Understanding your needs is vital if you are going to make a cost-effective system choice: one that meets your current and future needs while avoiding wasteful over-specification. The closer your installed telephone system comes to matching your actual requirements, the better the value of this sizeable investment to your business. Consider the following points:
- What call volume does your phone system have to cope with today?
- How will call volumes rise in the future?
- Does your new system have to be compatible with existing equipment?
- What special functions do you want your phone system to perform?
- What do you want the new system to do that your existing one doesn’t do?
- What problems do you have with your current system?
Build your assumptions, expected benefits, cost analysis and any other relevant factors into your phone system procurement plan. Just as you prepare an annual business or marketing plan, the creation of a thorough, senior management-backed phone system procurement plan will help ensure that you choose the right system – and the right supplier – for your current and future needs.
Experienced phone systems experts recommend preparing a detailed list of current and planned trunks (the external connections), extensions (handsets, fax machines and modems) and an assessment of the requirements that each user has. A simple matrix structure will enable the identification of required functionality and different workgroups and will help to simplify the complexity of your organisational phone system needs. Put as much time as you can into needs assessment and drive make sure the task is driven from senior management downwards. This is not something to be delegated away to a junior employee; there’s too much at stake.
Having understood your current requirements, think carefully about how your phone system needs will change over the next five to ten years.
- Will your business be expanding?
- Will you be recruiting new employees?
- Will you be developing call centres?
- Will more of your staff be mobile
- Will home-working or tele-commuting be more important
Though many modern systems (especially software-based PBXs) are modular, scalable and can cope with some expansion, there will still be limits on the number of users you can add to the system. And even if you can add to the size of the system in future, doing so will probably be more expensive and disruptive than accurately assessing your requirements and specifying the optimum system from the beginning.
Planning external connections
ISDN lines are the norm for external connections (primary rate BTISDN30 or BT branded ISDN2 for smaller businesses). These are not the same as high-speed broadband data transfer, which is not suitable for voice calls unless you are planning to embrace the latest voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology.
ISDN lines also offer important extra services such as Direct Dialling Inwards (DDI), Caller ID and External Transfer.
One of the most important parts of external connection planning involves the accurate estimation of how many lines (trunks) you require. In particular, your assessment of likely call volumes will indicate the ration of trunks to extensions that you will require to deliver the required service. Too high a ratio of extensions to trunks will mean that your staff struggle to get an outside line 0 while inbound callers find that your lines are always busy. This is where phone system planning can really have an impact on your day to day business.