By Jason Morris
Buying a new business phone system is one of the most important purchases any business will ever make. The selection of a phone system can either bring a business closer to its customers and clients or, cause confusion and chaos amongst all that use or interact with it.
It is therefore essential that you choose the right phone system for your business needs. The telephone is quite often the fastest and easiest way to reach customers and clients. It should also be the fastest and easiest way for them to reach you. It should be flexible enough to be able to cover all of your company’s needs and handle all calls appropriately. The last thing any business wants is for its important business callers and customers to be routed incorrectly, disconnected, or faced with a long list of confusing automated options.
There are lots of factors that need to be taken into consideration when choosing a new business telephone system. Below are a few of the main ones:
1. You need enough capacity to fulfil your current business needs.
2. Assess your potential future growth and select a compatible phone system accordingly.
3. Ensure compatibility with any equipment you already own (headsets, handsets, conferencing equipment, cabling etc).
4. What features does your business phone system need to incorporate?
Fulfilling all the factors above and any more you can think of can be an expensive challenge for any business. The aim of this guide is to help you understand what decisions you need to make in order to choose the right phone system for your business.
Types of business phone system
There are three major types of phone system available: KSU- Less phones, Key systems and Private Branch Exchange (PBX) systems. Which type of phone system you choose will depend on the amount of extensions you require and the features your telephone system needs to have installed.
KSU-Less systems are usually more suited to companies that typically have less than ten employees, or require less than ten extensions. That isn’t to say that all companies requiring less than ten phone extensions can make do with a KSU-Less system. It may be that you require more features which are only available through either a PBX or Key phone system.
Requiring a far lower initial investment than the other types of business phone systems, KSU-Less phones are specifically designed to include many of the features usually only available through the implementation of a full small business phone system.
KSU-Less systems can be easily unplugged and relocated, because they are not permanently wired into your office. This portability allows you to treat a KSU-Less phone system, much the same as any business machine, rather than a lost permanent investment.
You will need to ensure that any KSU-Less system you choose is compatible not only with the type of wiring you have in your office, but also with any accessories you may already have, such as: headsets, answering & fax machines and modems. Because KSU-Less phone systems are relatively inexpensive, they are not usually sold, installed, or maintained by telecoms vendors.
All of this means, you have to go out there and do not only the shopping yourself but, also the installation and support. This is one of the two major drawbacks of KSU-Less systems. The last thing any business needs is to be concerned with the reliability and maintenance of its phone system. Another drawback of KSU-Less systems is that they are more prone to something known as crosstalk. This is where separate conversations may blend into each other. With PBX, Key systems and Hybrid systems falling in price, it sometimes makes more sense to invest in a full business phone system, rather than become susceptible to the risks of a KSU-Less system.
Private Branch Exchange (PBX) systems
If your business typically requires more than forty extensions, or your needs dictate you need advanced functions from your business phone system, then PBX systems are often the solution. PBX systems used to be extremely expensive and only affordable by huge corporations with hundreds of extensions. Though this is still the case for larger installations, the development of the technology required has progressed to the point where a powerful, fully functional PBX office phone system for a small business is able to fit on the top of a desk.
Nearly all these compact PBX phone systems come with all the features you might want as standard. You pay a premium for the programmability and flexibility that a PBX offers, but in most cases the price difference is not as much as you may imagine between that of a less flexible phone system.
Key phone systems are more typical in businesses that require five to forty extensions. This type of phone system uses a central control unit called the Key System Unit (KSU) to provide features and functions that are not available using ordinary phones. An example of this is: key systems using a KSU allow one extension to call another in house extension, and prevents any other users from picking up a line that is already in use. Key systems usually come as standard with most features any business would expect, but in some cases they are often less flexible than a PBX phone system.
PBX & Key Systems (hybrids)
Though Key and PBX systems have some different technical features, these differences have become somewhat blurred over the past couple of years. Many Key systems now offer features that were once only available to those who chose to install a full PBX phone system. Some systems also operate internally as either a PBX or Key system depending on the software installed. Sometime these systems are often referred to as “Hybrid” phone systems.
