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VoIP telephone system brings flexibility, accessibility

VoIP systems can help midmarket executives manage telephone interactions, make salespeople more accessible, improve the customer experience -- and reduce costs, too.

While many managers feel tortured when deciding whether to replace a traditional private branch exchange (PBX) with a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone system, fate made the decision easy for Erin McCabe. In 2004, a fire gutted the offices of Fusco, Brandenstein & Rada PC in Woodbury, N.Y.

The PBX was old and a bit inflexible but sturdy. When it was burnt into junk, office manager and attorney McCabe had to find a new phone system. She found that the firm could achieve new levels of flexibility and accessibility with a VoIP telephone system.

It would be a boon for the law firm's clients, whose lives are in financial turmoil. "We practice in the area of disability, workers' compensation and Social Security," McCabe says. "It's a high-volume practice, so the rate of phone calls is tremendous. The ability to get hold of someone is key for our clients. With the versatility of the VoIP system, allowing someone the option of leaving a message or waiting for an examiner, whatever they want to do, really helps."

VoIP is known for bringing cost savings to the telephony bill, but an IP-based system also meant flexibility and ease of management. McCabe, whose firm has been using an Avaya Inc. IP Office system since mid-2005, says VoIP provides benefits such as the ability for employees to log into their extension anywhere in the building. Adding and moving extensions, as well as linking remote offices into the headquarters' phone system, is easy. The firm can also offer phone services to 10 other businesses that lease space in its building.

For a midsized company, a VoIP telephone system "allows employees to be more mobile without necessarily having the company spend extra for that because it's easier to add features like find me/follow me onto the phone system," says Patrick Monaghan, a senior analyst at Boston-based Yankee Group Research Inc. "If you have a 500-person company and you get 30% of your employees to turn that feature on when they are out of the office, there is a significant savings that you can quantify.''

Although cost is a strong motivating factor and should be noted in discussion with decision makers,
VoIP and IP communications as a whole solve business problems that were difficult to tackle before.

Rebecca Swensen

He adds that VoIP makes it easier to link two phone systems in different offices, allowing employees to transfer and forward calls while saving money on interoffice calls.

While some large organizations are integrating VoIP systems with data-based applications such as a customer relationship management (CRM) package, most small companies don't have the staff resources to do so. However, McCabe reports that her system displays a client's name and the introductory page of their file when they call, a feature that came with her Avaya system.

Rebecca Swensen, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, says companies may save 30% on average with VoIP rather than a traditional PBX. However, she adds, "although cost is a strong motivating factor and should be noted in discussion with decision makers, VoIP and IP communications as a whole solve business problems that were difficult to tackle before. If I was a manager, I would think about the struggles my company faces on a day-to-day basis.''

Analysts point out several questions a manager should ask themselves when weighing VoIP adoption, including:

  • How much time do you have left on your legacy PBX maintenance contract?
  • Are you looking at the phone system strictly on the basis of total cost of ownership (TCO), or are you looking for some measurable return on investment through new applications? (Monaghan notes that many smaller companies are comfortable with just a TCO calculation.)
  • Is your CEO wasting time listening to voicemail because the phone system cannot forward calls to his cell phone when he is out of the office or voice messages aren't delivered through email?
  • Would your sales team like to save information from calls in a CRM system that's integrated with the phone system?
  • Is the difficulty of finding the right person to answer a call getting in the way of productivity?
  • How much of your communications budget goes to calls among remote company locations? (For McCabe, easy call transfers to branch offices and the reduced cost of calls to those offices are key benefits from a VoIP telephone system.)
  • If you see value in the added features of a new VoIP telephone system, do you have the resources to train employees to make the most of them?
  • Swensen says companies also need to consider whether to use a hosted VoIP service or buy and manage their own system, noting that many smaller companies now opt for services. She estimates that 38,100 sites and 560,000 users in the U.S. utilize such services today, but that those numbers will grow to 81,100 sites and 2,434,000 users by 2011.

    McCabe advises managers that no matter which approach or VoIP products they use, they should consider what improved communications services can mean to customer satisfaction. "Whatever system you have, the monetary investment will come back to you in increased efficiency. With increased efficiency you can have a lot of happy clients. And happy clients refer other people to you. So, whatever your monetary layout is initially, it's definitely worth it,'' she says.

    James M. Connolly is a contributing writer based in Norwood, Mass. Let us know what you think about this tip; email

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