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How to create a sensible telephone strategy

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Mobile Clinic In this our penultimate mobile clinic piece, The Register's group of experts return to provide their opinions on your questions.

This week the team are tackling how to best create a sensible telephone strategy, and as usual you can have your say via our comments section at the bottom of the article.

Question

How do we create a sensible telephony strategy - eg: How to transfer calls between landlines, VoIP lines and mobile phones - considering the options and the incumbent infrastructure of Mobile, VoIP, PBX technology, hosted PBX services?

Dale Vile, Research Director, Freeform Dynamics Ltd

If you are dealing with a situation in which there is some compelling reason for a quick fix to your current telephony arrangements, eg escalating costs, aging equipment coming to end of life, or some practical constraint that is otherwise hampering the business, then it is tempting to look for a like-for-like replacement for whatever you have in place already. This might lead you to a simple swap of a traditional PBX for the IP equivalent, or, indeed, to just move a contract from one service provider to another, whether fixed or mobile.

However, the world has moved on quite a bit over the past few years in terms of both solutions and the requirements and the expectations of business users. It is therefore recommended that before any significant investment or contract commitment is made in this space, you stand back for a while and take time to understand the communication needs of your business as a whole. It will then become clear to most that telephony, or any particular flavour of it (traditional fixed, cellular, VoIP, etc), is probably best considered as just one ingredient of an overall communications cocktail. The other key ingredients of the cocktail are email, instant messaging and voice conferencing, perhaps spiced up with a bit of video conferencing and real time collaboration stuff, such as application/display sharing between PCs in a virtual meeting.

There are some vendors out there who wrap all of this up into what is commonly referred to as 'Unified Communications', and define offerings that promise to provide everything you need in an integrated manner with so-called 'presence' as the cherry on the cocktail stick. For those not familiar with the term 'presence', it's basically the ability to see which of your contacts are available through which medium at any moment in time - a kind of hyped-up version of being able to see which of your buddies are online in your instant messaging environment, but extended to look across all communication mechanisms. The idea is to avoid all of the telephone tag and 'hunt the colleague' games, and get away from the routine of trying someone's desk phone, then their mobile, then instant messaging, and if all else fails, either calling their desk phone again to leave a voicemail, or sending them an email in the hope that they'll pick it up soon and call you back.

The other big selling point for unified communications is a single inbox, into which everything flows - voicemail, missed call notifications, etc, as well as email - the idea being that it is more efficient and there is less likelihood of important communications being overlooked.

The trouble is, though, when you listen to vendor presentations on this great 'unified vision' of the world then consider the practicalities of implementing it. It can sometimes seem a) like overkill and b) a bit daunting, not just at a technical level, but organising activity across groups that have previously operated quite separately eg those looking after the email facilities and those taking care of telephony.

The trick is to go right back to what's important to you and consider the needs of different parts of the business and groups of users within them. It may be, for example, that a high-value mobile sales force involved in a lot of collaborative team selling and complex communication and information intensive sales cycles can benefit from the efficiencies and responsiveness that that can be achieved with a full unified messaging approach. Other groups, such as technical or engineering staff that spend 90 per cent of their time in the field doing relatively routine work, may simply need telephony and messaging on a handheld cellular device.

These are just a couple of examples, the point being to simply flag up that most organisations beyond a few people are not homogenous in their communication needs, so it is important to look across and understand the communication characteristics of the various types of user that exist within your organisation. Only then can you assess the merits of what's now on offer from the vendor and service provider community.

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