How to choose a new Telephone System for your business.
A telephone system for most businesses, like their IT, is a critical part of a business’ infrastructure and choosing a new system can be a daunting task.
Perhaps, one of the best things a business owner can do is be properly informed through their own research. This is ideal but can be very time consuming trying to find information, whether that be from the internet, trade press or by talking to and asking advice from people they know in business.
Remember that there are a vast number of potential suppliers out there are they range from excellent to poor to rogues! There are also a large number of manufacturers offering all sorts of different products involving different technologies. Trying to cut through the woods to see the trees can be almost impossible!
Here are some areas for consideration.
Telephone System Suppliers
Ideally you need to choose a supplier that is based within 2 hours drive from your premises. Only then can they really offer a good level of support – the closer the better!
Ensure that the sales person has properly identified your needs through understanding your business. They should ask you questions about your business processes and try an identify your ‘business pains’. Then they should clearly define why they are suggesting the system recommended. Be careful that they do not have an agenda to sell you something specific – they should act as a consultant throughout the process and be able to offer a range of alternatives.
You should also seek 3 local references – these should be similar businesses to yours that have taken similar systems from them – ring them up and speak to them.
Types of telephone system
There are now many different types of system available. Although many of them have similar features, there will be differences. Here are some different types:
Basic analogue systems – these have little functionality and connect to basic analogue PSTN phone lines. For a small office of, say, 6 people, this may be OK as long as you don’t need anything much in the way of features, although you still can get voicemail and many other features if required. Not many businesses use analogue systems these days.
Digital telephone systems – these connect to digital lines (ISDN2e and ISDN30). However, most digital systems have nw evolved into hybrid systems – see below. The main advantage of a digital system is that the ISDN lines can provide caller ID, Direct dial to extensions, groups etc, call divert and transfer to external numbers (eg mobiles).
Hybrid Telephone Systems – probably the most common type of system now, Hybrids have surpassed digital systems. A hybrid allows you to connect to more or less any technology. Therefore you can have analogue, digital, VoIP and SIP lines and extensions. VoIP and SIP are IP technologies. VoIP and SIP can be very beneficial in the following circumstances:
If you have multiple sites
If you have remote or home workers
If you are moving and need to keep your old numbers
If you are short on voice cabling but have decent and plentiful data cabling
IP telephone systems – These can use digital lines (ie ISDN2e and ISDN30) but you cannot use digital phones – all phones are IP although with some you can use analogue devices (faxes, PDQ’s etc). These have to be deployed carefully. Potentially, your voice is carried on your computer network (not always) so the supplier has to design the solution sympathetically and references are all the more important.
Hosted IP telephone systems – These use VoIP and IP exclusively (ie you cannot connect ISDN, analogue lines, digital phones etc – everything is IP and often all your calls will be delivered via a broadband connection. This solution deployed badly or without proper management can be a disaster. If deployed well, it can be an attractive option.
Business people can make the wrong decisions, both in business and particularly in Telecommunications. Your best chance is to do your research and therefore be able to make some informed decisions.
Remember, the vast majority of sales people have targets and their own agendas so it can be very difficult to find potential suppliers offering best advice. Take your time with your project if you can – Telephone System decisions can often be left to the last minute, particularly if you are moving or relocating your office. If you rush things, invariably things will go wrong.
All telephone systems can use traditional voice cabling apart from any systems with IP phones. The best cabling for all types of system is category 5e cabling (the same cabling you use for your computer network (or Cat6 if you are lucky enough to have a computer floor or raised floor in your office).