Do you like “plain” or “peanut” used to be the question.  But with so many different varieties introduced over time, let alone the fact that “plain” M&Ms were recently renamed as “chocolate,” it is really hard to choose.  Nowadays. there is an M&M for every taste…seriously.  A recent visit to the local grocery store shelves revealed Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Peanut, Crispy, Pretzel, Almond, Dark Mint, Dark Chocolate Peanut, Mega and…even an M&Ms Chocolate Bar!  On top of that, you can now even order your own customizable M&Ms with your own photo on the candy shell.  How do you choose?

That question not only perplexes candy lovers, but also business managers when it comes to choosing the best type of telephone system for their organization.  That segue was as smooth as the candy-shelled surface of an M&M, right?

But seriously, with so many choices, how does one approach this?  The first thing is to understand the technological differences between VoIP phone technology and traditional telephony.  VoIP refers to Voice over Internet Protocol.  Such systems take voice signals, break them into data packets and transmit them over the Internet.  Traditional or analog phone technology takes voice signals and converts them into electronic waves over the CSN (not Crosby, Stills and Nash but…Circuit Switching Network).  With so much of communications now being managed over the Internet, the saying that “voice is just another application” has never been more true.  That is why more and more organizations are moving from analog systems to VoIP.  So, that first choice is the easy one…you are going to consider VoIP.

Now, the next question is, how you want to manage your telephone system.  The options are:

  • Hosted (the organization leases or buys the phones, but the service provider owns and maintains all other equipment),
  • On-Premise (the organization buys the entire system and is responsible for maintenance and upgrades), or
  • Managed (the organization buys the entire system but a vendor sets it up, maintains it and upgrades it).

With a Hosted System, the organization pays the phone service fees and subscription to use the VoIP system.  Upfront costs are low; no maintenance is required.  This is often the preferred route for a small business or organization; the only downside is that customizability is low and over time it can be more expensive.  With an On-Premise System, the organization pays for all the upfront costs, plus fees for the voice service.  It is highly customizable and often the choice of larger organizations.  With a Managed System, the organization pays the upfront costs plus the fees for maintenance and voice services.  The major advantage is that the system puts no extra burden on the IT staff at the firm.  The downside is that it might have greater downtime than a hosted system, where the host provider is ensuring a Service Level Agreement (SLA) of uptime.

Once the type of management decision is made, it is time to decide on features and benefits.   With all this analysis and thinking, I think it is time for a handful of M&Ms!  Anyway, the features to think about are:

  • Pricing (Will you pay by “seat” or user or will you pay by call. Paying by call only makes sense for organizations with far more incoming, than outgoing calls.),
  • Migrating Numbers (Some providers allow you to keep existing numbers at no cost while others require a fee.),
  • Security (Using your company’s IT network for voice subjects your network to security threats, just like any other IT resource, so be careful!), and
  • User Features (Do you want “Find Me/ Follow Me” to facilitate diverting your calls anywhere you want them to go?).

Lots of decisions to make!  However, there are many benefits of VoIP phone systems—lower phone charges, one network to manage (voice and data together), reduced travel costs due to more collaboration features than traditional telephony, portability of numbers, communications, etc.

Much like deciding between plain or peanut M&Ms, you can’t go wrong with whichever VoIP phone system you choose!

First published in our November 2016 IT Radix Resource newsletter