How to maintain your VoIP telecommunications plan Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2010

At first glance, a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system, given its unified communications nature, may appear very complex. But Chris Surdenik, president of Call One, says you shouldn’t let that put you off from taking advantage of VoIP at your business.

“Embrace that complexity, because it can make your business so much more effective and efficient,” says Surdenik. “That is why they are as complex as they are. They really will make your business better if utilized properly.”

VoIP is not a traditional phone system; in fact, making and receiving calls, and generally behaving like a standard telephone system, is the bare minimum of what a VoIP system should do. VoIP systems are designed to handle a number of tasks, but it takes some know-how to make that happen.

Smart Business spoke with Surdenik about how VoIP can transform the way you do business.

What are keys to administering a VoIP system?

First and foremost, you need to have a dedicated system administrator or two. That is absolutely key. Second, ensure that any new security patches or software updates are run on the system at a time that is convenient to the business.

The technological administration of a VoIP system is fairly simple because as you add new locations and new users, it’s just another user on your data network. It’s not like you have to do two tasks at the same time — you’re basically just bringing it down to one unified task because everything is working on the data network.

What should companies look for in a systems administrator?

VoIP systems are very easy to get used to, but prior experience is key. Look for someone who has a firm background in phone system administration, even if only versed in TDM (time division multiplexing) system. Getting up to speed on a VoIP system is simple for someone versed in TDM. Being well versed in all features of the VoIP system and all the interconnecting points it may tap into, for example, will allow you to tap into the billing system or tap into your customer relationship management software.

Your administrator needs to be well versed in the meet points, because it’s not just a phone system anymore; it is a link in your data network’s capability. It’s a communication system for your data network. Without prior experience, you would get lost in the complexity of it.

Once a VoIP solution is in place, how is it maintained?

Once the system is in place, maintaining it is just like maintaining any other item on your data network. An administrator should be assigned to take care of any moves of people and any additions or changes to the service, and the system that is chosen should have the capability for that administrator to do that on their own.

Choose the system you’re going to have the best ownership experience with, because you’re going to have that system for three to five years. You need somebody you can live with and can grow with. If you choose something strictly on price, you might find yourself constricted down the road as far as system administrators being able to make moves and changes, or your scalability might be hampered.

What types of upgrades and updates should companies expect from their provider?

Typically, you’ll see patches the same way you see software patches in an operating system environment. A lot of the upgrades and updates have to do with security, because, again, the VoIP system is operating on your data network. It has to be very secure because you are allowing users onto your data network.

It is not a separate system. That was one good thing about separate systems; they were fairly secure. As long as you had complex passwords for voice mail, you didn’t run much risk of people hacking into your system.

With VoIP, it is a piece sitting on your data network, so the security on it has to be very stringent. Otherwise, you may experience some problems.

What do companies need to know about the different types of VoIP systems?

If you are going with a hosted solution, you need to be with a company you believe is going to be around for the long haul. By ‘hosting’ your system, you are essentially outsourcing their phone system to the VoIP company. As vital as that communication system is, they cannot entrust it to a fly-by-night company. They need to be with a company with a good reputation, history and a vast amount of experience to draw from, and one that is financially stable.

Some companies will make it sound very appealing and inexpensive — selling the sizzle. A lot of those companies go out of business or get gobbled up. If they do fail, you have to be ready to move very quickly because your phone numbers could be at risk. Your whole phone system and your communication with the rest of world could be at risk.

The other way to do VoIP is with a premise-based system. Premise-based has somewhat similar concerns to what you would have with a hosted provider but not as dire because you have control over your own phone numbers. Premise-based is less risky because you have the system within your enterprise, so you’re still able to make moves and changes, even if the VoIP company were to fail.

Chris Surdenik is president of Call One. Reach him at (312) CALL-ONE.