Wednesday Apr 23, 2014
The Move from PBX to VoIP
Written by Sheena Finnegan, Cisco presales engineer, CDW   

Telephone systems are critically important to any business, and refreshing your technology can be a daunting task. Small and midsized businesses (SMBs) considering an upgrade from a PBX to VoIP can breathe easy knowing that the benefits of this switch are clear – and, with proper planning, the implementation is nothing to be afraid of.

Getting started

There are many factors SMBs should consider when transitioning from a PBX environment to VoIP. Before exploring the technical details, be sure to set a clear budget and identify the unique business drivers behind the transition.

To ensure the transition meets your unique business requirements, consider the following questions:

Q) Do you need to network remote locations to headquarters?

Q) How much intra-company calling is occurring between locations? For example, is there a benefit to transferring customers, vendors or other parties between various locations?

Q) Do you have locations and/or clients outside the United States?

Q) Do you have workers that routinely travel between locations?

Q) Do you have remote workers (both permanently remote and "road warriors")?

Q) Are there special applications (call center, integrated voicemail, unified communications) driving the move to VoIP?

Q) Is the telephony staff/IT staff currently administering multiple PBXs in multiple locations?

The next major question is whether you go with a multi- or single-vendor solution. There are pros and cons to each. While the multiple-vendor approach may provide a superior experience to users, unscrambling responsibilities and accountability between vendors in the event of a problem can diminish the value of this approach. Good contracts and savvy management can make it workable, but a single-vendor approach may lead to lower management costs and simplified resolution of issues.

To make the best decision, create a list of "must haves," and draft a "good, better, best" approach to evaluating each vendor's ability to meet your needs. By establishing a clear understanding of why your company is moving to VoIP, you will ensure you choose the best approach and vendors to drive the overall success of the project.

After determining the answers to these questions, set your strategy and expectations, including a timeline and a budget. Communicate the plan not only to the partner(s) you choose, but also to key stakeholders and people within the organization who will use the new technology. This will set the stage for internal adoption and provide your partner(s) with clear parameters to design the right solution.

The Technology:SMBs starting from scratch with VoIP should consider a network assessment to ensure the infrastructure is capable of supporting the new technology. Examine connectivity to the wide area network (WAN) Internet and public switched telephone network (PSTN) to determine if the infrastructure is sufficient to handle VoIP. Here are a few key considerations:

Wiring: CAT5 or better is preferred.

Switches: Do you have Power over Ethernet (PoE)? Are the switches Layer 3?

WAN: Does the WAN support voice traffic? Is the WAN managed or unmanaged?

PSTN: How many lines and what type of lines are at each location?

Power: VoIP phones require power, as opposed to a digital set that gets power from the cabinet. Power can be supplied by local power, power injectors or PoE switches. What power solution will work best for the business environment?

Create a small group of employees who are responsible for the deployment of the VoIP program. They will be responsible for selecting and interfacing with vendors, working with vendors on an implementation plan and establishing a timeline. In order to gain company-wide acceptance of the initiative, company benefits must be defined and communicated, including any cost savings.

Best Practices:Once you've established a business plan and the infrastructure is ready, you are just about finished. Since you can never be too prepared, consider these common pitfalls and best practices to incorporate into your approach:

Prepare for updates: Although there can be fewer phone systems to maintain, the pace of software and hardware updates increases in frequency for VoIP compared to time-division multiplexing (TDM). This is something organizations must plan for and work around to be sure systems stay up to date with minimal down time.

Plan ahead: Without proper planning and implementation, end user adoption can suffer. Consider the time of year that is most conducive to a successful roll out. For example, accountants should avoid tax season, and retail businesses should avoid the holidays. Thoughtful and accurate timing will help your businesses avoid unanticipated issues.

Take it slow: Businesses sometimes take the approach that they must implement all aspects of VoIP simultaneously. It is often better to take a phased approach when rolling out enhancements, features and functions to the end user community. Identify key areas, and start there first.

Test, and test again: Test and prioritize the network so you know up front if you have enough bandwidth to serve your traffic. This will ensure that the quality of service from your VoIP meets your expectations. When deploying the system, be sure to test all locations before putting them into production. Document your network and system settings carefully for future deployments or troubleshooting purposes.

Communicate with end users: Establish proactive communication with employees both before and after the deployment. This prepares employees for the change and encourages them to accept it as a benefit to themselves and to the company. It is also imperative to provide sufficient training and support for questions and concerns regarding the implementation. Proper training will lead to higher end user acceptance and fewer long term support costs.

In the end, change is good – and often inevitable. With proper planning, testing and a business driven approach, the switch to VoIP has countless benefits. It saves money on local and international calling as well as cabling costs for new buildings, and allows your organization to use the same staff for network, data and telephone setup maintenance, saving time and IT headaches. If your business hasn't already made the transition, there is no time like the present.

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