Checklist: 6 Things to Consider When Choosing A Unified Communications System

Kate Mitchell

Kate Mitchell

Both the IT Services and Communications worlds continue to change dramatically. According to a 2015 Executive Report by IBM, the way humans communicate with each other has changed more in the last ten years, than it has in all the previous decades of human existence—combined. And it makes our collective job of providing high performance and flexible unified communications solutions both more exciting, and more challenging.

  • Open, seamless, ubiquitous is becoming the norm
  • Global VOIP migration continues full steam
  • Communications continue to be fragmented across different hardware and software

And it’s showing no signs of stopping. The VoIP subscriber base is expected to grow at a CAGR of 16.6% from 2014 to 2020, and the VoIP Services Market is expected to expand at 9.7% CAGR until 2020 due to adoption in both corporate and residential says Transparency Research.

The result is that more businesses—from mom and pop startups to global enterprises, are urgently working to analyze traditional analog systems and (at the very least) connect them to digital unified communications systems—or bypass/replace them entirely.

While historically there have been typically a handful of players in the market, Computer Weekly (and others) see an opportunity to open up the market with Microsofts Lync (Skype for Business) platform.

What to Consider When Selecting a UC System

With a number of solutions available, it’s important to develop a strategic unified communications plan that answers the critical business questions and needs. You used to be able to buy a box with some software in it, plug it in, configure it, and that was that. But businesses are smarter than ever—and already wading hip deep into UC. According to TechTarget, 63% of companies had at least one unified communications app in the cloud, with web conferencing topping the list.

Given this, and the proliferation of technology, it’s more important than ever to have a clear goal in mind when choosing a system. The following checklist will help guide you in your selection of a UC solution.

1. Is it new, or does it need to work with your old system?

Most organizations are looking to integrate new digital technology with something they already have something in place. Usually it’s made up of copper wires, a micro computer, logic and switching cards along with a few traditional telephones. Only a handful are looking to build a unified communications solution from the ground up.

Depending on which camp you’re in, you’ll have different needs. For example, if you have legacy analog technology, you might need an analog voice card to connect your phone system to the public switched telephone network (PSTN). If you don’t have a legacy system (or any system at all), then you move on to the next question…

2. To Build or to Buy PBX?

If you’re starting from scratch (or upgrading an old system), there are three ways you can go. And while there are grey areas where these solutions overlap, we’ll save the deep dive into the detail for another post.

  • Option 1: Onsite PBX hardware: A traditional approach, this classic approach can be attractive to users who are experience only with administering old technology. While the sound quality is solid, It’s expensive and limited in regards to features.
  • Option 2: Buy an IP PBX solution: There are a few approaches here. There are virtual VOIP solutions, cloud solutions, onsite prebuilt solutions.
  • Option 3: Build your own VOIP solution: Not an unpopular solution. For example, our Asterisk-based, FreePBX drives 2 MILLION IP PBX systems globally. Typically this includes managing your phone lines, phone carrier, trunk, and your SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) client. The phone lines and carrier are typically hardline, while the trunk is over IP and the SIP client is, well, SIP.

A lot of times, the choice to build or buy comes down to how much control and functionality of your system do you want. With Onsite PBX hardware and virtual solutions, you have little control of the system and features. With an onsite prebuilt or build your own, you have significantly more options. This ties into questions 3 – 6.

3. What PBX Features Do You Need?

If you only need basic call routing and switching, a basic PBX solution might be enough (and expensive) solution. But most companies really need something that provides more features like video, conferencing, support of BYOD environments, text, instant messaging, and integrate quickly, easily and securely with their existing network. Make a list of all your foreseeable requirements early on.

4. What Are Your Network Requirements?

What kind of network are you plugging your new PBX system into? Will your internet connection be able to handle the additional load of voice, data and video? Do you have a gateway in place to hand Quality of Service to allocate bandwidth to voice? Does your router support VOIP? Completely map out your existing network and identify support technology that can impact your choice of solution. Typically you want to choose a solution that will work relatively smoothly with your existing network.

5. What Level of Security Do You Need?

According to InformationAge, Security is one of the top three priorities for CIOs in 2015. Traditionally, analog communications systems were the most secure that a company could provide. But business demands more than what old school PBX systems give.

The demand—and the focus on security—have driven the need for unified communications to provide a holistically secure solution for business. A proper IP PBX system should protect you from attack, while keeping you compliant with any regulatory requirements you might face. This will might include taking steps like having a security policy in place, encrypting VOIP calls, and leveraging a session border controller (SBC) to manage digital traffic.

6. What Are Your Future Business Needs?

Do you anticipate growing the business? Will you add more employees, devices, communications apps? If so, you want to leverage a unified communications system that is flexible, and allows you to control the solution at a granular level.

Bridging Your Worlds

In many cases, when developing your unified communications solution, you’ll be faced with a hybrid scenario. You probably have some legacy hardware that you want to integrate with a solution like Skype for Business, along with an ever-changing BYOD policy. Are you considering building from scratch? If so, consider the 2 Million businesses and users that are currently leveraging our easy-to-use IP PBX Solution, FreePBX and download this white paper today!

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