Building a Better Communications System

What Your System Can Do for You

Benefits of Converged Voice and Data
An IP phone system can offer the following benefits to a small business:

  • Communication costs, such as long-distance toll charges, are drastically reduced.
  • Productivity and efficiency are enhanced through capabilities, such as having one phone number that rings on multiple devices simultaneously.
  • Phone connections and locations can be easily and affordably moved, added or changed.
  • Remote and mobile employees can use the IP phone system and its features in the office, on the go or at home, on various devices. For instance, they can use a softphone (a software interface to your IPT system) and a headset to make and receive calls on a laptop. Or they can use wireless IP phones, allowing them to tap into the phone system wherever there's a wireless network available.
  • IP phone systems are flexible, scalable and customizable, so they can grow in step with your business.
  • An IPT solution can be tied into CRM software to enhance customer service.

Hosted or Managed?
Even though many IP phone systems are designed and priced for small businesses, you may find they're still too expensive for your budget. Or you may lack the in-house technical expertise to manage an IP phone system. The good news is you don't have to buy an IP phone system to take advantage of its features, and you don't need in-house expertise. Instead, you can use a hosted or a managed IP phone system, depending on your needs.

With a hosted service , the service provider--not you--owns the equipment that supports your IP phone system. And the equipment aside from the phones resides with the service provider, not on your premises. The hosted-service provider is fully responsible for your IP phone system, which is delivered to your business over an IP network, such as the internet.

Because the service provider delivers the same services to multiple customers at once, you benefit from the economies of scale. Also, you don't have to invest capital for your phone system; instead, you pay the hosted provider a fixed monthly fee. You don't have to worry about supporting and maintaining the service, and you have access to technical experts when needed. You also don't have to worry about disaster recovery. For instance, if there's fire or other damage at your office, the IP phone system--because it resides off the premises--won't be affected. Hosted-service providers typically deploy top-notch system security, too.

A hosted IP phone system is a good option for small sites that don't have an existing key or PBX system and don't have the technical capabilities to support an IP phone system.

With a typical managed service , you own the IP phone system, and the equipment that supports it resides on your premises. But the system is entirely managed by an independent service provider. By outsourcing the IP phone system, you don't need in-house expertise to design, deploy and maintain it--a considerable task for any small business. At the same time, you can take advantage of the tax benefits of owning the equipment, while paying an affordable monthly rate for the managed service. A managed service is worthwhile if you already own a phone system but lack the in-house expertise to manage it or need more control over the phone system.

Making Your Small Business Look Big
You may be perfectly happy with a basic phone system, and that's OK. But ask yourself this: Are your competitors relying on the same basic phone systems they've been using for years? Can your phone system easily support your company's goals for growth? And, perhaps most important, wouldn't you like your small business to look bigger than it really is--to your customers as well as your competitors?

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Peter Alexander is vice president of worldwide commercial marketing at Cisco Systems Inc., the leading supplier of networking equipment and network management for the internet.

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