How to convert your business to an integrated telecommunications solution Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2010

So you’ve decided to switch to an integrated telecommunications solution. What next? Many businesses are choosing unified/integrated solutions with phone, video and Internet in a combination package that provides flexibility and cost savings. The conversion process can be daunting, especially if your current system hasn’t recently been upgraded, but Call One president Chris Surdenik says hiring a good, knowledgeable team can make the process go smoothly.

“It’s never the technology that causes problems during the conversion,” Surdenik says. “It’s always the people behind it.”

Smart Business spoke with Surdenik about what the process entails and how to ensure that your move to an integrated telecommunications solution goes smoothly.

Once you’ve decided to switch to an integrated/unified telecommunications solution, what’s the next step?

The first thing you need to do is an analysis of your current network. You need to check everything from physical connectivity, meaning cabling, and you need to ensure switches are up to date and that your data network will be able to handle the additional stress of an integrated solution.

If you find that you are lacking on the network side, you are going to have to have network design done and put together the architecture for your network.

Is that an intensive process?

It depends on the size of the organization and how much effort and how fast you want to run with it. Typically, for a small organization, an analysis like that could be done in two days. For a large, multilocation organization, it might take a month or two months.

And if your data gear is outdated, it’s more than likely you will have to upgrade it.

If network is ready to go, what’s the next step?

Then the conversion process involves either migrating to a new hardware solution within the organization, meaning an in-house, on-premise, VoIP-integrated solution, or migrating to a cloud-based solution.

The conversion process for both of those would typically involve new wide-area network connections, different new pipes brought into the premise to connect to the outside carrier that is going to carry your traffic to the rest of the outside world.

How long does that take?

The conversion process for the installation of the new pipes, for the porting of telephone numbers, typically could take from 90 to 120 days. A lot of it can be run in tandem, so you’re not just installing equipment, then doing the pipes; you can do a lot of these simultaneously. Once the network analysis is done, it takes the same amount of time to get everything implemented and reach a smooth conclusion.

You mentioned migrating to an integrated or cloud-based solution. How do you know which choice is best for your organization?

It comes down to how much flexibility an organization desires in this integrated communication solution. The in-house systems will typically allow a customer to be more flexible or customized, whereas a cloud-based solution will tend to be a bit more cookie-cutter.

What should organizations expect from a high-end provider during the conversion process?

Expect to have a dedicated team for this project. If you hire a top-notch company, it will provide a project management team to ensure all the wiring, equipment and the wide-area network connections are working and being installed according to the timetable that was agreed upon at the beginning of the project. The technology, frankly, is a bit of a commodity now. The implementation of it and how that process is handled is really what separates the men from the boys in this business.

How can you know the company you choose will have a dedicated team running the conversion process?

You need to demand it. You need to make it one of the requirements for a project of this scope. You cannot let the organization you are working with dictate whether you are going to have a team or not. That has to be a requirement. Also, you will want to check references. Check with the Better Business Bureau to ensure the company you are going with is reputable and has treated its clientele the way you want to be treated.

Once the integrated telecommunication solution is in place, how can you measure the return on investment?

That will vary from organization to organization. I recently read a case study about an NHL hockey team that implemented a unified solution. When inbound callers came into the customer service queue, it linked the incoming phone number and did a search in the billing database for that number. If it was a season ticket holder, or someone who had spent a lot of money on skyboxes, entertainment, etc., it prioritized those calls and put the people it felt were higher priority at the front of the line.

So the organization is better able to satisfy big-spending clients, rather than making them feel like part of the pack. The ROI can be measured by how many of those large clients are retained. Also, you can measure how much more those big-spending clients spend in the next few years.

There is a very real customer service experience change when you utilize a unified solution properly. It will give you a leg up on your competition because so many people aren’t able to do that right now. That differentiation — distinguishing yourself and your organization — that is what this is all about. Make your clients feel they are getting the best service possible, whatever the business is. With some imagination, you can achieve that with a unified communications solution.

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