In our last post, we discussed some of the many business benefits of Voice over IP (VoIP) phone systems. The key to realizing those benefits is to plan carefully before migrating to an IP-based phone system, regardless of the deployment model.
For most people, the phone remains their most valuable business communications tool. Because every member of the organization is potentially impacted by a phone system migration, it is important to take a measured approach with an emphasis on evaluation and preparation to ensure the solution ultimately meets all your operational requirements.
Here are a few best-practice guidelines for evaluating and implementing an IP phone system:
Assemble a Team. Involve stakeholders representing all areas of the organization — including management, end-users and IT — in the planning and evaluation process. Understanding their requirements and expectations is essential to the project’s success. A team lead or project manager will oversee the project and help ensure that key deadlines and benchmarks are met.
Define Business Goals. Clearly identify specific objectives. These may include standardizing business units on a single platform, enhancing customer service, integrating communication channels, improving productivity, enabling mobility and more.
Define User Needs. Today’s IP phone systems offer a spectacular array of user features. However, surveys indicate that as many as 75 percent of these features regularly go unused. It is important to survey end-users to discover what features they need and want. Four-digit extension dialing, three-way calling, voicemail-email integration, find-me/follow-me call routing, and conference call bridges typically are quite popular. A mobile client for the soft phone is increasingly a must-have feature.
Determine Network Requirements. Bandwidth demands, switching and routing capacities, network interfaces, firewall security, cabling and many other factors can affect the delivery of voice packets across a data network. Organizations must collect an array of metrics to assess the voice readiness of wired and wireless networks, and then determine where additional equipment or upgrades are needed.
Determine Support Requirements. Organizations may have network specialists on staff, but IP telephony requires a unique set of skills. In addition to expertise in LAN/WAN implementation, configuration and support, operating the voice network requires understanding of major routing protocols, voice gateways, Quality of Service measures and more.
Identify Partners. Once functional requirements have been identified and documented, it is time to solicit and evaluate vendor proposals to determine which product is the best fit.
Develop an Implementation Plan. Follow the 80/20 rule — 80 percent preparation and 20 percent installation. Working from a current network diagram, document the optimal configuration of all devices to be added — including detailed plans for resolving any potential compatibility issues. Check that the site is fully prepared for new gear, including power and cabling requirements.
Implement. Once preparation is complete proceed with hardware installation and software configuration. This is when your team will establish key protocols for prioritizing voice traffic on the network, establishing QoS metrics, setting routing requirements and extending security measures to voice traffic.
Test, Test, Test. To avoid propagating configuration errors throughout the organization, set up a pilot program to stress test the network before going live. Once problems have been identified and corrected, begin with an initial deployment limited to IT staff and key users so they can get accustomed to the new system before moving on to an organization-wide migration.
A solutions provider with demonstrated expertise in the design, configuration and implementation of IP phone system can streamline the implementation and help ensure success. Contact SSD to discuss our capabilities.