Any business infrastructure has multiple parts, including desks, computers, a computer network, copiers, printers, and, of course, an office phone system. You would think that choosing the right office phone system for your business would be relatively easy, but there are more phone choices today than ever before. Office phone systems have evolved, both in the way they deliver telephone service and in the number of features they offer. As with everything else, choosing an affordable business phone system is a matter of understanding your needs and finding the system that meets those needs and fits your budget.
A survey of small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) revealed that most SMB owners are unfamiliar with telecommunications terms such as “hosted PBX,” “IP PBX,” “IP telephony,” and “unified communications.” The same survey shows that 74 percent believe voice communication remains extremely important or very important to their business operations, despite the rise in email and digital communications. Other features that are used the most include three-way calling (60 percent), intercom systems (42 percent), conference calling (41 percent), music on hold (40 percent), and using extensions to call other locations (37 percent). About 50 percent of SMBs also said they are planning to evaluate a new business phone system within the near future. The five phone features desired most by SMBs are voicemail sent as email (38 percent), remote desk phones (25 percent), music on hold (25 percent), three-way calling (24 percent), and having a mobile client for the office desk phone (24 percent).
While those are all great features for any business, you may need different features, such as hunt groups, to roll over calls to the next available person, or smart directories, to help locate and connect calls.
Whatever features you need, chances are that there are different telephone platforms that will support those features, but which phone system do you choose?
Criteria for Office Phone Systems
When considering the type of telephone system that is best for your business, you might start by assessing competing phone platforms. The most common office phone systems are PBX (private branch exchange) and VoIP (voice over IP), and each offers its own advantages and disadvantages. Here are some things to consider:
On-site or hosted – The first consideration is how closely you want to manage your phone system. PBX systems, for example, are typically installed on site and are owned and maintained by the company. You also can use a hosted PBX system maintained by a major carrier, which saves some of the equipment and maintenance costs. VoIP systems are also available as an on-premises solution that runs over the company computer network, or as a hosted service. PBX may require a telecommunications company to maintain, and VoIP systems could be maintained by a service provider and/or your IT team. You need to consider equipment and maintenance costs when making a decision.
Scalability – As your company grows, you’re going to need to expand your phone system. PBX systems have limited capacity, and you may need to add new hardware as you grow. VoIP, on the other hand, is much more scalable, and you can continue to add capacity as long as the network has sufficient bandwidth to handle the data traffic.
Extensibility – In addition to adding more extensions, you may want to add new capabilities and features. PBX systems come with limited features, as well as limited capacity, whereas VoIP systems can handle additional IP-based applications, such as unified communications. Whether you are using on-premises or hosted VoIP, new features can be added just like another application.
Integration – Integration with other data systems is something else to consider. Because VoIP systems run on IP, they can be integrated with other network applications such as access controls, for customer relationship management software.
Reliability – Every business needs a reliable phone system. The PBX system is self-contained and powered by the telephone line, so it can be less susceptible to failure, whereas VoIP is dependent on the computer network and an internet connection, so it can fail with a power outage or network failure. At the same time, using a hosted service (either PBX or VoIP) can provide greater reliability, because the service resides in the cloud.
Mobility – With mobile employees expected to make up nearly three-quarters of the U.S. workforce by 2020, supporting remote workers is a growing consideration for SMBs. Many phone systems offer find-me/follow-me services, where users are assigned a virtual phone number so that calls can be routed to other locations, such as a cellular phone. If a call is not connected, the system can route it back to voicemail.
The Phone as a Mobile Tool
To keep workers in touch, more companies are including smartphone integration in their office phone strategy. Using find-me/follow-me services, employees can have calls forwarded to their smartphones, but they still have to rely on other tools such as remote voicemail access and voicemail transcribed as email to stay connected.
Spoke was designed to make the smartphone an integral part of the office phone system. With Spoke, employees link their office extension directly to their smartphone with desired features such as auto attendant, three-way calling, group calling, and hunt groups. Spoke-enabled smartphones provide the mobile extension services that SMBs desire as a scalable service; all you have to do is add the app to employees’ smartphones.
When assessing affordable office phone systems, you have to consider all aspects of your telecommunications needs, including features, equipment costs, maintenance, and service fees. Many SMBs have determined that a hosted service provides less hassle and greater reliability, although the costs may vary. Adding cost-effective add-ons such as Spoke can help you reduce your telephone costs while adding functionality that will make whatever phone system you choose more valuable.