Small Biz Phone Systems: Consider More than Just Pricing

phone_jacks.jpgSmall business owners have an increasing number of choices for their phone systems today. It’s no longer an automatic move to get a traditional PBX phone system installed when setting up shop. They are aware of other options, from hosted solutions to cable to VoIP, that might give them better pricing and features for their needs.
We talked with Danny Windham, CEO of Digium about recent trends in small business communications and some of the options available to small businesses today.
What does the future of small business communication looks like?
There will be a continued reliance on a company business phone system. While some have argued that the cell phone will take over there may be isolated situations where this is true. At Digium we don’t believe that will happen anytime soon because of a number of factors including the emergence of high definition “wideband” audio and the fact that businesses today are paying premiums to get high quality wideband desktop phones with advanced features and high reliability. Users still want their land-locked desk phones for a combination of reasons from personal choice to moderate cost to integration with new IP enabled applications. These applications will be the foundation of increased adoption of VoIP because they easily integrate various unified communication applications, better control and even the adoption of desktop video which is a fast growing application reducing travel costs. While this will be true for most small and medium sized businesses, the very smallest customers may choose rely on hosted and cloud based solutions. Open source Asterisk-based systems are available in all these service delivery choices for businesses.

Beyond saving money on telephone calls, what other reasons should one consider VOIP?

VoIP can also save money on infrastructure and operating expenses. Aside from direct cost savings, VoIP enables functionality not available in traditional TDM systems, such as working-from-anywhere, utilizing a PC as a phone, delivering voice mails and faxes via email and vice versa, and easily integrating business communications capabilities with existing business processes.
There are many telephone appliance PBX (do it yourself) on the market such as Microsoft Response Point and TalkSwitch – how do these fit in to the telephone solutions that a business needs?
These are but two of the many alternatives available in to smaller end-user customers. While a good start, they do not offer the expansion and flexibility that businesses need. Both of these systems are limited in the number of users and applications and are not scalable but fit some small businesses requirements. Appliances will continue to be introduced for special purpose applications based on IP for years to come.
Where do virtual telephone systems such as Gotvmail or RingCentral fit in?
These offerings are both in the category of hosted service provider. Hosting has certain advantages along with some disadvantages. Companies who choose hosted solutions lose complete control over their voice system. They pay ongoing monthly fees in return for services. If the hosted provider goes our of business, the user loses their phone system. Typically, all moves-add-changes are done by the hosted provider and each additional service raises the recurring costs. In general, hosting works well for smaller busiensses and becomes less attractive as the business grows in size due to costs and loss of control becomes even more risky for larger business. Hosting has been reasonably successful for under 15 seats with some larger companies evaluating hosted’s long term total cost of ownership. These costs can easily exceed premise-based solutions. Some customers may explore special purpose hosted applications but the core business phone system would remain premise-based. We are seeing interest in cloud-based telephony services which are similar to hosted but they are at an early stage and business models are not yet mature.
Larger businesses using systems from Microsoft, Cisco (and I’m sure other vendors) are moving to presence, CRM-telephony and other features – are these features priced right and simple enough for smaller businesses to consider?
This is a growing area called unified communications that starts to bring all the pieces in a corporate communications infrastructure into one user interface. So in addition to phone calls and presence users also see information from their CRM system, IM chats, video and location-based information like Google maps on the computer screen during a call even before answering the phone call. Switchvox, which is Digium’s SMB web-aware IP PBX award winning product family includes all of this functionality at a list price of $3390 for an appliance-based pre-loaded 10 user turn-key system – and is packaged in a way that makes it easy for an average user to utilize.