Even though Business VoIP has been commercially available for 10+ years, most businesses still rely on legacy telephony. These phone systems were built to last, and given their high cost, businesses are inclined to keep them in use as long as possible. This may be a sound fiscal decision, but it’s getting harder to defend as Business VoIP gains traction and how related technologies are adding value to businesses of all sizes.
Once you’ve reached the point where moving forward is the best path for your business, determining how you migrate from legacy to Business VoIP becomes the next priority. Recognizing that Business VoIP is the future for business telephony is the first step, but now you need a plan.
Since Business VoIP is fundamentally different from legacy telephony, the migration path will be new, and that is why this guide has been prepared.
All forms of change carry risk, but there is enough critical mass of success with Business VoIP to make this transition manageable. While you don’t need to know every aspect of this migration from the outset, you certainly need an overall roadmap, not just for your own planning but also to provide management both comfort and confidence in moving to Business VoIP now.
The five success factors outlined herein should be more than adequate for both needs, and by addressing these, the risks associated with Business VoIP will be minimized to the point where you’ll be wondering why you didn’t do this sooner.
Five Key Success Factors
Once you decide your business is ready for Business VoIP, you need a plan. Migrating to a new technology is not a simple matter of flipping a switch – although, once deployed, Business VoIP is easier to manage and update than legacy systems.
Before you can get there, a number of factors need to be considered, and these may be broader than expected. Buying a legacy phone system has a rather limited impact on your operations, and while Business VoIP is more involved, the benefits across the business will be more extensive.
Just because Business VoIP is new doesn’t mean it has to be complex, and by addressing these five success factors, your risk will be nominal. There may well be some small hiccups along the way, but with a good plan, there is no question your business will be better off making this migration
Success factor #1 – recognize this is a journey
The very first thing you need to understand is that Business VoIP is still an evolving technology. Ten years ago, few businesses would have taken Business VoIP seriously enough to replace their legacy systems and services, but a lot has changed. Back then, both the quality and reliability were not business-grade, and there were valid concerns about Business VoIP’s ability to scale for larger deployments.
Over time, these issues have been addressed, plus broadband capacity is far more capable of supporting voice today. This speaks to another reason why migrating to Business VoIP is a journey. Independent of Business VoIP’s evolution path, many of the technologies around it are on their own evolutionary track, which in some cases is moving faster than Business VoIP’s. Key examples include fixed broadband infrastructure (namely fiber and Gigabit Ethernet), wireless networks (4G/ LTE), the explosion of smart phones and tablets, and the rise of cloud-based platforms to host applications like Business VoIP.
All of this adds up to environment that never stands still, and lies in stark contrast to the world of legacy telephony that you know so well. Chances are your legacy phones have not changed from the day you got them, and your system is probably still working well today.
If you were to update this with another legacy phone system, it would likely be a newer version of what you have, with very few new features – but still with a legacy price tag. Given how the technology world is constantly changing, it’s incredible to think that legacy telephony has remained static for so long.
The reason why the time is right for Business VoIP migration is that your business has caught up to what’s changed, with the realization that legacy telephony has simply fallen too far behind what’s needed today. In that regard, you need to view this migration as a journey. If you chose instead to maintain the status quo with another legacy phone system, there is no journey. This would be a lateral move at best, moving you forward a few inches, whereas Business VoIP moves you forward a few miles . Presuming you’re aware of Business VoIP, the only rationale for doing this would be that you don’t trust the technology or believe it can meet your needs.
That is certainly a valid decision, but by staying in your comfort zone, this move is only a destination – there is no discovery or growth that comes with a journey. With all the new capabilities that come with Business VoIP and the broader umbrella of Unified Communications, this is a pretty difficult decision to defend, especially if you see what your competitors and customers are doing. Once you’re ready to move past that, treating this migration as a journey is a critical part of having success with Business VoIP.
This means you’re prepared to accept some bumps along the way, knowing that the net upside is very promising. You have to take on some risk to get the rewards, and while sticking with legacy telephony is certainly an option, that poses risk as well, but with implications that will only grow over time. Staying still is fine if nothing around you is moving, but Business VoIP will continue to improve, continue to add value and continue to fall in price. By all accounts, this seems like a journey well worth taking.
