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Publisher's Outlook
December 2003

Rich Tehrani

Choosing A Telephony Systems For Your Business: 7 Steps to success...


It�s called geocaching or GPS stashing and it�s a new form of high-tech treasure hunting allowing those so inclined to find (using GPS of course) buried treasure in over 73,000 global hiding spaces spread out over 188 countries. There is even one in Afghanistan, which was last found three days before I wrote this article. There are six of these caches just five miles from my ZIP code and if I were to acquire a portable GPS receiver, I would be well on way to finding hidden treasure, which could consist of anything from toys to CDs to other knick knacks. If you locate one, you are supposed to put something in and take something out.

This geocaching craze reminded me a bit of the latest INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO in Long Beach, CA. This was without a doubt the busiest show I have seen since Y2K. Attendees were searching booth by booth for IP telephony products that would allow them to do things that traditional telecom just can�t match. AltiGen Communications was one of the companies that �stole the show.� Their booth was swamped with lines virtually the whole show. Tens of thousands of people subscribe to this magazine and with pass-along and online distribution that figure is far north of 100,000 readers. Not every reader made it to the show so I figured it would be a great idea to ask Jim Puchbauer, AltiGen�s director of marketing about his views on selecting a telephony system. Perhaps this way you too can have that �I made it to the show� feeling without even having left your desks.

A bit of history on AltiGen Communications� They were one of the first companies to develop a PC-based PBX system in the late 1990s and over time they have put the latest technology into their solutions and they can now rival the offerings from just about any vendor in the market.

RT: What do you think about product demonstrations?
JP: Answering the question �When are you ready to see a product demonstration?� can often yield insight into your technology evaluation process. There is a lot of pressure to push the demonstration far too early in the purchasing cycle, not the least of which comes from the vendor sales reps themselves. Many buyers misuse the demonstration process, thinking it will give them insight into current market and product capabilities. While this is somewhat true, what actually happens is that businesses miss the best opportunity to test the fit of a solution for their company.

RT: How can you ensure satisfaction when purchasing the latest telecom products?
JP: Before you see a vendor demonstrate that �silver bullet� product for you, I would like to recommend seven tips to creating your own success story. We have found that our happiest customers have used the following steps as part of a well-ordered and strategic evaluation process.

1. What�s the first step in selecting a new telephony system for small business?
Step one is prepare to �write your own success story.� To do this, businesses need to really understand what they are trying to accomplish and what the necessary returns are. I always recommend the exercise of projecting themselves forward as if the purchase were complete and then metaphorically looking back.
For example, You currently frustrate your customers because every time they call, you treat them like you have never heard of them (�who are you�what is your account number�.oh, you need to talk to Mary <transfer> Hello this is Mary�. who are you�what is your account number��)

Your success story should include the following: When your customers call, they are routed to the right person on the first try and their customer records are automatically delivered to the service representative�s PC when they call. In other words, the telephone system is helping to improve your customer relationship by integrating with systems and technology you already have implemented such as your customer database. There are infinite examples. The point is that in order to write your success story later, you must identify the goals the telephone system must solve and the problems it must address.

2. How can you determine your strategic goals?
One good place to look is your stated business practice, company tag line and/or slogan. Does your company �earn trust the old-fashioned way� or �treat customers like family?� Then your strategic business decision and technology purchases should support doing business with these company ideals.

3. What perspective should you include for evaluating technology?
At a minimum, I recommend solving the underlying business issues from these four perspectives:
� Your Customer�s perspective (who is exposed to it).
� Your Employee�s perspective (who will be using it).
� Your Management�s perspective (who manages the process).
� Your Support team�s perspective (who supports the technology).
Here you visualize your business and the different departments and individuals. Make sure the solution meets the needs of all your users and business centers. This is not a topology decision initially. First solve the business process, customer relationship and system management needs, and then implement that solution on the topology that makes sense for your business.

4. How can you anticipate your needs beyond today�s requirements?
Fortunately, seeing into the future is not a requirement to successfully prepare for future needs. One of the best ways to future-proof your strategic assets -- in this example your telephone system -- is to assess a few basic potentials:
� Potential growth -- How do vendors handle growth of an individual system or adding additional sites or locations?
� Potential remote employees -- How could you handle business expansion or new business ventures with employees in new markets?
� Potential new businesses applications -- How could your system integrate with customer relationship management systems or customer databases?
� Potential emerging technologies -- What are the new emerging technologies and how has the vendor�s equipment handled keeping up with the new technology in the past?
What you can guarantee is that things will change, so the easier your system makes it to manage the moves, adds, and changes, the better you will be able to handle the inevitable. And if you can do it yourself, it costs you nothing.

5. How do you set up the evaluation process?
The first rule is: Don�t let vendors sell you what their product does. Instead, prepare them to sell you what you need! This involves agreeing on a process that every vendor must follow. The process needs to set a common framework and expectations for the vendors. You must require every vendor to do a business analysis. This necessitates giving vendors access to all key user groups. Minimally, the four mentioned in tip number three. This is where you uncover issues from perspectives beyond that of the executive management team (and the sales rep).

6. How can you compare apples to apples and get a meaningful proposal?
Ask for an official conclusion and agree on the findings. Require your vendor to submit a needs analysis. It will invariably go something like this� Upon evaluating your business environment we found that we can solve your �Xs� and give you �Y.� You must agree that their conclusions are accurate and relevant and that they address and solve your most critical telecom challenges.

7. What influence should you exert on the demonstration phase?
Finally, you are ready to make that all important request -- show me how you can help me. You must require the vendor to demo only the results of the analysis that you have agreed are relevant to your business first. The first five steps will allow you to avoid multiple vendors coming in and �machine gunning� you with every feature they have. These feature firefights are unproductive and confusing. After a few demonstrations, you won�t remember one system from another and you have lost sight of the original purpose of the process.

RT: Please elaborate on this final point a bit.
JP: Well, if you and your vendors have followed this basic process, the outcome should yield very targeted solutions to your core business issues. By accepting a proposal only from vendors that you have allowed to complete the first six steps, the proposal can pass the �meaningful and relevant� test and the vendor has had a full opportunity to uncover unique areas where they can impact your business. Good luck! You are well on your way to implementing strategic technology with maximum benefit to your company.

RT: Now for the fun stuff... What will you be showing at the next Internet Telephony show this February in Miami?
JP: We will have a number of exciting new products to display including demonstrations of our tight integration with Microsoft CRM. We have eight levels of integration at the moment which is the deepest integration anyone has done to date. Our integration is done with .NET tools making it much tighter than traditional CTI tools. We will also show our new H-PBX which is the first affordable hosted IP PBX for multi-tenant organizations. This product can also be used to provide IP Centrex as well.

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