White Paper: What You Should Know About Deploying a Cloud- Based Phone System

Sep 2015

What You Should Know About Deploying a Cloud- Based Phone System

Executive Summary

Cloud-based business phone systems are revolutionizing how companies serve their customers, grow their business and support their employees. By delivering enterprise-caliber communications capabilities at a much lower cost than traditional premise-based systems, cloud-based phone systems help organizations of all sizes compete effectively in the market and save money.

The advantages of scale have for some time enabled larger enterprises to deploy robust IP PBX (Internet protocol private branch exchanges) phone systems at a relatively affordable cost point. However large capital expenditures, the necessity of employee concentrations, and meaningful maintenance requirements have typically put such systems beyond the reach of the SMB market.

Today, for organizations of all sizes, there is a cost-effective alternative to IP PBX and legacy analog phone systems – the cloud-based phone system (aka Cloud PBX, Hosted PBX, Cloud VoIP, etc.). A cloud-based phone system eliminates the need for large up-front capital expenditures and scale with your business. It also offers a rich feature set that surpasses that of a traditional phone system, offering all of the functionality you are accustomed to together with advanced elements such as mobility, business continuity and web collaboration.

Impetus for Change

IP telephony – calling over the Internet – is quickly becoming the standard for business voice communications. There are the three key drivers of this trend:

#1 LOWER COST

The first one you already know, it’s cost. When you can procure a robust communications system for a predictable monthly fee, nobody in their right mind would want to spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars up-front on a new piece of equipment, only to be burdened with additional expenses such as software assurance, maintenance and customer support. Realized cost savings vary significantly by a number of factors including size of deployment, feature set and which incumbent technologies are being displaced, but typically the three-year total cost of ownership of a cloud-based business phone system is 20% to 30% less than that of traditional premise-based phone system.

#2 RICHER FEATURES

The second key driver is less well known, but probably more important. Cloud-based phone systems can deliver a richer feature set than legacy analog systems and PBXs. These features include things like push-pull calling, video calling, web demos and inherent business continuity. The ability to seamlessly route and hand off calls across multiple networks or devices is a game-changer from an employee productivity and customer service standpoint and is something legacy phone systems will never be able to do.

#3 INCREASED BANDWIDTH

Lastly, huge increases in the availability of bandwidth in recent years are driving adoption of cloud services across the board. This is especially true in the field of cloud-based telephony, where synchronous communication needs to be high quality to be useful to the end users. Today, most customers reside in markets where they can easily procure enough bandwidth to deliver high-quality voice traffic over the top of their public Internet connection. Using the Internet also enables the cloud service provider to substantially reduce or eliminate usage-based charges (long distance) altogether. When you combine a lower cost point with the robust features at high quality offered by cloud phone systems, it’s no surprise that businesses are rapidly adopting these solutions.

The Promise of Cloud-Based Phone Systems

The marketplace is buzzing with people talking about unified communications and cloud technology. Separating the substance from the fluff can sometimes be difficult, particularly for the SMB buyer who is not an IT whiz, but in large measure all of the hype is justified. Here are some of the benefits of cloud- based business phone systems:

PROFESSIONALISM

Perception is reality in business, and having the right phone system can make all the difference in the world when it comes to your customer’s experience and willingness to do business with you. With the right communications technology, even a mom-and-pop shop can appear to be a large enterprise with resources to deliver.

MOBILITY & DISPERSED WORKFORCE

Your employees don’t need to be sitting at a desk to take and receive calls on their work line. They can use a mobile device, computer or home phone to do business from any place, across all kinds of networks.

SCALABILITY

Companies can start with a small number of phone lines and seamlessly add services at the original or new location without any hardware constraints or system limitations. Adding and removing workers and features is easy and simple – like it should be – giving you maximum flexibility to run your business.

BUSINESS CONTINUITY

Robust business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities are essential in the modern workplace. If you experience a network outage, your calls will be seamlessly rerouted to another location, office or cell phone. Never miss an important call again, and keep your business moving forward.

IMPROVED PRODUCTIVITY

When your employees communicate more efficiently, both internally and with customers, your business will benefit. With a cloud-based phone system, you can customize auto attendants to intelligently route calls to the proper extensions, forward voicemail to email, and benefit from easy-to-use web portals to manage your communications.

MAINTENANCE & UPGRADES

All day-to-day maintenance and software upgrades are included as part of your subscription service. Say goodbye to costly PBX upgrades and annual software assurance charges from legacy vendors.

ADVANCED FEATURES

When voice calls are routed over IP networks, the addition of enhanced communications features like video calls, web collaboration sessions, real-time chat and presence-sharing becomes a reality. Unified Communications is about simplifying the user experience across multiple applications, devices and
networks, whether you are dealing with a basic two-person voice call or a multi-party video collaboration session.

Selecting the Right Provider

Even after you have decided that a hosted phone solution is right for your business, cutting through the sales speak and selecting the right service provider can still be a huge challenge. Look at these things:

CUSTOMER SUPPORT

What is the service provider’s approach to customer service? There are some big differences out there. Some cloud phone providers deliver their solution 100% remotely via the phone, web demos, and emails with no salesperson, voice engineer or support technician ever setting foot on the customer site. These providers often rely exclusively on self-help videos or online quick reference guides, and to the extent there is any live human support it is strictly from offshore call centers. Other providers take a more hands-on approach, allocating more resources to in-person support from experienced people. Know what you’re buying.

PLATFORM

Ask your service provider what the underlying platform is for their hosted offering and make sure that it is enterprise-grade, scaling all the way from the small business to the large enterprise with rich functionality. Broadsoft, Cisco HCS and Genband are examples of robust platforms. Some cloud providers are simultaneously trying to compete in the software development business while at the same time trying to directly sell and service customers. It is hard to do multiple things well, and either capabilities or service levels invariably falter. Redundancy is also essential, and having the service hosted in multiple carrier hotels with seamless fail-over capability is something you should require.

IMPLEMENTATION

Call flows within a business can often be complicated, with multiple auto-attendants, hunt groups, and call trees frequently required within the same corporate environment, particularly as you move toward the enterprise. Make sure that your service provider has expertise in these areas and will provide you with the support you require. Some cloud providers have years of experience and will set all of these things up in person as part of a white glove implementation. Other providers will ship you the phones and leave you to install them. Either approach can work, but again, make sure you know what you’re buying.

NETWORK

As call quality and bandwidth have greatly improved in recent years, more and more service providers are running their communications traffic over-the-top to meet their customers’ needs at the lowest price point possible. Customers save money by eliminating local and long distance charges and their legacy voice line. The impact of this is that monitoring the customers’ networks and verifying sufficient bandwidth exists for real-time communications has become an important part of the service provider’s offering. The best service providers perform network assessments on the front end, and then install a network monitoring tools to provide visibility for support on the back end. Be wary of a hosted provider who will sell you a hosted system without addressing these points.

EQUIPMENT

Certain cloud service providers require that you purchase new phones on the front end, which requires you to deploy capital on the front end, and could leave you with outdated devices. A few years ago nobody was offering Gig phones or video-compatible phones. Other service providers require you to lease the phones separately, which enables you to avoid the up-front capital outlay but may introduce additional complexity like multiple bills when the service provider and leasing entity are separate companies. Perhaps the best model is where your cloud service provider gives you the phone instruments as part of the managed service offering, but the downside here is that you might need to sign a multi-year contract as the vendor tries to recoup their initial outlay in the instruments over a period of time. Again, as with everything, know what you are getting yourself into on the front end.

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