed on their own merits.
Sign #2 – Nobody is using the desk phones
This may seem a bit of a stretch, but employee behavior may be the best indicator you need a change, but only if you’re paying attention. Human nature is infinitely varied, and there is a tendency for technology-centric people to see everything through a technology-centric lens.
For businesses that think and act this way, the most obvious clues will elude them, simply because they’re not looking in the right places.
In the parlance of Sherlock Holmes, there’s a big difference between seeing and observing, and the path to knowledge begins with identifying a problem. This is the “what”, and once you’re on to that, a thoughtful discovery process will lead to the more important “how” and “why” .
When it comes to your phone system, you may pay little attention, especially if it’s paid off.
So long as the related ongoing monthly costs stay on par, there is probably no cause for concern. This can be misleading, since those costs won’t change if usage declines, even a lot. Furthermore, if business performance is good, and if whatever productivity metrics you use are holding up, you may have no idea what’s actually going on with your phone system.
Now we start shifting from the “what” to the “how” and the “why”. You’ll have a hard time gathering these types of metrics, but doing simple observational research about everyday activity will tell you enough regarding your phone system. People may be on calls as much as ever, but less is happening at their desks and on their desk phones . This activity is shifting more to PC screens as well as personal mobile devices, even when working at their desk. Aside from that, you may notice that employees are using a lot of chat and texting, perhaps in place of having a voice conversation.
Observations like this say a lot about how behaviors are changing, and this begs the question of why. Before we had these tools, almost everything got done via the phone system, but not today. Legacy phone systems work just as well as they did in the past, but in the world of IP-based communications, their lack of integration with everything else reduces their utility to employees. They will use the desk phone when they’re absolutely sure the other person can take their call, but that’s more the exception than the rule.
In short, other modes and applications serve their needs better. Employees spend less time at their desk – as well as in the office – and that’s where mobile devices provide value that legacy phone systems just can’t deliver . Furthermore, these systems provide no intelligence about the call state of other people; at least until you make the effort to call them in order to find out. Being IP-based, VoIP phone systems can utilize the presence feature to get real-time status of everyone in the company directory. Think about how that improves the efficiency of communications.
From there, it’s not a big leap to understand why employees are using text-based messaging modes. Not only are they faster than having a phone conversation – despite being near real-time instead of real-time – but with presence, they only engage when all parties are available.
They don’t waste time and energy leaving messages and getting lost in phone tag.
These are just a few examples that tie communications to productivity, and when you look at how and why employees are using these particular tools, the limitations of your legacy phone system become more apparent. You may have other reasons for keeping it in place, but if driving productivity is a higher priority, then this is a pretty strong sign that you need a VoIP phone system.
Sign #3 – Legacy telephony is hurting productivity
Related to the above factor is a bigger picture issue that management is keenly interested in. The more productive your employees are, the better the business performs, and when you tie this to communications, the conversation becomes more strategic. You can choose to think of telephony as a silo service that provides little more than a utilitarian benefit.
That thinking, however, is pretty regressive with today’s technologies, and may be more of a root cause in holding back business performance than you realize. Until IP came along, phone systems were on their own island for decades, and because they delivered so much value to the business, this was never seen in a negative light.
As mentioned earlier, we have more communications options now, and a telecom-centric model is actually quite problematic. VoIP has become a powerful force for bringing down the cost of telephony, and this raises valid concerns about the business case for maintaining a dedicated network and infrastructure just for this service. Not only is the cost high in absolute terms, but also on a relative basis when compared to IP-based options that are readily available.
Aside from the financial aspect, there is also the upside to consider that comes from converging voice and data on to a common network. This yields a host of new cost savings, not to mention operational efficiencies that any IT department would welcome. Since VoIP is just another data application, it can easily be added to the LAN, and thus streamlining every aspect of telephony. Of greater importance to this section, by getting voice off the legacy island, it can now be integrated with other modes of communication.
This gets at the heart of what drives productivity, and VoIP brings voice closer to the center of activity. For management, telephony may just be a dollars-and-cents line item, but when it comes to enabling employees in their work, voice is the medium of choice. While email is quasi real-time, and chat/IM is near real-time, voice is the essence of real-time, and will always be the next best thing to speaking in person.
The immediacy of voice makes it an ideal medium for conveying information to get things done, but when that entails reviewing documents, sharing files, or engaging with people on the go or in remote locations, the island of legacy telephony is clearly a holdback for productivity. When a phone call from the desk is all you need, it’s a great tool, but by observing how employees get things done, you’ll likely find that this only applies to a handful of situations.
When employees can use all the tools in the same environment, they can be much more productive. Not only can they collaborate more effectively, but the process of communicating will be more seamless. A key reason why the use of desk phones is declining is because employees aren’t there very much, and other applications do a better job of reaching people when you need them. This is a key problem with legacy phone systems, in that their isolation from everything else requires employees to often duplicate effort when their quest to reach others starts out on a desk phone. When this proves to be futile over and over, employees simply bypass the desk phone and go straight to the PC or mobile device. Nobody likes to waste time, and keeping your legacy system in place does nothing to eradicate that problem.
Sign #4 – Voice has more value as data
A key reason why your phone system may be hurting productivity is that its value is declining relative to other communications options. So long as that remains the expected norm for making calls, you’re propping up a limited vision for the value voice brings to the business. You don’t need to sell your employees on the value of voice, so that’s not the problem. Coming back to the observational process discussed earlier, you’ll likely find that employees are talking as much as ever before, and may even be talking more. We certainly know that they’re using other modes more, especially text and chat, but this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a substitution effect at work.
