PRODUCT REVIEW: Is VoIP the SME's Friend or Foe?
VoIP (voice over internet protocol) is basically making telephone calls over the internet. ‘Personal’ VoIP tools such as Skype and Engin are common features on desktops these days. They can save time and money. However, with the emergence of business grade, open source VoIP, business telephony is moving to an entirely new level. Telephony is no longer just about making telephone calls it can now become one of the most powerful systems in your business.
Business Grade VoIP
Business grade VoIP looks like a typical PABX but with a lot more features that can make a difference to your business. If your existing PABX is performing well then VoIP can be a simple add-on. It can also be used to fully replace an aging PABX.
Is VoIP the SME’s friend or foe. We interviewed Maria Padisetti from Digital Armour (www.digitalarmour.com.au) to find out. Digital Armour is a client of Eyes Wide Open.
1. What sort of businesses should be considering business grade VoIP?
Any SME that wants to save money on call costs. Small businesses typically can’t command discounts from telco’s like the larger players can. This is an opportunity to level the playing field. Also it’s an entry level option for those businesses that can’t afford a traditional PABX but want the benefits.
If the business has mobile staff, or if they want to give their people the opportunity to work from home, then this can simplify that process. You don’t have to worry about reimbursing call costs and it is cheaper between locations. It can also significantly reduce landline rental costs. Usually you can drop 40% of your landlines.
Professional services firms will see added benefits because they can get very accurate records of calls for time billing purposes.
2. How big does your business need to be to make it pay?
The smallest company where we have installed business grade VoIP has 6 people. The key benefit they’ve received have been getting the features of an expensive PABX at a fraction of the cost and it has enabled them to project an image of a much larger company.
The biggest ROI we’ve seen so far has been for companies with 25 – 50 people. One client got rid of everything to do with their traditional PABX and moved to VoIP. For an investment of around $9000 they will see service and equipment cost reductions of $46000 over the next 3 years and call costs are down 20%. There have been substantial productivity gains on top of that.
VoIP can be run on a PC so you don’t have to invest in telephones and other hardware. You also get rid of the maintenance costs of those systems. Most support can be delivered remotely so there are very few, if any, call out charges.
Companies less likely to see benefits are micro businesses (say 2 staff) that operate out of a single location with low call volume.
3. What are the key features a buyer should look out for?
To see productivity gains the “must have” features are:
- Retrieve and process voicemail
- Remote user capability
- Ability to send voicemail to email
- Automated call handling
- Automated receptionist to back up the ‘live’ reception
The “nice to have” features that are also available:
- Send and receive faxes
- ‘Click to dial’ from MS Outlook
- Incoming screen pop up with caller information
- Instant messenger
- Presence (interface showing availability of staff)
4. What are some of the main brands?
Zultys (www.zultys.com) is priced and designed specifically for the SME market. They’ve won a lot of awards. They are the only system that is “Open Standard” which means you’re not tied into buying their hardware with their systems. It’s a simple system so it’s easy to roll out. It’s very user-friendly.
Asterisk (www.asterisk.org) is the cheapest business grade option as it is “open source” software. That means you don’t pay for the software but there are costs associated with the installation, hardware and support. It is also very user friendly and it enables the customer to do a lot of the day-to-day administration on their own without consulting support.
5. What are some of the traps?
Ensure that all the IP PABX features are all ‘switched on’ as part of your initial package. Some companies charge you for the basic system which looks relatively cheap compared to others but the features you want are switched off. They then charge license fees to switch on other features, which causes a cost blowout and locks you into a long term contract.
Beware of the “free” IP PABX offer. They give the system to you for free and then lock you into a long term contract with inflated call costs. A PABX typically costs $5 - 10K so you have question why they’re giving it away for free.
6. What's the process of VoIP installation?
- Find 2-3 local suppliers that can show you reference sites.
- When looking at their reference sites ask the customers their experiences with aspects such as cut-over (when you switch from one system to the other) and after installation support.
- Get the supplier to assess your needs and deliver a quotation on purchase, installation and ongoing support. Make sure they fully list what features are included.
- Installation can take as little as 1 day and most are installed in under 1 week. Question lengthy installation timelines.
7. How much can I expect to pay?
Using Asterisk you can get a 10 user system installed typically for under $10K. If you already have IP handsets or want to operate over your PC’s then the cost will come down considerably.
8. Any final tips?
People shouldn’t be afraid of VoIP technology any more. It’s come a long way. There are a lot of very large corporations operating on VoIP but you just don’t realise it. For instance, Amazon.com uses Zultys. So it might be worth a re-look if you’ve considered it in the past.
About Digital Armour
Digital Armour (www.digitalarmour.com.au) is a full service IT & T provider in Sydney. Please feel free to call Maria Padisetti on 02 9420 0961 if you would like further information about business grade VoIP or have any other IT requirements.
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