By Clint McDonald
When customers are ready to evolve beyond landline phone services and step into the world of IP voice they must determine whether to keep the VoIP infrastructure onsite or use hosted VoIP and rely on the service provider to supply and manage the solution in the cloud.
Hosted VoIP is certainly the popular answer these days. The implementation of this hot commodity has grown quickly within the past few years and continues to do so, Infonetics reported that hosted PBX and unified communications (UC) revenues increased by 33 percent in 2011. Additionally, the Aberdeen Group reported in 2011 that one-third of businesses surveyed have outsourced their VoIP phone systems, with another 35 percent planning to do so within in the next two years.
As hosted VoIP becomes commonplace in the market, these percentages are only expected to climb higher this year. Yet, as more companies look to outsource the management of their VoIP services, there are still those that want to keep their VoIP systems onsite. Given this reality, it is important to be the voice of reason behind recommending the most appropriate solution.
It’s also important to note that hosted VoIP services are not meant for every business. Just because it is a trend does not make it a slam-dunk for every customer location. Every company you present VoIP solutions to will have a different infrastructure and IT budget, so it is vital to be aware of what a company can handle before offering a particular solution.
The following questions can help guide your customers to the VoIP solution that will meet their specific needs:
- Can your network support VoIP ? Quality of service (QoS) is vital to any VoIP solution and customers need to understand that their internal infrastructure — cabling and local area network (LAN) switches — may not be able to provide QoS as the network exists today. Most hosted and premises-based VoIP solutions can include LAN equipment with the quote if the customer’s network is not up to the task of providing QoS.
- Do you have the internal personnel to support an onsite VoIP solution? Onsite VoIP solutions require a great deal of upkeep, and it will take a fair amount of personnel to monitor and maintain the solution if the company is a larger enterprise, or even a fairly large SMB. If a company is short-staffed in the IT/telecom departments, then a hosted solution may be a more appropriate choice. This is because maintenance and management become the responsibility of the service provider, allowing internal personnel to work on more immediate matters.
- Does your vendor have a well-trained sales and support staff to assist with customer service and consulting if necessary? This is important because even if an onsite solution is being used, consultation may be needed in times of updates and new installations. A reliable and knowledgeable sales and support staff from the vendor will help improve efficiency and execution in times of need.
- What are your capital expenditure (capex) and operational expenditure (opex) budgets? Onsite VoIP solutions are known for having expensive upfront capex costs and lower monthly opex costs, but after factoring in costs for maintenance, management and updates, the total cost of ownership is not much different from hosted VoIP, as it has lower upfront capex costs but higher monthly opex costs. Deciding which of these options is more affordable may come down to a simple question: Does the customer have more of a capex or opex budget?
There may come a time in the future — possibly the near future — when all companies will outsource their voice services, but that day is not now. Businesses are still relying on guidance and consultancy to find the solution that will provide the most benefits and produce the highest return on investment. Asking the right questions and conducting the appropriate research will guide partners toward the correct answer.
Clint McDonald is the virtual PBX product marketing manager at Windstream, where he is responsible for all enterprise hosted VoIP services. His most recent focus is on the deployment of hosted unified communications services throughout Windstream’s 48-state footprint. During his 19-year career in telecommunications, he has also held various product management, marketing and engineering roles for Lucent, Verizon Business and PAETEC, which was acquired by Windstream in 2011.