If you have a traditional phone system, or no phone system at all, and you’ve made it here, chances are you’re thinking about switching over to a Voice Over IP system. VoIP has a number of benefits over a traditional phone system, especially if you own a small business. Once you’ve made the decision to go with VoIP, it’s time to start thinking about the transition.
Adopting any new technology can be a stressful prospect, particularly when it requires such a substantial shift in work policy, and so broadly increases the capabilities available to a company or other organization.
To help ease this transition we’ve put together this as a primer of sorts, a roadmap to making your way through the process with as few missteps and false-starts as possible. With this information, you should have no problem bringing your organization into the 21st century with a modern Voice Over IP phone system.
Evaluate Your Current System and Capabilities
The first thing you need to do when planning a switch to a VoIP system is take a look at what your current analog system can do. This gives you an idea of the type of system you’ll need to replace it. Start by asking the following questions:
- How many lines do I have? Do I need more? Is it likely I’ll need more soon?
- What features do I have that I use? (Call waiting, call screening, caller ID, etc)
- What features do I need/want?
The answers to these questions should give you a good idea of what you’ll immediately need from your new system to avoid any kind of interruption to your daily operations. The other consideration when planning a new system is of course: where is your business headed?
Are you moving locations? Downsizing? Expanding? Opening a new branch? Looking into remote work? As with any new IT system, you want to leave yourself room for future expansion and growth. For something like a private branch exchange, the rule of thumb is 5 years, or one fifth. What this means is plan for growth out to at least 5 years, or a growth of 20% of your current setup.
Of course, if you have more detailed analysis and growth projections, use those numbers instead, but be sure to leave a little extra wiggle room in there so you don’t exceed expectations and hit the hard cap on your system.
In practical terms, plan for a system that has the capability of handling 20% more lines and dedicated numbers than what you currently have. Of course, if you go with a hosted, cloud-based PBX system, you don’t need to worry about expansion because you can add, drop, or change lines and numbers on the fly without worrying about any hardware. It’s all handled by your hosted PBX provider.
Setting Up Your IT Infrastructure
It’s about to get pretty technical from here, but don’t worry; we’re going to break this down into some pretty easy to understand steps. Of course, if you get lost, feel free to just show this page to your network admin.
Put the Plumbing First
Whether you’re building a house, or a new VoIP system, it’s important to give some thoughts to the plumbing. In IT terms, this means the core infrastructure that handles the traffic on your network. When looking specifically at a VoIP system, you need to start by creating a Local Area Network that can recognize, prioritize, and protect the integrity of real-time media. In this case, your VoIP traffic.
Prioritize the Important Network Traffic
Essentially, if your network is a busy highway, you want to put in an express lane for important, high-priority traffic. On the interstate, this is the HOV or emergency vehicle lanes. In terms of your network, this means giving priority to traffic that is time-sensitive. Nothing is really lost if your email takes an extra fraction of a second to load, but that same fraction of a second in latency can make a VoIP call a garbled, compressed, nightmare.
Build on a Strong ISP Foundation
You’ll also want to make sure that your IP service provider is up to snuff, and is providing you with the speed and bandwidth you’re paying for. To reuse our highway analogy, bandwidth is the number of lanes. If you’re paying for eight lanes of traffic, but you’re only getting four, there are going to be some issues when you try to run the eight lanes worth of traffic you think you’re prepared for. The same is true of network bandwidth.
Make Use of All the New Features At Your Disposal
A VoIP system, particularly a cloud hosted one, offers a great many features that traditional telecom solutions can’t. With a digital phone system you can generate call reports, utilize conference calls on any line, route, merge, and screen calls, custom hold and call waiting messages, and so much more. It can be overwhelming at first, but once you master all of the new features offered by your VoIP system, your transition will be complete.