How to determine whether an integrated telecommunications solution is right for your company Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2010
Chris Surdenik, President, Call One

As more and more companies are choosing integrated solutions for their telecommunications needs, it can be difficult to determine which solution is best for you. But this is the way the communications market is going, so it’s time to dig in and sort it out.

“The big word is convergence,” says Chris Surdenik, president of Call One. “Convergence is going to dominate the marketplace for the next 10 to 20 years.”

Surdenik says that companies that work with multiple carriers can offer businesses combination packages that provide flexibility and won’t shoehorn a business into a solution just because it fits the provider.

Smart Business spoke with Surdenik and with Clinton James, COO of Call One, about how to choose an integrated telecommunications solution for your business.

What kind of company could benefit from an integrated solution?

Surdenik: An integrated solution would benefit a company that handles its Internet traffic, voice traffic and possibly its data connectivity between multiple physical points.

Take, for example, a company that has four offices. With an integrated solution, that company could run voice and data between those locations using the same cabling infrastructure and data network infrastructure. You’re able to leverage equipment much more effectively than if you have separate, disparate systems doing separate tasks.

What are the benefits of using an integrated solution?

Surdenik: One of the biggest benefits is the cost savings, which comes from leveraging the equipment that you’re purchasing much more effectively. You don’t have to buy equipment to run your data network and separate equipment to run your voice network. You can utilize the same network equipment and cabling to achieve different goals within your business.

It will also help streamline what you are doing internally. For example, voicemail can be integrated with e-mail, so employees can just look at one source for messaging.

How can businesses achieve integration in telecommunications?

Surdenik: There are different ways to achieve integration. You can do it by having a premise-based setup, where your data and voice network are integrated, or on a hosted basis — IP-Centrex — which is like cloud computing for voice. Some people find that way to be more cost effective and efficient for them.

What are the pros and cons of an integrated solution versus separate services?

Surdenik: One con is that you’re basically riding over the same pipe for everything. That is a pro and a con. While you are leveraging your existing equipment and cabling, at the same time, if something goes wrong with that network, you are down for both voice and data.

James: You’re also depending on that provider to be an expert in multiple areas when it may have strength in one but weaknesses in another. But because you are putting all your eggs in one basket, you’re depending on it to have strength in all those areas.

Is this type of telecommunications service for everyone?

Surdenik: Today, yes, it is. As long as the business understands the shortcomings and has redundancies in place to handle them, it is for everyone.

James: It boils down to the implementation. If your provider can implement it, do it well, understand it, then yes, it could be for everyone. The costs may be slightly higher but the ability to do business in an integrated environment does exist and will pay off. It’s a matter of education. People want to pick up the phone and dial; they don’t care about the rest. In some areas, the providers or vendors can provide the education, or say, ‘We will provide the expertise, and you can rely on us.’

What investment is involved?

Surdenik: The first thing to evaluate when setting up an integrated solution is the cabling infrastructure within a facility. There has to be at least Category 5 cabling in order to make an integrated solution work, and tearing out and replacing the cable can be costly.

Also, you have to have routers with QoS — quality of service. If you don’t have QoS routers, you won’t be able to structure the traffic correctly. When you have an integrated solution, you have to prioritize certain traffic over others. For instance, the voice transaction has to be pretty close to real time; otherwise, it gets choppy and unintelligible. But a data transaction can be choppy. Things can wait for a second or two, and it’s really not going to have an impact on that data transmission. Voice is more sensitive to latency and jitter than a pure data transaction is.

Upgraded cabling and routers can be very costly. However, for a multi-location business, using a data network for both voice and data transactions pays off huge dividends because of the amount of in-trunk company calling.

The fees for that will eventually be eliminated. Whether the company was making switched phone calls or had separate point-to-point circuits to carry the voice traffic, those transaction costs are eliminated because the business will be leveraging its data infrastructure to make that happen.

James: The biggest gains you’ll see are in the multi-location customer. Not that those gains aren’t found in other locations, but they might be harder to find. The store in the corner shop down the street can get by with a standard line just fine. But if the store has 47 other locations, it would be helpful to have an infrastructure set up to be able to handle that.

Chris Surdenik is president of Call One. Clinton James is COO of Call One. Reach them at (312) CALL-ONE.