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The phone system is often the last thing to be replaced in any business. Through the recession I watched companies let phone systems that were 15 years old limp along, just praying they would turn back on if they were ever shut off.
If you’re at a point this year where you are ready to change to a new phone system, here are a few things I’ve learned throughout the years about upgrades.
Before you start looking at new options, find out what you’re on the hook for in regards to contracts. Review your phone provider and find out what you currently have, whether it’s POTS lines, a PRI or even SIP (and, yes, the acronyms are endless in this industry).
Even if you had these lines installed years ago, they can include an “evergreen” in the contract that will automatically renew their services unless you cancel them within a certain timeframe.
In addition, gather information on your current maintenance contract with your phone vendor (if you have one) and understand what you’re getting. These don’t often automatically renew, but it’s good to at least have a good understanding of how to get out of your maintenance contract when you need to.
It’s important before you start evaluating new products to know what you currently have. Count up how many handsets (phones) you currently have, what kind of cabling those phones are using, make note of any wireless phones, and take into account remote users.
All of these types of questions will give you a good idea of what to expect in additional expenses on a new system. For instance, if all of your phones are ancient, they are probably running on CAT3 which means you will need new cabling if you want to install a modern system (which requires CAT5 or better).
Is your current system redundant if a part fails? What happens if you lose power or your phone provider goes down? Where do the calls go when your system or your provider are down?
After you understand what you currently have, you’ve already started the planning process. In asking questions about your current system you’ve probably identified potential holes and failures that were lurking.
Start to dream a little about what you would want. Do you want a redundant system? How about HD quality voice? Do you want everyone to have a direct phone number internally? What software internally would you want to have integrate with your new system? What about setting up remote sites and/or remote individual users?
Answering these types of questions before you start looking at products is important. If you know what you want up front, you will avoid wasting time sitting through demos of products that aren’t a fit (and you’ll save time for vendors as well).
With any large jump from old technology to new, you can expect some upgrading cost, but there are some hidden costs that can hurt you going forward.
A few that I see consistently involve failing to take into account the need to upgrade your network infrastructure in preparation for a new system. Often it becomes an afterthought to include the need for new switches (particularly POE switches) to handle the new system, and new cabling to connect the phones throughout your facility.
Another thing to look for is how much the new phone system can scale. Some new systems are built to max out at a certain number of handsets and require you to replace the core of your system as you grow.
If you expect a good amount of growth in the future, make sure to identify whether you will have to make a heavy investment or if the system allows you to just add resources as you go (also called stackable).
Lastly, the cost of support can often be overlooked. How complicated is this system? Who does support work and what does it cost? Are you able to get resources internally certified with some short courses to manage minor changes? Make sure you read up on the pain points other companies are experiencing and find out if support has been a problem.
David Darmstandler is CEO of Datapath, an IT services company with headquarters in Modesto. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.