A Guide To Buying A New Business Phone System

By: Jason Morris

Buying a new business phone system is one of the most importantpurchases any business will ever make. The selection of a phonesystem can either bring a business closer to its customers andclients or, cause confusion and chaos amongst all that use orinteract with it.

It is therefore essential that you choose the right phone systemfor your business needs. The telephone is quite often thefastest and easiest way to reach customers and clients. Itshould also be the fastest and easiest way for them to reachyou. It should be flexible enough to be able to cover all ofyour company's needs and handle all calls appropriately. Thelast thing any business wants is for its important businesscallers and customers to be routed incorrectly, disconnected, orfaced with a long list of confusing automated options.

There are lots of factors that need to be taken intoconsideration when choosing a new business telephone system.Below are a few of the main ones:

1. You need enough capacity to fulfil your current businessneeds.

2. Assess your potential future growth and select a compatiblephone 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 toincorporate?

Fulfilling all the factors above and any more you can think ofcan be an expensive challenge for any business. The aim of thisguide is to help you understand what decisions you need to makein 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- Lessphones, Key systems and Private Branch Exchange (PBX) systems.Which type of phone system you choose will depend on the amountof extensions you require and the features your telephone systemneeds to have installed.

KSU-Less systems

KSU-Less systems are usually more suited to companies thattypically have less than ten employees, or require less than tenextensions. That isn't to say that all companies requiring lessthan ten phone extensions can make do with a KSU-Less system. Itmay be that you require more features which are only availablethrough either a PBX or Key phone system.

Requiring a far lower initial investment than the other types ofbusiness phone systems, KSU-Less phones are specificallydesigned to include many of the features usually only availablethrough the implementation of a full small business phone system.

KSU-Less systems can be easily unplugged and relocated, becausethey are not permanently wired into your office. Thisportability allows you to treat a KSU-Less phone system, muchthe same as any business machine, rather than a lost permanentinvestment.

You will need to ensure that any KSU-Less system you choose iscompatible not only with the type of wiring you have in youroffice, but also with any accessories you may already have, suchas: headsets, answering & fax machines and modems. BecauseKSU-Less phone systems are relatively inexpensive, they are notusually sold, installed, or maintained by telecoms vendors.

All of this means, you have to go out there and do not only theshopping yourself but, also the installation and support. Thisis one of the two major drawbacks of KSU-Less systems. The lastthing any business needs is to be concerned with the reliabilityand maintenance of its phone system. Another drawback ofKSU-Less systems is that they are more prone to something knownas crosstalk. This is where separate conversations may blendinto each other. With PBX, Key systems and Hybrid systemsfalling in price, it sometimes makes more sense to invest in afull business phone system, rather than become susceptible tothe 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 yourbusiness phone system, then PBX systems are often the solution.PBX systems used to be extremely expensive and only affordableby huge corporations with hundreds of extensions. Though this isstill the case for larger installations, the development of thetechnology required has progressed to the point where apowerful, fully functional PBX office phone system for a smallbusiness is able to fit on the top of a desk.

Nearly all these compact PBX phone systems come with all thefeatures you might want as standard. You pay a premium for theprogrammability and flexibility that a PBX offers, but in mostcases the price difference is not as much as you may imaginebetween that of a less flexible phone system.

Key Systems

Key phone systems are more typical in businesses that requirefive to forty extensions. This type of phone system uses acentral control unit called the Key System Unit (KSU) to providefeatures and functions that are not available using ordinaryphones. An example of this is: key systems using a KSU allow oneextension to call another in house extension, and prevents anyother users from picking up a line that is already in use. Keysystems usually come as standard with most features any businesswould expect, but in some cases they are often less flexiblethan a PBX phone system.

PBX & Key Systems (hybrids)

Though Key and PBX systems have some different technicalfeatures, these differences have become somewhat blurred overthe past couple of years. Many Key systems now offer featuresthat were once only available to those who chose to install afull PBX phone system. Some systems also operate internally aseither a PBX or Key system depending on the software installed.Sometime these systems are often referred to as "Hybrid" phonesystems.