Overall, the important takeaway is that employees are communicating more, thanks in large part to the Internet. Not only does this provide accessible, easy-to-use applications, but they are often free . That combination is difficult to resist, with the net impact being more communication. When cost is taken out of the equation, adoption of these tools is rapid, and so long as that translates into gains for the business, everyone is happy.
This is where the paths diverge for VoIP and legacy telephony. Despite all these new options, voice remains the mode of choice for all kinds of reasons. Employees will seek it out and use the offering that has the most utility for them. Both technologies can deliver voice effectively, but they do so in very different ways. Legacy telephony runs over its own network, and while it’s great for voice, it isn’t good for much else (well, fax, but its relevance is fading fast).
VoIP, on the other hand, is a form of data that runs over a network that seamlessly supports all communications modes. By extension, voice will have more utility here, since it can be natively integrated with all the other modes used regularly by employees. This is better aligned with how employees like to work together, whether in the office or at home.
Basically, the younger the worker, the more inclined they will be to multi-task. Millennial are digital natives, where the Internet has been with them since Day 1, and multimedia is highly intuitive. They’ve never seen a rotary phone, will never subscribe to a landline, and probably haven’t got more than five phone numbers committed to memory. Their relationship with the telephone is very different from older generations, and it doesn’t matter to them whether dial tone comes on a phone line or on the Web.
Again, this doesn’t mean voice is diminished in value. They rely on voice just as much as anyone, but they would rather use it in a richer context. For them, voice has more value when it can be integrated into their workflows . When on their PC, this could involve a VoIP call using their soft phone, along with using IM to update someone else, as well as sending a file to yet someone else on email.
There is also a role for the VoIP phone here, since the features and settings of their desk phone can be managed by them on their PC . This capability is absent with legacy, and is a key reason why younger workers don’t relate to their legacy desk phones. They’re great as a last resort, but they’re not woven into the fabric of their everyday workflows.
Sign #5 – Vendor landscape
There have always been many phone vendors to choose from, and the landscape has become even more crowded with VoIP. Wherever you look, the vendor has a line of IP-based phones and phone systems. Legacy vendors still generate major revenues from their landline phones and 70% of Business is with Telstra. They have no reason to swap you over. In todays environment you need to be looking at nimble high performing Specialist providers like Voiteck. You have familiar named Vendors like Avaya, Mitel, ShoreTel, NEC, 3cx, Panasonic, Polycom, Snom, Yealink and Cisco, however you need to look beyond the brands at look at the provider is supporting them.
1. Do they solely focus on VoIP?
2. Do they have reference sites?
3. Are they the telecommunications provider as well as Hardware supplier?
When it comes to telephony, businesses often have long-term relationships with vendors, and that poses a challenge for a space undergoing so much disruption. The last time you were in the market for a phone system, many of these options did not likely exist, so the landscape has definitely changed. Many of the same companies remain, but the offerings have evolved.
You may be happy to keep your existing system going, and if it’s fully paid off, that can be an easy position to defend. Small businesses remain budget-conscious, and if the phone system is in good shape, there appears to be little incentive to change. That may be true, but it’s hard to ignore what’s happening with the vendors . They face their own share of competitive pressures, and are not moving to VoIP just because it’s a cool technology.
Just as VoIP brings lower telephony costs to your business, it lowers the barriers to entry for new vendors . These vendors can compete successfully on price against legacy systems, leaving incumbent vendors with no choice but to offer IP-based phones. Legacy phone systems make them more money and are cheaper to support, so they are not moving to VoIP simply to give you a break. This is about survival for them, as VoIP presents an existential threat that totally undermines their business model, along with the control they have exercised for decades over their customers.
By extension, there is an ongoing shift of resources away from legacy to IP, and this will make it harder to get vendor support for your current phone system. Of course, you can choose to buck the trend, especially if you’re not convinced that VoIP is up to the task of displacing TDM service. Many businesses still feel this way, but the facts prove otherwise, and in time you’ll be on your own . At that point, not only will legacy support be near impossible to get from your vendor, but the aftermarket value of your phone system will keep trending downward.
As with any technology that runs its course, you will always be able to scavenge parts and support from the dark corners of the gray market, but after a short while, this patchwork plan will become more trouble than is worth. Sometimes sticking with the status quo due to a reluctance to change can be the right decision, but not with VoIP.
The vendors may not be accustomed to change, but there’s too much at stake to stick with the status quo, and now they can’t move fast enough to IP. This is a great example whereby looking outside your world can tell you a lot about what needs to happen inside your world
Nobody is forcing you to buy a VoIP phone system, but nobody is forcing you to keep your legacy system either. Informed decisions are the best decisions, and whatever went into the decision to buy your current phone system will not be the best inputs for VoIP. Both technologies do a great job with basic telephony, but an informed decision about VoIP will have a more strategic basis.
There will certainly be cases where an informed decision leads you to keep your legacy phone system. However, when you consider the longer-term implications and drivers of business success, we believe the scale tilts heavily in favor of VoIP. The justification, however, will not appear out of thin air. Telephony systems generally don’t break down, so the first step requires proactive thinking and proactive observing about what is going on around you.
When you are fully in that mindset, you will be ready to benefit from this guide. The five indicators reviewed herein should give you plenty of guidance to definitively conclude that a VoIP phone system is the right decision . You may well discover others on your own, but if not, our intention here is to dramatically shorten both the learning curve and decision-making cycle for telephony. If so, then the time you’ve invested here should more than pay for itself by bringing the benefits of IP telephony to your business all that much faster.