Managed Voice Business Phone Systems

The technology isn’t new but the scope of options, functions and ways to buy have radically changed.

What is the best business phone system? There are so many great systems out there the only way to really go wrong is choose one that is mis-aligned with your budget or needs.

What kind of phone system do I need? First Call is providing an overview of four options.

BUSINESS PHONE SYSTEMS

MANAGED VOICE
BUSINESS SOLUTIONS

It is highly likely that one of these approaches is the best business phone system for your organization. You may be wondering where are the brand names like Avaya, Mitel, Cisco, Panasonic? Our advice is simple: these brands of phone systems are all good but before you dive into their offerings make sure you understand the fundamental difference between the options listed.

ON-PREMISE PHONE SYSTEMS

PBX PHONE SYSTEM

A PBX (private branch exchange) system is basically a box that sits at one or more of your physical locations where all the brains of the phone system exist. Commonly referred to as an on-premise phone system. There are many manufacturers of PBX systems and they have been around a long time. Don’t let their longevity dissuade you. PBX systems are reliable, feature-rich, mobile-friendly, remote workforce capable, scalable, cost-effective, easily managed, and constantly evolving to meet the demands of organizations and their workforce.

FLEXIBLE BUSINESS PHONE SYSTEM

EASILY MOVE, ADD OR CHANGE HEADSETS

Organizations need to modify the phone system and handsets on an ongoing basis as new people are hired, roles change, or facilities are modified. Modern PBX’s make these changes easy.

CHANGING EMPLOYEES?

If an employee leaves and a new employee replaces them you simply log in via a web browser to the PBX and retire the old employee and create the new one. Few clicks and you or your service provider are done.

ADD A HANDSET

Need an additional handset your service provider will ship you one, all they need is for you to plug it in they can address getting it joined/set up for a user in less than 15 minutes.

Employee is moving desks

They can literally pick up the handset and take it to their new desk and plug it back in.

Employee is going to work from home?

They can take their handset home or set up their computer with a softphone and connect that way.

Adding a branch office?

If there are less than 5 phones just buy the phones and have the users plug them in, modify a quick setting and that will direct them to the main PBX at your primary location and calls will begin to flow.
For more complex changes to call handling, auto attendants and the like your vendor can perform all those changes remotely including handling changes with your carrier for additional phone lines or Direct Numbers etc.

All the changes can be made via the cloud from anywhere even though the PBX phone system is physically on-premise.

PBX PHONE SYSTEMS

FEATURES AND
FUNCTIONS

PBX systems are very mature at all the central services you’d expect like auto attendants, call routing, paging, park to extension, presence management, music on hold, etc.

Most systems also allow organizations to license advanced features for multi-site integration for organizations with growing footprints and branch offices, call analytics and reporting, call center functionality automatic call distribution, multiple language support, etc.

Where PBX’s begin to fall short is in Interactive Voice Response (IVR) where technology is using speech recognition to handle and direct callers needs. IVR is common with banking, utilities etc and usually requires 3rd party solutions. Another gap PBX’s face is integrating with cloud-based software applications like SalesForce, Microsoft 365/Teams, or ServiceNow.

Finally, PBX’s are not good at one major and growing need: video conferencing. The majority of the PBX technologies from the PBX server to the handsets are built for voice, not video communications.

PBX PHONES

CALL QUALITY &
MAINTENANCE

PBX phone systems offer high call quality and work with your IP networks to deliver consistent quality of service.

A PBX can connect to traditional phone lines or IP services commonly referred to as SIP or VOIP. Either way your users and callers will experience one good call after another whether making calls between phones in the office or a world away. The only real risk to call quality is bad cabling in a facility or a poor internet connection. Bad cabling can and should be fixed. If you have a poor internet connection then simply connecting the PBX to traditional copper phone lines is going to be the correct approach and really is going to steer you towards a PBX as the other options available are highly dependent on quality internet broadband.

Modern PBX’s are very low maintenance. The hardware is simple with no moving parts and typically have a mean time between failure of over 12 years. Said differently the hardware is tough stuff that keeps on ticking.

The software is updated with feature releases and patches remotely via a cloud service. Not a lot for a local administrator to due assuming the organization maintains their rights to software updates with their vendor of choice. Maintaining these rights and services is usually low cost and is oftentimes built into the overall fees versus a separate charge.