Installation & maintenance of PBX and Key phone systems

PBX and Key phone systems require installation by fully trainedand qualified telecoms engineers. All outside and inside linesmust connect to the PBX or KSU cabinet. The installation andmaintenance of one of these types of phone system can be just asexpensive as the phone system itself. In many cases you may beable 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 youto purchase new handsets as well as the system itself.

The Right Size System

It is important that when buying a new business telephonesystem, that you know your requirements in advance. Knowing whatfeatures need to be included with your new telephone system willstand you in good stead when it comes to negotiating withpotential suppliers. When considering buying a new telephonesystem for your business, there are two major factors thatdetermine the size of the system you require:

Lines. These are sometimes called trunks. The number of lines asystem has denotes the number of outside lines being used by acompany.

Extensions. Most extensions will be made up of handsets. Thoughany equipment that requires a phone line is classed as anextension. This includes fax machines, modems, and credit cardequipment etc.

It is important that you make a list of all the extensions andlines you may need for your new phone system. Not forgettingsome users may need more than one line and multiple extensions.

With key systems, the size of a phone system is indicated as acombination of both lines and extensions. For example a systemthat has 10 lines and 30 extensions will be shown as a 10 x 30system.

With PBX phone systems, size is defined as a combination oflines and extensions, called "Ports". The number of "Ports" isthe maximum number of connections that can be made to the phonesystem. These include outside lines and inside extensions, aswell as any other telephone system accessories.

When planning for a new business phone system, you should takeinto account the future expansion of your company, by foreseeingany extra needs at an early stage. Even if your currenttelephone system is handling calls well for the time being, thismay not be the case when any future expansion or improvementsare fully implemented. A good business phone system should beable to handle expansion easily and in a cost effective manor.PBX phone systems allow you to expand their capabilities, byadding new expansion cards, thus increasing the number of portsavailable for use. A few key systems can be expanded by theaddition of another cabinet that is identical to the first.

When planning your new system it is important that you enquireabout the potential cost for the addition of more extensions orports. It is important that when choosing a new business phonesystem, you ensure expansion will come not only easily but asaffordable as possible for your company.

Telephone System Dealers and Installers

Finding a good reliable dealer is the most important part ofbuying a new business phone system. A good reputable dealer willnot only be able to sell you the system you require, but willoffer excellent, guaranteed installation and service as well asalways be on hand to answer any questions you have when problemsarise. To put it simply they will be there to hold your hand andguide you through the process, from the planning and selectionof a suitable system, to the implementation of you new systemand training of staff. Any potential supplier will be more thanhappy to talk to you about any aspect of a new business phonesystem, and offer testimonials as to the quality of theirsystems and installation service.

It is not uncommon for buyers to require a demonstration ofpotential new phone systems. Any reputable dealer will be morethan happy to offer a full demonstration of any phone systemthey supply. It is better for the dealer to visit your site,that way they can get a proper view of your existing system andevaluate your future communication requirements and cablingneeds.

Service Level Agreements (SLA's) specify how quickly a dealerresponds to a problem with your phone system. A good dealer willoffer a range of SLA's to cater for most business needs andbudgets. Expect to pay more if your business requires 24/7support or response times shorter than normal.

Below are some questions that you could ask a dealer whenlooking 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?

Check List

1. Decide which type of phone system best suits your businessesneeds.

2. Plan the size of your new system by evaluating the amount oflines and extensions you require. Don't forget to plan for anyfuture expansion.

3. Decide what extra features you might require from you newbusiness 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 thecorrect system for your business.

7. Don't forget to sort suitable training and an adequateservice level agreement.

The purchase and installation of the correct telephone systemfor your business is a very important decision. It is imperativethat you get it right first time, as the functionality andprosperity of you business could heavily depend upon it.Remember to follow the few simple guide lines outlined in thisreport, and you will be more prepared than most.

Thanks for reading my article

Jason Morri


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