Success factor #2 – address the needs of three stakeholder groups
Part of framing your Business VoIP migration as a journey is defining a sense of purpose. You can limit that to reducing telecom costs, and that’s perfectly acceptable. However, the broader you consider how Business VoIP can impact your business, the more strategic that sense of purpose becomes.
The best way to address that is to look at how Business VoIP will impact particular groups within your company. Every business has a distinct structure, but there are three core stakeholder groups common to all that stand to benefit from Business VoIP. Most important are employees, since they are the end users and represent the broadest group of stakeholders. The next audience to consider is executives – or owners – since they are the ultimate decision-makers for this migration. Of course, they are end users too, but their expectations as decision-makers will be quite different, finally, there is IT – or whatever function is responsible for your network.
Business VoIP will benefit each of these in different ways, and you really didn’t need to think like this with legacy telephony. With employees, they really won’t have any expectations since they’re not decision-makers, and the experience should be pretty transparent. In most cases, a Business VoIP deployment will work exactly the same as what they’re used to, and they don’t even have to know there’s been a change.
Stakeholder group #1 – employees
Where it gets interesting with end users is to anticipate how they will benefit from the new capabilities that Business VoIP brings. One example will be an increased volume of calls going over your phone system. Since domestic Business VoIP calls generally do not incur long distance charges, employees will be less reluctant to make those calls this way.
Two benefits come from this.
- Employees will communicate more regularly by voice, which is especially good for their dealings with customers. Email may be more efficient and cost-effective, but nothing beats. A real-time voice conversation.
- Second, they will rely less on Web-based options for making voice calls. While the initial attraction is to save the company a toll charge, the voice experience will not be as good compared to your Business VoIP phone system.
This is just one way end users will benefit from Business VoIP, and over time, others will become evident, further validating your migration plan.
Think about how they will respond to visual voicemail, which alerts them by email for new messages, and includes an MP3 file so they can listen to the message from their PC . Another example would be extending Business VoIP to the PC via a softphone, providing the same calling features as the desk phone. Not only are there many others that can be used today, but Business VoIP is constantly innovating, and more will be coming down the road.
Stakeholder Group #2 – Executives
These are the economic buyers and will have little interest in the technology behind Business VoIP. They will certainly be interested in how much money the business can save with Business VoIP, so you need to validate that, both comprehensively and quickly. Business VoIP will deliver a number of savings right away, and presuming you can generate that data from your provider, you’ll be able to address this concern early on.
This is the most important expectation to manage, but you can raise the business value of Business VoIP by showing executives how Business VoIP can make employees more productive. They may not be thinking this way, but with help from Business VoIP vendors you can provide them with examples to show that Business VoIP is more than just an updated phone system. Think about being able to track every aspect of every call – something you couldn’t do with legacy telephony. Another benefit is the way that Business VoIP can integrate with other communications modes for richer experiences that can help streamline business processes.
Stakeholder #3 –IT
Whether this is one person or a team of 10, the migration to Business VoIP must consider their needs. The big picture benefit is network convergence, whereby voice traffic is ported from a dedicated network to the LAN. Legacy environments are expensive to maintain, and having these parallel networks is a big reason why. Clearly this will provide both financial and operational benefits that IT will welcome.
Another upside is that Business VoIP requires less hand-holding from IT. Many Business VoIP features and updates can be self-provisioned by employees rather than being handled as help desk requests. On a financial level, the costs associated with MACs – Moves, Adds and Changes – can pretty much be eliminated. With legacy systems, a service call was usually required, along with new wiring to keep the phones connected to the network. Business VoIP is fundamentally different this way, since the IP address resides in the endpoint, and can access the LAN from any broadband connection.
An entire guide could be dedicated to IT-level benefits, with the main idea here being to understand there is a distinct set of needs and benefits that differ from the other stakeholder groups. When you have a plan for addressing all three groups, your deployment risk will be considerably reduced, especially if your objective is to deliver more than cost savings with Business VoIP.
