November 12, 2021

Are you really ready for VOIP?

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My intent for this series of articles is to cover a couple topics at a time and isn’t to go into the deepest darkest places related to the process of bringing VoIP to your business. But that being said, I think providing some simple direction can give folks the necessary steps to get started or to reevaluate what help they may need. With more than 35+ years of IT consulting and development experience, and many deployments in the rear-view mirror, I hope you find this helpful and can leverage my experience on your journey.

Getting ready for the big time

Anyone tasked with the responsibility of delivering a company wide phone system needs to get themselves ready and organized for a sizeable challenge. It wasn’t all that long ago you could just download the open-source PBX and push out a few phones using really simple security and servers. Those days are definitely gone and once people realized they basically created a public exchange, and trust me some never knew what hit them, they couldn’t pull the plug fast enough.

Now you’re probably thinking, with all the new technology these days that is no longer a problem. Well, nothing could be further from the truth, as it’s probably worse now than it’s ever been. You need to honestly assess your skills and augment your project with the requisite skills to ensure success. This means anyone that has anything to do with the movement of information from the street to your users’ endpoint. These people resources will need to know more than just how to move the data around the network, they will need to be able to optimize voice and video throughout the journey. If you are not sure what I mean, then honestly you may not be the right person to lead this project.

Don’t be misled by messaging on the web showing how simple this is to pull off (i.e. Planning to Talking in 5 steps…), there is a lot that goes into assessing and then planning your project. When I say assessing, I am talking about assessing the infrastructure, sure, but I also mean truly assessing your company’s ability to manage the build, deployment, training and support.

What comes first?

Being able to objectively assess the resources your company is going to bring to the table will be critical to your success or failure. Before you go off and do your RFP/RFQ, do your homework:

  1. Put some basics into a plan, figure out your budget, timeline deployment from a business perspective.
  2. Do your assessment, figure out if you have the talent, can you do the training and support?
  3. Review business and technology planning, are there major upgrades coming or needed?

Any senior project manager will be able to guide you through developing a plan (you can google any number of sites on the web and I am purposely not providing any links here) to determine inputs, milestones and deliverables to move you along the journey. BUT – make sure that person has been around the block a few times when it comes to VoIP/SIP/Trunking/etc.

Figuring out how a company currently uses their phones is a waste of time, as long as recreating what they already have isn’t the goal. If this is a migration to a new platform and technology, the business (users) don’t know and likely have not experienced what the new platform will bring to the table.  Most users will tell you they just want “it” to work but can’t explain what “it” is and you will need to setup workshops and demonstrations to explain why the project is important and how it will impact their daily life.   Users will likely not be able to give the specifics that will make a specific feature work in an optimized state once deployed to their endpoint, but watch out if they don’t have that thing they use to have.  Make sure you do the current state analysis and document all features.

For example, most phone systems will allow an operator to take a call and blind transfer to an extension (IMHO this is just dumping the caller and scores negative CX points), but what if you used long or short presses on the extension to trigger a different experience for the caller? You need to build and refine the requirements using your knowledge and experience and then demo a real system to get the feedback that will reenforce the customers solution set, what they need to take them to the next level.

You need to build the day-in-the-life of an incoming call, treat it like a new employee that needs to know everything, try building “call personas” to understand the various personalities that make up your incoming and outgoing calls. Users will always gravitate to what they know, and you need to get them thinking outside their current experiences by exposing them to the possibilities of an advanced platform (Henry Ford once said that if he had asked people for what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses!).

What is the real value for moving to VoIP?

When I speak to clients, they will inevitably say they are trying to save money. That explanation is a programmed response because we have all been told “VoIP is cheaper”. Then we start reviewing what the high-level solution costs will be and they sit back in their chair, scratch their heads and wonder why they are doing this. It is very important, to any successful project, to lay out the benefits and ensure you can align the costs and benefits over time to provide real expectations.

If you are transforming a large enterprise, then you are likely already looking at ROI over years and likely a 10-year window. Many smaller organizations target a 1- or 2-year return which may or may not be realistic. If your team is top notch, then you are or have already done the workshop to understand expectations and captured success criteria, but if you haven’t, stop now and don’t come back until you have. In my opinion, cost can’t be the primary criteria for success. You need to be leveraging the new platform to improve your customer experience (internal or external) and driving efficiencies in call routing, message transcription to email and integration with tools like Teams, conferencing and other areas where technical synergies will be the real value in your deployment.

So, let’s go back to the assessment for a moment, you need to be forward thinking here and looking 1, 3 or 5 years out to ensure your project team is anticipating any areas were there could be change. Do you have the right people to do the assessments? Just because the network security person has been with the company for 10 years, doesn’t mean she/he can optimize performance, propose changes to the devices, topology and manage the security threat landscape that will be introduced by your project.

Estimating Cost

Every business is going to want to know EXACTLY what the effort will cost and there are so many moving parts impacting the calculation, this isn’t easy. When IT leaders ask this question, they are generally already aware of any need to spin up other projects for an already ailing infrastructure. This is something I try to get out of the way during the first couple discussions so we can all identify the elephant in the room – “COST”. This is where the IT Consultant in me starts to really get frustrated, or maybe it’s excitement, because either someone pitched the phone system project without knowing the state of the infrastructure or they did know and are using it to push the upgrade agenda that should have been done years ago.

Figuring out if there are any hidden agendas, I will leave up to you as that isn’t the goal of our discussion although I am always up for a good discussion and may be a topic I’ll cover later.

Can your project coexist while other parallel projects, that need to finish before you do, are in process? These other infrastructure projects will have all the same resources you will need to complete your effort, but typically its more about timing as long as the company realizes the order is important and stability of resource pool is critical.

Without getting too carried away here, I treat these projects the same as any other and rely on the planning, scoping & requirements workshops to drive the deliverables and inputs to following the phases of the methodology. Please don’t just take the cost and divide by the number of seats, that isn’t doing your company any favors. You need to apply the impacts of your solution across the various internal and external functional areas you defined earlier. During the post deployment review, you will be able to access how well the project met its goal or if there is still work to be done.

What was the goal?

My intent is to start having discussions so small firms realize, and take into account, the required knowledge and experience it takes to deploy something like a company wide phone system. I hope you will realize this isn’t something you can typically do in your spare time or as a pet project. These projects take focus and understanding of the multiple technologies that will come together to support the deployment.

If you still don’t understand the critical nature of what you’re about to take on, just imagine not being able to make calls or how long you would be in business if incoming calls were met with disconnection messages. Think about the reputational damage you could be responsible for when it takes days or weeks to correct the problems you found after deployment.

If all I did here was bring a small bit of insight or awareness on this type of effort, perfect! Should you have questions or need some not so subtle advice, please reach out to me and we can review your plan of attack and first steps on the journey.