Phone Planning

Migrating to a new business phone system requires a careful, methodical approach.

While organizations of all sizes depend on email, video and social media for conveying information to both internal and external audiences, the telephone remains the undisputed champion of business communication tools. Modern IP phone systems not only deliver the immediacy and contextual clarity of voice, but serve as the foundational technology for most other digital communication channels.

That’s why many organizations are making it a priority to replace aging analog systems and older VoIP systems. In a recent Hanover Research survey of small and midsized businesses, 86 percent said they plan to evaluate new phone systems within the next three years.

Migrating to a new phone system can produce undeniable business benefits, but it isn’t a simple process. Because a phone system transition touches every member of the organization and can create significant network overhead, it is important to take a measured approach to migration. Following are a few best-practice guidelines for phone system evaluation and implementation.

ASSEMBLE A TEAM

Google searches and word-of-mouth recommendations can’t provide the depth of information required to make the right decisions about a phone system. It is important to assemble a team of key stakeholders representing all areas of the organization, including management, end-users and IT. A project manager will oversee the project and help to ensure that key deadlines and benchmarks are met.

DEFINE BUSINESS GOALS

It is important to clearly identify specific objectives. These may include standardizing business units on a single platform, enhancing customer service, integrating communication channels, improving productivity, enabling mobility and more.

DEFINE USER NEEDS

Today’s IP phone systems offer a spectacular array of user features. However, surveys indicate that as many as 75 percent of these features regularly go unused. It is important to survey end-users to discover what features they need and want. Four-digit extension dialing, three-way calling, voicemail-email integration, find-me/follow-me call routing, and conference call bridges typically are quite popular. A mobile client for the desk phone is increasingly a must-have feature.

DEFINE NETWORK REQUIREMENTS

Bandwidth demands, switching and routing capacities, network interfaces, firewall security, cabling and many other factors can affect the delivery of voice packets across a data network. Organizations must collect an array of metrics to assess the voice readiness of wired and wireless networks, and then determine where additional equipment or upgrades are needed.

DEFINE SUPPORT REQUIREMENTS

Organizations may have network specialists on staff, but IP telephony requires a unique set of skills. In addition to expertise in LAN/WAN implementation, configuration and support, operating the voice network requires understanding of major routing protocols, voice gateways, Quality of Service measures and more.

IDENTIFY PARTNERS

Once functional requirements have been identified and documented, it is time to solicit and evaluate vendor proposals to determine which product is the best fit. Once a choice is made, evaluate and chose a solutions provider with demonstrated expertise in the procurement, configuration and implementation of that particular system. A trusted provider will not only streamline the implementation, but can provide critical training and troubleshooting during the cutover phase.

IMPLEMENTATION

Follow the 80/20 rule — 80 percent preparation and 20 percent installation. Working from a current network diagram, document the optimal configuration of all devices to be added — including detailed plans for resolving any potential compatibility issues. Check that the site is fully prepared for new gear, including power and cabling requirements.

Once preparation is complete proceed with hardware installation and software configuration. This is when your team will establish key protocols for prioritizing voice traffic on the network, establishing QoS metrics, setting routing requirements and extending security measures to voice traffic.

TESTING AND CUTOVER

To avoid propagating configuration errors throughout the organization, set up a pilot program to stress test the network before going live. Once problems have been identified and corrected, begin with an initial deployment limited to IT staff and key users so they can get accustomed to the new system before moving on to an organization-wide migration.