Installation & maintenance of PBX and Key phone systems
PBX and Key phone systems require installation by fully trained and qualified telecoms engineers. All outside and inside lines must connect to the PBX or KSU cabinet. The installation and maintenance of one of these types of phone system can be just as expensive as the phone system itself. In many cases you may be able to use the existing phone lines available in your office, but unless the phones you have been using are relatively new, they may not be compatible with your new system, requiring you to purchase new handsets as well as the system itself.
The Right Size System
It is important that when buying a new business telephone system, that you know your requirements in advance. Knowing what features need to be included with your new telephone system will stand you in good stead when it comes to negotiating with potential suppliers. When considering buying a new telephone system for your business, there are two major factors that determine the size of the system you require:
Lines. These are sometimes called trunks. The number of lines a system has denotes the number of outside lines being used by a company.
Extensions. Most extensions will be made up of handsets. Though any equipment that requires a phone line is classed as an extension. This includes fax machines, modems, and credit card equipment etc.
It is important that you make a list of all the extensions and lines you may need for your new phone system. Not forgetting some users may need more than one line and multiple extensions.
With key systems, the size of a phone system is indicated as a combination of both lines and extensions. For example a system that has 10 lines and 30 extensions will be shown as a 10 x 30 system.
With PBX phone systems, size is defined as a combination of lines and extensions, called "Ports". The number of "Ports" is the maximum number of connections that can be made to the phone system. These include outside lines and inside extensions, as well as any other telephone system accessories.
When planning for a new business phone system, you should take into account the future expansion of your company, by foreseeing any extra needs at an early stage. Even if your current telephone system is handling calls well for the time being, this may not be the case when any future expansion or improvements are fully implemented. A good business phone system should be able to handle expansion easily and in a cost effective manor. PBX phone systems allow you to expand their capabilities, by adding new expansion cards, thus increasing the number of ports available for use. A few key systems can be expanded by the addition of another cabinet that is identical to the first.
When planning your new system it is important that you enquire about the potential cost for the addition of more extensions or ports. It is important that when choosing a new business phone system, you ensure expansion will come not only easily but as affordable as possible for your company.
Telephone System Dealers and Installers
Finding a good reliable dealer is the most important part of buying a new business phone system. A good reputable dealer will not only be able to sell you the system you require, but will offer excellent, guaranteed installation and service as well as always be on hand to answer any questions you have when problems arise. To put it simply they will be there to hold your hand and guide you through the process, from the planning and selection of a suitable system, to the implementation of you new system and training of staff. Any potential supplier will be more than happy to talk to you about any aspect of a new business phone system, and offer testimonials as to the quality of their systems and installation service.
It is not uncommon for buyers to require a demonstration of potential new phone systems. Any reputable dealer will be more than happy to offer a full demonstration of any phone system they supply. It is better for the dealer to visit your site, that way they can get a proper view of your existing system and evaluate your future communication requirements and cabling needs.
Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) specify how quickly a dealer responds to a problem with your phone system. A good dealer will offer a range of SLA’s to cater for most business needs and budgets. Expect to pay more if your business requires 24/7 support or response times shorter than normal.
Below are some questions that you could ask a dealer when looking for a supplier of a business phone system:
1. Can I have a system demonstration?
2. Who will install the system and cabling?
3. What range of Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) do they offer?
4. Who will provide system training and what are the costs?
5. Can the dealer provide remote maintenance facilities?
6. What guarantees and warranties do they offer?
1. Decide which type of phone system best suits your businesses needs.
2. Plan the size of your new system by evaluating the amount of lines and extensions you require. Don’t forget to plan for any future expansion.
3. Decide what extra features you might require from you new business phone system (voicemail, door phones, etc).
4. Contact a few reputable dealers.
5. Arrange for a demonstration of suitable phone systems.
6. Work with your chosen dealer to select and purchase the correct system for your business.
7. Don’t forget to sort suitable training and an adequate service level agreement.
The purchase and installation of the correct telephone system for your business is a very important decision. It is imperative that you get it right first time, as the functionality and prosperity of you business could heavily depend upon it. Remember to follow the few simple guide lines outlined in this report, and you will be more prepared than most.