Market musings

Things You Need to Know About Setting up a Phone System

by Nina Quasebarth
March 4, 2017

There was a time when setting up a phone system was seemingly simple; you would just call the phone company and it would take care of it (for the most part). Those days are long gone. Today businesses have any number of options when it comes to setting up a phone system—they can use PBX, a central key systems unit (KSU) system, voice over IP (VoIP), hosted or self-hosted systems, or other approaches. The right choice depends on the nature of the business and the type of telephone support that employees require. As technology has evolved, so have the needs for small-business telephony.

For example, studies show that VoIP adoption for business grew by 50 percent between 2011 and 2015. As technology advances, adoption of cloud-based telephone systems is expected to grow from eight percent in 2013 to 33 percent by the end of 2017 and to 60 percent by 2022.

Another study shows that employees who work from home are happier, have fewer sick days, and are more productive—an argument for using personal smartphones or bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phone strategies.

When setting up a phone system for your business, what’s the best approach?

Let’s consider these 10 basic ways: Types of phone systems

First, let’s consider the types of telephone systems available and their pros and cons:

1. KSU

A key systems unit (KSU) is a centrally controlled phone system that can be very cost-effective for businesses of 75 employees or fewer. It usually includes costs for installation and maintenance, but it offers more flexibility as your business grows.

2. KSU-less systems

If you have a very small company (10 or fewer employees), then a KSU-less system offers the same features as the larger systems, such as conference calling and call transfers but without having to set up a central control box or KSU. While they are inexpensive, they do not scale well and are not generally supported by outside vendors, so finding help servicing a KSU-less system can be a challenge.

3. PBX

The old standby private branch exchange (PBX) system is still with us and can be a good option for companies with 75 or more employees. While PBX systems come with hefty installation and setup costs, they can save money over time, and they offer a range of sophisticated features.

4. VoIP

As businesses install more sophisticated computer networks with more bandwidth and throughput, voice over IP (VoIP) is becoming more popular. VoIP offers a variety of advantages, not the least of which is low cost of service. All calls are made over the Internet, so there are no trunk charges, and international calls are virtually free. Of course, if you install the VoIP system in house, then the IT department is responsible for maintenance.

5. Hosted or self-hosted

For services such as PBX or VoIP, it makes sense to use a hosted service. Cloud-based telephony is inexpensive, and costs are dropping. The only real cost is generally leasing the equipment and per-employee service fees. The advantage for the IT department is that the cost of maintenance is usually built into the hosted-service contract.

6. Wireless BYOD

For many small businesses, getting employees to use their own smartphones is becoming more efficient and more cost-effective. Most workers already have their own smartphones, and using them for business has become commonplace. In fact, more than 74 percent of businesses have some BYOD policy in place, largely to support a growing mobile workforce and to take advantage of the greater productivity of employees working from home. With services like Spoke, for example, you can convert your employees’ smartphones into a central business phone system, complete with group calling, directory services, call transfers, presence, auto location, and more.

Understanding your telecom needs

Before setting up a phone system for your business, you should assess your employees’ telephone usage. Ask yourself the following questions:

How many employees do you have (and how fast is your staff growing)?

If you have a handful of employees, then keep it simple. If you have a large number of employees and are growing rapidly, then you may want a more sophisticated phone system that is also easy to maintain.

How much does your business rely on the telephone?

The more employees use the phone, the more minutes you need to pay for. Doing a cost analysis will show you that adopting something like Spoke or VoIP will save you money because of high call volume. You also want to make sure that the telephone infrastructure can scale cost-effectively as your business grows.

How many employees work off site or travel?

If much of your operation is mobile or you are supporting a number of remote workers, then you may want to include collaboration services and remote access as part of the phone system. For example, does your phone system have an automated “follow me” function to follow employees?

Can you handle phone-system maintenance in house?

Depending on the scale and nature of your business, does it make more sense to buy or lease equipment? If you buy equipment, does your IT team have the time and expertise to maintain the phone system as well as the computer network? Are you going to save more money if you outsource your phone system?

Remote workforces

No matter what type of telephony infrastructure you choose, when setting up a phone system for your business, be sure you can support mobile and off-site employees. Statistics show that at least half of US workers already hold jobs that are “compatible with at least partial telework,” and 20 percent to 25 percent of workers telecommute ”at some frequency.”

In fact, Fortune 1000 companies are restructuring their telephone systems to accommodate mobile workers, because studies show that employees are already away from their desks 50 percent to 60 percent of the time.

Integrating smartphones into your telephone infrastructure is essential, and if you choose to adopt a system such as Spoke, the smartphones actually become the infrastructure—streamlining productivity and enabling improved communication among your mobile employees. 

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