PBX USERS

FEATURES &
FUNCTIONS

PBX phone systems have rich set of features and functions that deliver the core of what users want with sound quality and ease of use but also full capabilities with:

In short, there is very little for a user that a PBX doesn’t deliver as a standard feature anymore. The reason for this is the systems are largely software and the world of phone systems are so competitive that PBX’s have feature parity with one another.

PBX PHONE OPTIONS

COST OF
OWNERSHIP

PBX’s have kind of gotten a bad rap on this front but its really not deserved. Here is why. Most PBX’s organizations purchase or lease with a buyout at the end. Its become a little out of fashion to buy a phone system because buyers are concerned the technology they are buying will become out of date in 3-5 years and they’ll have to start all over again. That may be true but its unlikely. Most organizations with less than 150 employees aren’t changing radically over a 5-10 year period. Their growth is 8-10% per year and PBX’s are actually staying quite current with technology trends (other than video) without having to go through replacements. So, when you pencil out a PBX over a 5-7 year period (which is still conservative) they actually end up costing you less than other options.

Generally an organization should budget $400-$700 per handset for a turnkey solution with maintenance for 5 years when considering a PBX. The more handsets involved the lower the per handset cost will be as labor and centralized hardware is spread out.

First Call sells and delivers PBX’s as well as other options. We are always happy to “do the math” for our clients across our solutions to insure they are not only getting the right technology but also that the dollars are optimized for their needs.

A new class of mobile-first business phones

PBX DELIVERY METHOD

PBX’s have to be installed onsite by a qualified technician, handsets are rolled out at the same time by the vendor and training is usually a combination of hands-on/face-to-face sessions and follow-up questions handled remotely. As a customer, all you have to do is open up your offices to let the vendor do the rollout and the rollup of your legacy system to get that out of the way.

MICROSOFT PHONE SYSTEMS

(SOMETIMES CALLED A MICROSOFT TEAMS PHONE SYSTEM)

MICROSOFT PHONE SYSTEM

Organizations big and small should consider Microsoft 365 Business Voice as their phone system of choice if a couple of factors are true:

– Already are using Microsoft 365 for email, Microsoft Office Applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and like Microsoft Teams for meetings, chat and collaboration and video.

– Want to make and take calls using the Microsoft Teams application to any one in the world versus via a 3rd party local app or browser based soft phone.

– The organization has clarity on the traditional phone system features it requires and has reviewed the capabilities with a qualified consultant to determine any gaps in Microsoft Business Voice.

ABOUT MICROSOFT PHONE SYSTEMS

As you might guess there is no box in the wiring closet…

Microsoft is a cloud company and its voice strategy is fully aligned with that model. It launched in 2017 as Microsoft basically become a worldwide telephone company and had made investments and acquisitions like Skype. Initially, there were some call quality issues and some pretty rudimentary tools/interfaces to manage and configure it. Early on key features were missing like auto attendants, call queuing, etc.

Fast forward to 2020. Having been a Microsoft Partner for 20 years we can attest – rarely does Microsoft get it right out of the gate. Give them 3 tries or 3 years and then lookout. Today the system is feature-rich, elegant, easy as falling down to use, scales beautifully, and is true Unified Communications (UC).

Click here to view a complete list of features.

MICROSOFT UNIFIED COMMUNICATIONS

AS A SERVICE

So many organizations have been working to unify communications for businesses. Unified Communications (UC) is technology that allows you to take all the forms of communication: voice, video, chat/text, voicemails, email and enable them for the user via a single service and interface that works on different devices PC, Mac, Android, Apple etc.

Microsoft has done it with Teams and Business Voice and its both an amazing technology and user experience. That doesn’t mean its for everyone. Some people don’t want or need unified communications for their business. They want traditional phone system functionality, reliability and maybe a few bells and whistles like voicemail to email. If this sounds like you the Microsoft Phone System is probably not your bag.

HANDSETS ARE OPTIONAL

Microsoft does not manufacture or sell phone handsets with screens, speaker phones etc. That said there are a number of manufacturers who design, build and offer great handsets ranging in cost from $200 to $500 per device. Yealink, Cisco, Polycom are some examples of companies that offer compatible handsets.