Success factor #3 – choose the right deployment model
Once you have accounted for how Business VoIP will impact the people in your environment, the next step is to consider the network-level implications. With legacy, a phone system decision was quite straightforward, since they all worked the same way on the voice network . Since Business VoIP will run over your data network, it must share resources that require varying degrees of bandwidth. This is especially important since Business VoIP is a real time application that can easily be compromised with sudden shifts in bandwidth availability.
For this reason, a key aspect of your migration plan is choosing a deployment model that is best suited for your current IT environment. Unless you expect any radical changes, you must be realistic about your ability to properly support Business VoIP today. Fortunately, there are options for all levels of IT readiness, with the following being the primary deployment models to choose from.
Deployment model #1 – premise-based
This is the most common among SMBs, and represents a continuation for what you’ve been doing with legacy. The vast majority of legacy phone systems are premise-based, meaning that the business owns the phones and actively manages the network to ensure service continuity. While this provides the greatest amount of end-to-end control, it is the most costly option and may requires dedicated IT resources. Business VoIP can certainly be deployed this way, but only if you are certain that the means are there to do it. Even if you have this, you may not want to, especially if you see a declining role for IT or are concerned that the new technology will be too complex to manage.
Deployment model #2 – cloud-based
This is the converse of premise-based, with the main variants being managed or hosted. In either case, IT chooses to outsource some aspects of Business VoIP. This could be a financial decision, but also one based on expertise and priorities for how your available IT resources should be utilized. A hosted scenario involves having the Business VoIP service operated remotely from the operator’s data center, but the business still manages the local network environment. When all of this is outsourced, we have the managed variation.
Any form of cloud will likely be fraught with confusing language. While the cloud has been in use for a long time by IT, communications has only recently found a home there. There have been many versions of hosted and managed Business VoIP for years, but traction has been limited for a variety of reasons. Cloud has suddenly become a disruptive trend, and we now have a plethora of viable cloud-based options for Business VoIP.
Deployment model #3 – hybrid
A premise-based model is best for companies that want the least disruptive migration path, whereas cloud is best when the driving force is to spend as little money as possible and/or when IT resources will not be sufficient to support Business VoIP.
These options will address most situations, but other cases exist where a hybrid model works best. This is the best-of-both-worlds scenario whereby the business wants to deploy Business VoIP now, but the legacy phone system still has good life left. If the business has a lot of unamortized capital tied up in a phone system, the cost savings from Business VoIP won’t be enough to justify a changeover to IP phones. This poses a challenge, since legacy phones are not natively compatible with Business VoIP.
Hybrid offers a workaround by adding an ATA peripheral to the phones – Analog Telephone Adapter. These devices are inexpensive, and will Business VoIP-enable analog phones by converting them to a digital signal. While this does not provide a true Business VoIP experience, it will support enough basic features to make the deployment worthwhile. This way the business can keep using their legacy phone system and take their first step on the Business VoIP migration path with a minimal amount of change.
Success factor #4 – choose the right vendor
This factor goes hand-in-hand with the deployment model, especially when you consider there are two elements involved for a Business VoIP solution. First is the choice vendor for your phone system and second is the decision around the Business VoIP service provider. In some cases, one partner can provide both, but in others you may prefer separate decisions for each.
Just because Business VoIP is a break with the past doesn’t mean you have to start fresh all around. The first decision point you’ll face on this front is whether to stick with your incumbent telecom vendor. Going back to factor #1, the thought process you went through to determine why you’re doing this probably contains the answer to this question. If the historical relationship has been good, and they are offering a great migration path, this could well be your best bet. The definition of “great” here would likely mean competitive pricing, possibly cash flow-friendly financing, a no-lose trade to swap out your legacy gear, and a fresh start with a Business VoIP system that seamlessly ties into your network.
Conversely, if the history hasn’t been good, you’ve probably decided already to move on –regardless of the offer they put on the table. Many SMBs use phone systems from Tier 1 vendors, mainly because there was little choice back in legacy times. Even if the solutions are good, SMBs are generally not priority customers, and when it comes to making big decisions about adopting new technology, it’s easy to see why you would want to make a switch. Sometimes you just want to do this to start with a clean slate, but you also need to know your partner will be a good fit overall.
