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I have to say that the idea of putting telephone switching equipment in entrepreneurs' offices mystifies me. But Microsoft says that's exactly what America's 3.5 million companies with five to 50 employees need to do. It wants to replace their outdated key systems with its new Response Point PBX (microsoft.com/responsepoint)--a Windows IP-PBX packaged inside a small base unit from either Aastra Technologies, D-Link or Quanta. A starter system with five desksets costs $2,500 to $3,000, depending on the manufacturer, and you can add up to 50 desksets for about $150 each.
Setup and operation are simple: Connect the server and your desksets to your broadband gateway/network router via Ethernet cable. Install the Response Point administrative software on a networked PC and make a couple of configuration choices. Plug in a third-party's VoIP service adapter or your PSTN phone line and you're talking.
You may not get to play phone tech, though, because Response Point is due to be sold through Microsoft Small Business Specialists who'll charge $3,400 to $4,500 for installation and up to $3,400 a year for maintenance. Add another $40 to $50 a month per employee for a VoIP calling plan that, frankly, duplicates caller ID and most other calling features found on any PBX.
Response Point adds a twist or two, like voice recognition. Instead of punching in a number to dial, you just punch a button and say, "Joe Blow." It also has some lesser refinements for internal call routing, and you can download up to 1,100 Outlook contacts per deskset to the server so incoming calls bring up Outlook records on connected PCs.
But why plunk down six to eight grand upfront and assume all the security and maintenance costs that come with equipment when you can leave it to a third-party VoIP provider? Some companies just feel better knowing they own and control the equipment, says Microsoft senior director Richard Sprague. If your company is one and you haven't shot past 50 employees, Response Point will answer the call.