The handsets range from plain to downright sexy with big color touch screens, HD cameras built-in and amazing sound quality.

Many users though are ditching their handsets for good. They simply use the Microsoft Teams app on their PC/Mac and on their smartphone. The app combined with either a headset or built-in mic/speaker gives them everything they need to make, take and manage calls/voicemails.

WHAT ABOUT CONFERENCE ROOMS & MEETINGS SPACES?

Similar to the handsets Microsoft has partnered with a variety major 3rd party manufacturers to provide exceptional hardware for great audio, video, content sharing and meeting experiences.

These solutions can cover small intimate spaces or large ones. They can be as simple as a conference room phone to touch panels, dynamic cameras and multiple microphones and audio speakers placed strategically in the room.

Another nice thing is these solutions will work with other meeting platforms so if you need to connect into a Zoom, GoToMeeting or WebEx they work just like traditional voice and video solutions.

MICROSOFT PHONE SYSTEMS

FEATURES & FUNCTIONS

Phone Numbers

Organizations can get new local numbers, transfer existing phone numbers, establish toll-free numbers, or get direct phone numbers to allow callers to call/talk directly, etc. Basically, just think of Microsoft as the phone company and your Microsoft partner (such as First Call) as your resource to help your organization through those moves/adds/changes.

Moves/Adds/Changes

All of the workaround moves/adds/changes takes place via a browser in the Microsoft Tenant. An administrator can add new users, adjust licensing and features etc with point and click functionality.

All the work IT teams used to have to do when an employee moves desks, or offices, or wants to work from home etc goes away. Its cloud-based so as an employee moves as long as they have their preferred device and an internet connection the solution continues to work.

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Call Quality

Those of you who have used Teams for their interoffice communication know that call quality is very high even with heavy demand.

Microsoft continues to build out its voice capabilities in the United States and globally. That said Microsoft does not require that is the voice carrier. There are a number of 3rd party national and global carriers you can work with who offer higher levels of call quality guarantees.

As a consumer, you have tremendous choice and can also leverage 3rd parties for redundancy and voice continuity to insure you are not 100% dependent on the Microsoft Cloud.

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Maintenance

Going to the Microsoft Cloud moves the work of managing and maintain the “phone system” away from your IT team and straight to Microsoft.

What if the internet fails?

This is a great question and a consideration for any organization that is embracing the cloud – especially for voice. Calls can be forwarded to cell phones or landlines quickly and easily and routed back when the connection is restored.
A good rule of thumb for the Microsoft Busines Voice software subscription and a carrier plan (whether Microsoft or 3rd Party) is $20 per user per month. This is in-line with other cloud-based unified communication services fees.

Professional fees are going to completely depend on the number of users and scope of migration. Professional services rates are going to range between $100/hour to $200/hour depending on your market.

Finally, user hardware could be as low as $0 if an organization already has compatible hardware or simply prefers not to use handsets. Many users will be perfectly happy not having a desk phone to clutter up their desk at work or at home.

MICROSOFT PHONE SYSTEM

COST OF OWNERSHIP

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Microsoft 365 subscription

Organizations must have a Microsoft 365 tenant and users subscribed to basic, standard or premium.
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Professional Services

A Qualified Microsoft Partner will have fees for design, setup, migration, installation, and training as part of the implementation.
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Microsoft Business Voice Software Subscription

Microsoft charges each user a subscription fee for the software/capabilities of the system.
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Microsoft or 3rd Party Voice Carrier (Calling Plan)

Similar to how you pay the phone company for a traditional phone system to be able to make and take domestic and/or international calls, an organization needs a call or carrier plan either from Microsoft or a 3rd party carrier to do the same thing when using the Microsoft Business Voice system.

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User hardware

Headsets, handsets, conference phones, webcams etc. These can typically be purchased or provided as a service from your vendor of choice.

SMALL BUSINESS PHONE SYSTEMS

SMALL BUSINESS PHONE SYSTEMS

Small businesses obviously use and need phone systems. The reason people search around this is to try and figure out what is the right phone system given the myriad of all the options out there. Really the options boil down to what we have been discussing in this page: PBX, Microsoft Business Voice or some other cloud based phone service.

