Are VoIP solutions coming down in scale to make fiscal sense for the small and mid-sized market? As an SMB, what key things should I know about the technology before considering a purchase?

The concept of VoIP originated just over 10 years ago. Although no individual stands out as its official inventor, it is interesting that Internet hobbyists, not business leaders, first dreamed up the possibility.

While to many it still seems so new, it has been steadily improving. And solutions are coming down in scale.

Both service providers and equipment manufacturers are now offering a number of VoIP solutions for the market. The new IP services cover a number of business models, addressing the varying needs of today’s small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). The options are plentiful for customers who have the upfront investment needed for an on-site phone system. And there are an increasing number of hosted solutions for those whose business is better suited to fund the transition to a VoIP solution through monthly subscription.

It can be challenging to keep ahead of changing technology and find the right solution for each individual or business need but SMBs don’t want to be disadvantaged technologically as the result of size or cost.

Although VoIP is proven, there are a number of things to consider before adopting the technology. The most important element in the transition is determining what the key drivers are for your company — this will help establish the best technology solution for your business.

Generally a company’s key business drivers for moving to VoIP fall into one or more of the following categories:

  1. Productivity savings: New IP features are allowing gains not previously possible, like with a service such as find-me-follow-me, which ensures salespeople never miss a call while away from the office.
  2. Global needs: Customers who have a distributed organization can reap the benefits of sharing the same networks. Agents can now tell when employees in a remote office are available to take a call.
  3. Business trigger event: A number of triggers can create an opportunity to implement a VoIP solution. The most common triggers include a company move to a new location, expansion or acquisition.
  4. Cost reduction: Reduce costs such as service charges, installation or long-distance rates.

Once the main drivers have been identified, there are a number of technology considerations:

  1. State of IT readiness: VoIP solutions need to run over a data network. Is the network you have in place ready to receive this new voice traffic? Or do you need to look at increasing the network bandwidth, the quality of the wiring in your building, the switches or other hardware in your network?
  2. Ongoing support: supporting these new VoIP solutions is a challenge for IT departments. First, they might be required to support the software that powers the new system. Then there is the added benefit of supporting the end users — your employees. A SMB looking to implement an IP telephony solution will need to determine if it wants its staff to take on this added work, outsource it to a service provider, or implement a hybrid option where it takes on only what it has the capacity and skills to handle.
  3. 911: A common question about VoIP solutions is “what about 911 calls?” A number of solutions are available to ensure that you have adequate 911 coverage.
  4. System availability: Ask yourself just how important it is that your employees be able to make an outside call, or that a customer reach you the first time they try? This varies greatly depending on your business. A number of VoIP systems allow businesses that do not require a dedicated phone line and phone number to share a pool of lines. For some businesses, if a customer cannot get through it means guaranteed lost revenue. Making this important decision will help identify the best solution to fit your needs.

Information and communications technologies are changing. No matter what the technology solution, SMBs are changing the way they work and finding a faster route to growth and success. If you know your business well and are able to make an informed buying decision, VoIP can do its part to help take your organization down that route.

Kelly Duplisea is vice-president of SMB Markets for Bell Aliant., a large regional communications provider of information and communication services including telephony, wireless, Internet, data, video and value-added business solutions. Through its xwave offices, Bell Aliant also provides IT professional services.

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