Small business owners have an increasing number of choices for their
phone systems today. It’s no longer an automatic move to get a
traditional PBX phone system installed when setting up shop. They are
aware of other options, from hosted solutions to cable to VoIP, that
might give them better pricing and features for their needs.
We talked with Danny Windham, CEO of Digium about recent trends in small business communications and some of the options available to small businesses today.
What does the future of small business communication looks like?
There will be a continued reliance on a company business phone
system. While some have argued that the cell phone will take over there
may be isolated situations where this is true. At Digium we don’t
believe that will happen anytime soon because of a number of factors
including the emergence of high definition “wideband” audio and the
fact that businesses today are paying premiums to get high quality
wideband desktop phones with advanced features and high reliability.
Users still want their land-locked desk phones for a combination of
reasons from personal choice to moderate cost to integration with new
IP enabled applications. These applications will be the foundation of
increased adoption of VoIP because they easily integrate various
unified communication applications, better control and even the
adoption of desktop video which is a fast growing application reducing
travel costs. While this will be true for most small and medium sized
businesses, the very smallest customers may choose rely on hosted and
cloud based solutions. Open source Asterisk-based systems are available
in all these service delivery choices for businesses.
Beyond saving money on telephone calls, what other reasons should one consider VOIP?
VoIP can also save money on infrastructure and operating expenses.
Aside from direct cost savings, VoIP enables functionality not
available in traditional TDM systems, such as working-from-anywhere,
utilizing a PC as a phone, delivering voice mails and faxes via email
and vice versa, and easily integrating business communications
capabilities with existing business processes.
There are many telephone appliance PBX (do it yourself) on the
market such as Microsoft Response Point and TalkSwitch – how do these
fit in to the telephone solutions that a business needs?
These are but two of the many alternatives available in to smaller
end-user customers. While a good start, they do not offer the expansion
and flexibility that businesses need. Both of these systems are limited
in the number of users and applications and are not scalable but fit
some small businesses requirements. Appliances will continue to be
introduced for special purpose applications based on IP for years to
Where do virtual telephone systems such as Gotvmail or RingCentral fit in?
These offerings are both in the category of hosted service provider.
Hosting has certain advantages along with some disadvantages. Companies
who choose hosted solutions lose complete control over their voice
system. They pay ongoing monthly fees in return for services. If the
hosted provider goes our of business, the user loses their phone
system. Typically, all moves-add-changes are done by the hosted
provider and each additional service raises the recurring costs. In
general, hosting works well for smaller busiensses and becomes less
attractive as the business grows in size due to costs and loss of
control becomes even more risky for larger business. Hosting has been
reasonably successful for under 15 seats with some larger companies
evaluating hosted’s long term total cost of ownership. These costs can
easily exceed premise-based solutions. Some customers may explore
special purpose hosted applications but the core business phone system
would remain premise-based. We are seeing interest in cloud-based
telephony services which are similar to hosted but they are at an early
stage and business models are not yet mature.
Larger businesses using systems from Microsoft, Cisco (and
I’m sure other vendors) are moving to presence, CRM-telephony and other
features – are these features priced right and simple enough for
smaller businesses to consider?
This is a growing area called unified communications that starts to
bring all the pieces in a corporate communications infrastructure into
one user interface. So in addition to phone calls and presence users
also see information from their CRM system, IM chats, video and
location-based information like Google maps on the computer screen
during a call even before answering the phone call. Switchvox, which is
Digium’s SMB web-aware IP PBX award winning product family includes all
of this functionality at a list price of $3390 for an appliance-based
pre-loaded 10 user turn-key system – and is packaged in a way that
makes it easy for an average user to utilize.