Choosing the right unified communications system for your organisation

You might be choosing the next phone system for your business or just trying to understand your options when the time comes, but your starting point should be understanding the differences between a hosted and on-premise VoIP solution.

Once you understand the relative benefits of on-premise, hosted or hybrid solutions and determine which features you need, you can be confident you will choose a phone system that not only delivers a good return on your investment, but helps drive growth in your business.

Unified Communications (UC)

There is a lot more to modern phone systems than just making and receiving calls. Systems now include a range of integrated features like instant messaging, voicemail-to-email, one-touch divert, call recording and user presence, to name but a few.

The range of services offered ensure modern systems offer a better return on investment than traditional switchboard systems, through improved productivity and collaboration.

Before you get around to assessing which features you would benefit from and how much everything will cost, you must first decide whether you will fit the system in your premises or use one hosted in the Cloud.

Cloud or on-premise?

Fitting the new system in your office might seem the simplest option as it’s what you’re used to and you have allowed for the necessary capital expenditure in your budget, but it’s not that simple. A Cloud service offers greater flexibility and lower initial outlay, freeing up budget for you to use in other areas of your business.

A closer look at each option will help you decide the right choice for your business and help you avoid some of the mistakes others have made in your position.

The on-premise solution

As the name suggests, solutions labelled on-premise are installed at your business location, within your offices, factory, school etc.

If it’s your business phone system, this is usually a server or hardware equipment installed on-site and managed by your IT resources, if you have them. If you have lots of offices around the country, then typically each location will have its own local server. However, some phone systems can cope with remote workers from hardware physically located at the main office, but will be referred to as on-premise still as it’s you and your IT resources that take care of the server and the system.

The hosted solution

Again as the name suggests, a service provider like Qvoice houses the hardware and provides most, if not all of the supporting IT services.

The increase in available bandwidth, combined with decreasing cost makes it possible to host a comprehensive UC solution in the Cloud. The solution may be physical for each client or may be virtualised in the service providers hosting suite, but in both cases you access the system over your business broadband connection.

The hybrid solution

Not unsurprisingly perhaps, a hybrid solution is a mix of on-premise equipment and hosted services.

Service providers will specify a hybrid solution that connects some users to on-premise equipment while connecting other users within the organisation to a Cloud solution. This is a good option for businesses with offices and users spread around the country, or indeed the world, with equipment on-premise at head office, with satellite offices, or home offices connected to the Cloud.

Be careful – few hybrid solution successfully integrate the Cloud and on-premise portions of the total solution, which can limit access to certain features and deliver an inconsistent user experience, based on location.

Points to consider when choosing a business phone system

You will undoubtedly need some expert advice to determine the correct solution for your business, with on-premise, Cloud and hybrid solutions all having different advantages. Once you understand the differences, it will be easier to see which is right for your business, but we’re ready to talk unified communications when you are.

Whilst assessing the relative merits of the solutions, here are a few to consider and discuss with us when you’re ready to buy your next business phone system:

Check the features

The first thing to consider is what features you want as part of your new system. You will find that lots of hosted services have different features compared to the on-premise solution from the same service provider, which can make the comparison tricky.

The answer is to assess systems that offer all the same features, regardless of whether it is hosted or on-premise, which makes the comparison and cost implications much easier. This is particularly true where identified features necessary to support the growth of your business, like conferencing are not included in the basic price.

The upfront costs

A hosted solution will typically cost you less upfront, with an ongoing monthly fee based on the number of users in your business. If you choose an on-premise solution, purchasing the server will be your big cost, but you’ll avoid a monthly fee.

The choice is largely one of scale; the more people you employ the more cost-effective an on-premise solution becomes, compared to monthly charges. No hard and fast rules, but hosted proves most satisfactory for smaller businesses with up to 20 employees.

Cost of ownership

Despite the monthly fees, the total cost of ownership of a hosted solution will often be quite low once savings associated with in-house IT personnel, like being able to undertake more productive work, has been factored in. The service provider you select will manage the server, its specification, configuration and ongoing support – a real fit and forget service.

On-premise by comparison can have a higher total cost of ownership, if staff costs to look after the system are taken into account, along with repairs, failures and upgrades, all of which are covered in the monthly fees of a hosted solution.

Scale for growth

Regardless of the size of your business at his point, the growth you expect will impact the decision you make. If you’re leaning towards an on-premise solution, you will need to make a guesstimate of the size of your business in the years ahead and buy a system with room for expansion.

A hosted solution allows you to add new users to the system as they join, without any changes to hardware, beyond purchasing a new handset. Flexibility is the key and ideally you should choose a system that allows you to switch easily from on-premise to hosted, or vice versa.

Retrace your steps

Whatever phone system you currently have and which route you decide to take, it is always worth checking that you can reverse your transition. We find larger businesses that get caught up in the popularity of cloud solutions and move from their existing on-premise solution to a cloud-based service, often miss the control over every aspect of their business IT infrastructure they are used to.

Typically for smaller businesses, the switch to a hosted solution lessens the IT management demands and feels like a release to focus on core activities. This ability to retrace your steps is something we can advise on, with flexible solutions that allow you to move between on-premise, hosted and hybrid seamlessly without any loss of features.

Business continuity sorted

The unpredictable poses a problem for all businesses, with a disaster recovery or business continuity plan an essential part of any long-term strategy. If you lose communications it can have a serious impact on your business, not just monetarily, but in reputational terms too, which requires even the smallest business to have a viable recovery plan.

If you choose an on-premise solution, you should allow for extra fail-over hardware or backup equipment, taking responsibility yourself. If you choose a hosted solution, if you cannot access your premises, you can still access your communications. The best hosted solutions will involve multiple data centres, able to switch between them if the service provider suffers a similar problem to that affecting your location.

Safe and secure

It is never a good idea to outsource any aspect of your IT without giving due consideration to the security of your data. Despite the fears, a reputable service provider with the necessary international standard for information security management ISO27001: 2013, are likely to keep your data more secure than you can.

For those businesses working in sectors with compliance requirements, like law firms and those operating in the financial sector, the location of data might preclude the choice of a hosted solution. Many of the businesses with strict compliance requirements will often opt for an on-premise solution for both their communications system and wider IT system.

Quiss can help

Whilst assessing your choices we’d recommend talking to us, so we can help you make the right decision. We’ll ensure you get the best value from your choice and see it serves the purpose for which you intend, with comprehensive advice delivered from a technical, rather than sales perspective.

We work hard to understand your business and the specific needs of the phone system you want to purchase, tailoring our solution accordingly. We will help you assess whether you have enough bandwidth for a unified communications solution and help you establish whether your network is VoIP capable. Whatever it takes, Quiss can help.

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