ITEXPO begins in:   New Coverage :  Asterisk  |  Fax Software  |  SIP Phones  |  Small Cells

Feature Article
February 2002

Why Adopt A Next-Generation Phone System?


To succeed today, companies must understand that their purpose is serving customers � a group whose expectation levels are rising constantly. We needn�t look further than our own experience to recognize this change. Consider your own reaction to a busy signal when placing a catalog order or to waiting in line at the bank. Technology has made us more demanding consumers. Today, managers in every business must question if their organization has the technology and processes to meet clients� needs. Would your business meet your standards if you were a client? The reality is that today�s customer has immediate access to the competition and can easily make a change. Customers are quite willing to sever existing relationships as soon as service expectations are not met.

Conventional thinking says that small and medium-size businesses are better equipped to keep pace with changing customer expectations because they are closer to the customer and more nimble. However, this is not always the case. Smaller organizations lack the full-time planning resources and capital budgets that Fortune 500 companies can apply to new initiatives. Smaller organizations often react to change faster, but only when these changes are limited adjustments in employee behavior. If changes in technology and processes are required, they are often stung by the costs of complex planning, implementation, and ongoing support. It is the role of technology vendors to fill this void by offering the sophisticated technology and applications that produce best-in-class customer service in simpler, friendlier packages and that dramatically reduce the cost of planning, implementation, and ongoing support. This will allow small and medium-size organizations to excel at all levels.

The next-generation phone system is one of the best examples of a better solution that fulfills small and medium-size business� requirements for better customer service. The IP PBX delivers on the promise to provide simpler, more cost-effective access to the most customer centric applications, including unified messaging, call center applications, speech recognition, and a host of other tools. Some applications are new, while others are adaptations of existing solutions. What these applications share is the ability to take advantage of customer information that is stored or displayed on a computer network. The ability to gather and intelligently use that information is a critical difference.

A Better Fit for Changing Applications
Better suited to emerging and changing applications, IP PBX systems are built to slip into Ethernet networks as easily as stackable Ethernet switches. Since these systems are network addressable devices, they operate as peers with PCs and servers and therefore can easily exchange information with those devices. The ability of an IP PBX to provide users with access and information exemplifies its value and is where return on investment really hits home.

IP PBX systems are based on open architectures and standard protocols, such as IP, Ethernet, TAPI, IMAP4, etc. The open architecture allows for faster development of built-in capabilities, as well as access to third-party applications. The result is a networked telephony system with a richer application portfolio than a traditional PBX system. Often, IP PBXs come equipped with many leading-edge applications built-in, such as browser-based administration, on-screen dialing or PDA dialing, unified messaging with automated attendants and voice mail, and call center capabilities. The applications are easier to operate because they can interoperate with the user�s PC. Information is displayed simply so that it can be understood easily, making workers more productive and customers happier.

Since the IP PBX and IP telephone are part of the data network, the concept of remote users or remote location changes dramatically. If a data network reaches a location, the IP PBX also reaches that same location. At the very least, this allows for remote configuration and maintenance of multiple locations. However, it can just as easily provide remote or teleworkers with the connectivity and feature functionality of an office telephone in the home or the remote office. This type of connectivity is taken for granted with remote access to e-mail � why should telephone calls be different?

Multi-site organizations can benefit further from installing an IP PBX system. By creating a sophisticated, inter-networked location that appears seamless to staff as well as outside callers, telephone calls, voice mails, and faxes can travel between sites without an employee taking extra steps or a customer realizing what has happened. This seamless connectivity saves time, improves communications, and gives the business control to the customer.

Moreover, networked telephony solutions are more economical. The savings come on a number of fronts. The most significant is the elimination of the cost of installing and maintaining duplicate infrastructures. Additionally, maintenance of IP PBX systems is simpler. Entering and updating system information is straightforward and can be accomplished remotely, if necessary. Since networked telephony systems are easy to use, companies can offload routine tasks (such as simple adds and moves) from technicians to users without incurring administrative costs.