This scenario creates a two-staged decision point, and some aspects will be new for SMBs. The first consideration is whether you move to a different Tier 1 vendor or go with a smaller Tier 2 vendor. Of course, this applies regardless of which tier your incumbent vendor is – the choice is to either stay at this level or move to another tier. There are good reasons for all these permutations, and you just to factor in the tradeoffs that come with each.
Once you decide which tier you’re most comfortable with, there’s a different and broader decision point to address next. With legacy systems, your vendor is almost certainly telephony- based, and this may well apply for all the phone system vendors you’re aware of as well as willing to consider for this migration.
There is nothing wrong with that, but you’ll be drawing from the same pool as your competitors, so this path won’t give you much of an edge for differentiation.
Depending on how well you are schooled about the Business VoIP ecosystem, you may be surprised to learn how many options are available from vendors outside the telephony world. This is especially true for cloud-based solutions where the brains of the service are hosted, and all you really need to provide are IP phones.
If your Business VoIP vision is to leapfrog the competition and be on the leading edge of communications innovation, this will likely be the path for you. This adds another layer of risk by taking on an unknown partner, but the payoff will be worth it if you can execute on your plan.
Success factor #5 – prepare for the implementation process
These first four factors cover a lot of ground and will provide a solid foundation for your migration to Business VoIP. However, they don’t address the issues of implementation, which is where IT has the most hands-on involvement. There are many steps in this process, and we would need a dedicated guide to cover them in detail. For purposes of this guide, my intention is to summarize the key steps to ensure you understand the scope of what your Business VoIP implementation will entail. What follows are five key steps that outline the overall process.
- Review contractual status with partners for you phone system and telephony provider. You need to know your obligations for either remaining with or moving on from these partners. This would include options for replacing your phone system as well as payment methods – either for owning or leasing.
- Once you know who your partners are going to be, you need to develop an implementation timetable. This will include a roadmap for the various phases of implementation, key milestones, rewards/penalties for hitting/missing targets, and clear roles/responsibilities for all parties. You’ll need this not just to manage the process but also to share with management so they stay informed along the way
- Network assessment to determine IP-readiness. This may need to be done earlier in the process, especially for deciding on whether to remain premise-based or to go with the cloud. Upgrades may be needed either way, but that will be a good investment if you’re thinking about the benefits beyond the move to Business VoIP.
- End user engagement. You’ll need to decide just how much you want to tell employees about the migration plan. At minimum, they’ll need to know about what’s new/different, but also that most of what they’ll be doing doesn’t change at all. For example, the dial plan should remain in place, as well as most of the programmable options on the desk phone keypad. However you choose to proceed, the important thing is to let them know a change is coming, and it’s one that will help them be more productive without having to learn new skills.
Pilot testing and fine-tuning. Since a lot will be new technology-wise with Business VoIP, you’re best off initially doing a pilot, perhaps with a branch office or a team designated for this purpose. You need to make sure Business VoIP performs as advertised and that your network is properly optimized. Before rolling it out across your organization, you’ll need to know, for example, that quality will hold up when bandwidth demand spikes or that the network can support concurrent call volumes when expected peaks occur.
All forms of change carry risk, but you wouldn’t pursue them if you didn’t think the benefits were worth it. In that regard, Business VoIP is somewhat speculative since none of the benefits will be realized until the migration takes place, and even then, there are no firm guarantees. In the vast majority of cases the gains are very real, but your Business VoIP migration plan must, by nature, be carried out in good faith.
In other words, the anticipated benefits will be expected and not hoped for. Business VoIP has established enough of a track record that any business can believe in it, so the risk associated with your migration should be pretty manageable. Whether your migration goals are modest or leading edge, Business VoIP can be implemented successfully with a good plan.
Building on our ongoing research with SMBs, this guide has summarized a broad migration plan based on five success factors. While there is a lot to consider when moving to a new technology like Business VoIP – especially for something as mission-critical as telephony – these five success factors will go a long way to ensuring your plan will succeed as well as position the business to benefit from emerging technologies that follow in Business VoIP’s footsteps.