Small businesses can also just use their cell phones or get a key system to share a few lines within a single facility.

The best thing to do is get some advice from a qualified and trusted vendor. Be honest with them about what your needs are now and how your needs might change in the future to avoid getting married to something that isn’t a long term fit.

Also be wary of any long term telephone line / carrier contracts. If you do need traditional phone lines or SIP trunks try and keep the contract short and flexible so you don’t end up stuck with the wrong technology or service for a long period of time.

CLOUD BUSINESS PHONE SYSTEMS

CLOUD-BASED PHONE SYSTEMS

A cloud-based phone system is hosted by a 3rd party. There are many sizes and flavors of vendors out there but we’d strongly recommend going with national and international based brands. Why? They have the financial clout to build robust services across the globe, have negotiated heavy discounts with 3rd party handset manufacturers, have streamlined the customer experience (onboarding, training, moves/adds/changes etc), and have the most sophisticated technology and application integrations.

By choosing a national vendor does this mean there is no local relationship or support?

It depends. There are companies that work directly with the customer. There are other companies that work with partners.

First Call recommends providers like 8×8 or Nextiva because they are heavy hitters nationally and internationally but also because they leverage local partners to ensure they deliver the best of both worlds to their clients.

CLOUD-BASED PHONE SYSTEMS

FEATURES & FUNCTIONS

Moves/Adds/Changes

The best cloud phone system vendors make this very easy for the customer. They allow customers to add/takeaway users via a portal or through a very friendly set of people on their help desk. Cloud vendors like 8×8 know they need to make it easy for you and if they do they will keep you as a customer for a long time.

Most cloud phone systems have a lot of options because they want to serve the customer in the most flexible way possible. Example: a manufacturing company might have very simple needs on the manufacturing floor, more traditional needs in the office and then complex needs in their customer service department and field sales. The cloud phone system provider will have various licensing subscriptions to get the right set of tools to the right user at the right price for the company.

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Call Quality

Cloud-based call quality with major carriers like 8×8 is extremely good. They have invested millions and millions into their backbone, technology, and networks. They also have sophisticated software (usually through a browser or smartphone app) that helps manage the call quality at the device level.

Just like the other solutions the quality of the local network and local internet connection the user has will impact call quality but these solutions are getting more and more capable at handling even poor internet with their compression technologies.

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Maintenance

One of the huge benefits of a cloud-based system is there is no maintenance that the customer has to perform on the software or services. All of the system updates, security patches, etc are done in the cloud or through the cloud to keep your subscription and services up to date.

CLOUD-BASED PHONE USER

FEATURES & FUNCTIONS

Cloud phone systems used to have a limited set of features when compared to a PBX. Today’s large sophisticated vendors have feature parity with PBX’s and in many cases more advanced features given their capabilities to integrate with other cloud-based software programs like SalesForce, Service Desk, or Microsoft Dynamics.

Cloud Phone Systems can provide more sophisticated analytics, mobility features, video and integrate with a wide variety of handsets across any number of manufacturers. Or the option to not use a handset at all!

They even have capabilities to integrate with local overhead paging systems and other access control systems – previously this was beyond their capacity.

CLOUD PHONE SYSTEM

COST OF OWNERSHIP

There are two main things to understand when considering a Cloud Phone System investment:

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Subscription Cost

The first is that it’s a subscription cost that doesn’t go away as long as you have users on the system.
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Start-up Costs

The second is there are start-up costs. Handsets (usually optional), implementation services, and training services

We strongly recommend that organizations not fall for the free setup. It sounds good but ultimately it will place more work and more stress on your people than the vendor – the result and experience will be less than optimal.

Subscriptions for the service and the carrier fees can be as low as $12/mo per user. The average cost is $20/mo per user but advanced features like Call Center, Contact Center, and/or Analytics can run upwards of $60/mo per user.

Business Cloud Phones

Cloud Phone System Delivery Method

Good vendors have a very well-defined onboarding process that includes pre-programming, shipping and go-live processes. All of this work is done remotely and unless there is a local partner anything locally will need to be self-performed by the customer. This can be acceptable in straightforward, small implementations but its not recommended for anything beyond that.

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