Why Make Changes?
The reality is if you stand pat, you�re going to get less of your customers� business, not the same amount. Change isn�t inevitable: It�s necessary.

So why not keep an existing PBX and add to it? The fact is that change is a challenging issue for PBX systems. PBX systems optimize voice communications and cannot support new applications easily. PBX systems were designed to move calls, but not data associated with a call. Basic information about an incoming call, such as Caller ID, is not available to most office employees. Furthermore, if the PBX provides the information via the telephone�s display, there are few ways to get that information out of the PBX so that it can be used to make decisions. The PBX is a closed, proprietary system, and this is why adding an application is complicated and expensive. Too often, businesses forego the expense, and eventually customers pay the consequences.

The limitations of traditional PBX systems are often evident when customers use a call center. Customers are required to input data multiple times because the calling information is stored in the PBX and the customer information resides in databases on the data network. These two environments don�t communicate well. The problem could be solved but only at a significant expense.

Making The Selection
Firms migrating to networked telephony systems are best advised to start the selection process by examining the robustness of an IP PBX�s architecture.

Reliability is a core requirement. While employees may be accustomed to PCs occasionally crashing, the expectation is that the phone will operate all of the time. When examining reliability, focus on the system�s software. Robust hardware is certainly desirable, but experience shows that software disruptions are far more likely than hardware failures. Look for a solution with a dedicated real-time operating system, designed for 24/7 uninterrupted service. A standard PC operating system is great for applications like voice mail or call centers, but the core telephony server should offer greater reliability.

In addition, the solution has to be simple to administer. Look for systems that minimize the quantity and variety of hardware needed to get the system operational. For example, browser-based management helps administrators quickly pinpoint problem spots, even from remote locations. In addition, ensure the solution allows individual users to configure their phones easily to meet personal communication needs and to optimize productivity.

Seek out a solution with built-in applications. Not only are they less expensive, they make deployment and support easier. Multiple, independent applications are inherently more challenging to manage.

Look for a true Ethernet/IP telephone. Don�t be fooled by some products that use older digital phones or single line phones with complicated �bolt-on� gateways to mimic some of the capabilities of an IP PBX. These solutions are merely complicated facades. They lack the real functionality, built-in applications and ease of use of an IP PBX.

Ask for references. Are there five or 5,000 of these products in-use? A skilled reseller with experience installing the solution makes a big difference. There is nothing wrong with pursuing a great new solution, but be certain that the reseller and the manufacturer have real experience with IP PBXs.

Compliance with common telephony standards, such as T1 and T1/PRI as well as typical analog lines, is an absolute requirement. In addition, it�s important to note that E1 and BRI connectivity are necessary for deploying product outside North America, and be aware that analog connections outside North America may be quite different. Don�t assume anything. Ask your vendor if they support connectivity in your required geographies.

During the past few years, there has been a great deal of talk about the benefits of IP PBXs. With voice communications so crucial to daily operations, certain corporations have been hesitant of embracing the technology. This should no longer be the case. Networked telephony has moved out from the early adopter stage into the corporate mainstream. That means that a growing number of companies are deploying this technology with the expectation that they will improve customer service and lower costs. If your company has not already closely examined these next-generation phone systems, maybe your competition has and is planning to use them to transform your customers into theirs. Can you afford to take that risk? c

Greg Zweig is product manager, Networked Telephony Solutions at 3Com Corporation. 3Com is a worldwide leader in functionally rich, easy-to-use networking products that connect businesses to their employees, customers and suppliers � anytime, anywhere. 3Com is also a leader in Internet protocol (IP) service platforms and access infrastructure for the network service provider market. For more information, please visit them on the Web at www.3com.com.

[ Return To The February 2002 Table Of Contents ]

Today @ TMC
Upcoming Events
ITEXPO West 2012
October 2- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
The World's Premier Managed Services and Cloud Computing Event
Click for Dates and Locations
Mobility Tech Conference & Expo
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
Cloud Communications Summit
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas