I receive the question daily! “Which VoIP software do you prefer to work with?” While that question seems easy to answer, it’s the motivation for the question that dictates my response. Generally clients are asking me this question because they are considering their options and want to know what I would recommend for them. I can usually provide a solid recommendation based on responses to three questions.
1. What is the experience level and platform expertise of your staff who will be supporting the phone system on a daily basis?
A phone system is useless if you cannot make modifications to it as you need them. If Bob is the only guy in your organization who knows how to modify the basic features of your system (call routing, voicemail administration, adding and removing extensions) and he gets hit by a bus, how likely is it that you can find someone in short order to supplement his expertise? Alternatively, how easy is it for Bob to train another person to take over these duties if he were to be absent? Finally, you may need to rely on outside help for everything, as your staff is completely non-technical; so, what is the availability of such help?
Only an Open Source Asterisk based system with a GUI (Incredible PBX, PBX-in-a-Flash, FreePBX) can fill all of the needs above. There is plenty of community support for these systems available, they can be hosted off-site by a company that will provide support, or they can be put on premises and maintained remotely by a contractor if needed. The total time to train somebody on the day-to-day maintenance of such a system is about a 1 hour investment.
2. What is your budget for the phone system and would you rather see those costs as Operating Expenditures or Capital Expenditures?
The cost of a phone system can swing wildly based on whether you want something on-site, hosted, a certain brand of phones, a certain feature, and how critical phones are in your business. Your compliance matrix may require you to have geographic and ISP redundancy. You may have legacy phones that a key player is attached to, or you need to make sure the phone system can interface with your CRM.
For those who are looking for little to no captital investment, a hosted open source Asterisk based system is the way to go. Your only expense will be phones, assuming you don’t already have IP phones. And you can go as cheap as you’d like with regard to the model of phones you use (even using softphones). The installation and configuration of the system should be spread out into a monthly operating cost. For the cap-ex lovers, try an on-premises open source Asterisk based system. You should be able to find somebody who will throw large numbers around with a large warranty and maintenance agreement included in their installation and configuration costs.
3. How married do you want to be to a phone system vendor?
Loads of vendors are willing to give you a free taste of their stuff in hopes that you will get hooked and have to stick with them. However, I would rather not be married to a certain vendor or even a certain contractor. If you love Cisco equipment, or you love worshiping at the altar of Avaya, then by all means, buy their stuff and stay married. However, I’d like to be sure that my phone system can do everything I need to do, as soon as I need it done, and that I can find somebody to support it at a reasonable cost when my new Millennial IT Guy quits in a fit of rage because I didn’t realize he was such a delicate snowflake and I was crushing his dreams by requiring him to actually do his job.
This is the big one folks! Daily I get calls stating “my support contract with XYZ company ran out,” or “my VoIP guy just quit and there is nobody in this area who supports this system,” and lastly “does XYZ system support piping calls in ABC software?” If you have a Free and Open Source System (FOSS) you can always be certain that your phone system can be made to do what you need it to do, you aren’t married to any vendor, and somebody will be able to support it.
If you made it this far into my post, you may be thinking. What about all of the other phone systems out there. Why doesn’t he make a recommendation about those? I cannot in good conscience recommend other phone systems with the exception of FreeSWITCH because they are in my opinion lacking in one of the following areas:
4. Cost (Absence of Value compared to their TCO)
6. Ease of Use