Voice over IP (VoIP) is simply moving voice traffic over a traditional IP network. Rather than separate cabling, with the right quality of service rules you can run on the same Ethernet network that handles your internet. However, you can have VoIP that’s within the four walls, but not necessarily carrying that phone call out into the global phone network. Or, you can have VoIP that really is from the handset out into the voice network and potentially straight to the recipient on the other end.
Systems and Services
So there is VoIP service and there is the VoIP system. The system will include telephones, central controllers, etc. running on IP within the building, but still connect to traditional PRI or copper lines. A true end-to-end VoIP implementation will include the local long-distance service as well. The voice is travelling through the building and leaving the building through the IP network.
Every phone system vendor has an IP-based offering. The time will likely come where no new implementation will run over separate cabling infrastructures. IP delivers more functionality, more reliability, and less infrastructure requirements. You can run to the same data closet, you can avoid power bricks by running Power over Ethernet (PoE) switching – it consolidates infrastructure which leads to definitive cost savings.
Once you get into the actual service, the cost of IP services have come down dramatically. In most cases, VoIP will cost the same or less than a traditional P1-type service while getting a lot more functionality. You can add in video. You can add in collaboration and presence. You can do extension-to-extension dialing between clients all over the world.
Getting Buy-In from Key Stakeholders
There are really two ways to go about justifying the purchase of a VoIP system.
For those that are using traditional services, depending on the type of VoIP system you wish to purchase and the services involved, the VoIP system may be cheaper than what you’re currently using. That’s a pretty simple sell.
There are also some VoIP systems that are a higher cost than what you’re using now, but include added functionality. That can be a huge selling point. VoIP systems can be bundled to include much more than traditional phone calls. If the cost of a phone/video/collaboration service is more than your traditional phone cost, the ROI comes from the added functionality.
It depends on the nature of the organization, but at its core, if you’re looking at replacing a critical communication systems, any good CFO is going to be looking for cost savings and increased reliability.
Oftentimes by bundling services you end up with a cheaper price anyway. If your company is paying separate monthly contracts for communication services, then bundling them into the same, single monthly rate of a VoIP service can save many. Many VoIP systems will bundle presence, instant messaging, video and conferencing together. This gives you a flat fee for all communication, easing burden and in many cases saving cost.
This also gives you a better end user experience because everything is in one platform. Employees have a physical handset on their desk and a mobile app on their cellphone. Instead of using wireless telephone features they can open the app and make calls through the app, using the data network and allowing your office number to reach them anywhere. They can make and receive calls, and transfer to different extensions as if they are in the office. It’s great for travelling employees, those that work from home, or those that work in multiple offices around the country.
VoIP brings a more robust failover capability. You can run a VoIP system and tie it to multiple IP connections or technologies. You can use copper backup. You can even leverage 4G and 5G networks for wireless backup. You can absolutely sell the better redundancy when communication is absolutely critical to the business.
Writing an RFP for VoIP Technology
The starting point for writing an RFP for VoIP is the lowest common denominator – cabling.
You need to be sure your existing structured cabling is tested and certified to support VoIP. It may work fine for your data network, but you could still experience signal loss or jitters that can affect call quality. You need to make sure your baseline infrastructure – cabling, switching, routing, VLAN, QOS rules – is up to the task. A truly thorough RFP will ask respondents to look at the network at all of these levels and validate that the system, when installed, will work as advertised.
You don’t want to put out an RFP that results in static on the line and dropped calls and find out that the IT provider is blaming you or another of your other service providers for not having them check the network. If you’re going to have multiple vendors involved, you want to draw clear lines of responsibility so that you and your partners understand who’s responsible for cabling and switching versus phone service versus desktop devices and so on.
It’s not just the physical elements of VoIP that need to be outlined. What are your services going to be? Are they going to be usage based or are you looking for flat fee? Will they be pushed across a standard internet connection or a controlled network like MPLS? Will you use copper back up? You need to think through all the aspects of what a VoIP system could be for you.
Then you should think about the functionality that you want. You will get responses that will throw in features that you have no interest in, and will make it difficult to understand what you’re really paying for. You want to know what the full capability of the solution is.
Voice, video, collaboration, presence, instant messaging, electronic faxing, online meetings – VoIP solutions can offer all kinds of features, but make sure you’re clear about what you want.
You may not need a certain piece today, but as your business grows maybe you will. You don’t want to invest in a system that can’t do something that you need it to do down the line. Then you’re stuck purchasing a new system and starting from scratch. Include both present and potential future features you may need.
Let them know what hardware you’re using. Will it integrate with the new service or will you need an entirely new suite of hardware? Let the IT provider know that you want to know the manufacturer of the hardware. Is it reputable, reliable hardware with a good track record? What’s the warrantee service like? What’s the quality commitment behind the services as well as the hardware? If a handset fails will it be replaced right away or will you need spares on the shelf? Will you need to wait days to receive a new one? Make sure you’re clear about your expectations for services as well as hardware.
Next give them an idea of what you’re using the VoIP service for. What kind of call volume do you experience? What type of calling is done in your office? Many IT providers will ask to review your current billing so that they can better understand what your needs are in terms of service. Let them have it – the more they know the better for you.
Let them know how many users you have that will be using the service. Let them know not only how many people, but where you need different hardware and services? How many huddle rooms do you need to outfit? How many conference rooms? How often do you use these spaces? The more information you give the better the IT provider will be able to accurately make a bid and implement your technology.
Let them know if you’re currently on a contract for one of the services that your VoIP solution will take over. If you’re on a monthly contract you have more flexibility but if you’re on a yearly contract you’ll need to decide whether it makes sense to buy out that contract and implement VoIP now or wait until the contract is expired to start with VoIP.
Finally, let them know what you need in terms of ongoing support. If it’s a simple system, then you’ll have pretty standard SLA response metrics – fixing hardware issues or fixing problems. You want a company that will respond promptly and not leave you waiting. If you have a call-center application, complex routing, auto-attendance, etc. then your service level will extend into programming, development, consulting, and perhaps third-party integration. Let them know up front so you end up with a partner that has those areas of expertise.
With regard to the implementation process, preparation is key.
In terms of looking at this from the standpoint of a phone system implementation, call flow is the most important thing. You need the preparation so that handsets are programmed properly for the right extensions and the right features. At times you’ll see different types of handsets deployed based on job function and they’ll be programmed differently.
You want to have a solid inventory, especially if you’re coming from a non-VoIP system, of what features are being used. Not all features are replicated one for one in a VoIP system. You need to take into account how calls are processed. Who answers the phone? How do they transfer calls? Do they use paging, intercom, auto-attendance, dial-by-name directory, etc.?
Have a comprehensive inventory of how the current system is functioning and map that to how the new system delivers call flow. If there are major differences, make sure you are training end users leading up to the implementation so they’re ready for the new system.
Likely you’ll need parallel runs where you’re doing test calls and test transfers with the new system. You’ll have two phones at each desk, one for the old and one for the new. This allows employees to get used to the new solution before you fully kill the legacy system. The smaller the implementation, the easier this is to do. For larger implementations you may need to go phase-by-phase over a transitionary period.
Information provided by MJ Shoer of OnePath. Click here to listen to MJ Shoer’s interview on My TechDecisions Podcast and learn more about VoIP.
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