The Benefit of Using a VoIP Consultant
Switching to a VoIP phone system is a wise and ultimately cost-efficient decision, but the process can also be involved and fraught with missteps. VoIP consultants can provide the insight and experience necessary to guide a planned VoIP migration on time and budget, ensuring continuity of service and a comprehensive VoIP or wireless VoIP system. With the benefit of VoIP consulting, software and hardware decisions are tailored to the current and future needs of the company.
A VoIP consultant can help a company make fundamental decisions about the type of VoIP system to choose. For instance, should a company select a:
- Self-managed, premise-based PBX
- Managed, premise-based PBX
- Hosted PBX
- IP PBX
Regardless, scalability is a key advantage of a well-designed VoIP system, whether using a premise-based PBX, a Hosted PBX, or an IP PBX. With the assistance of reputable VoIP consulting providers, software and hardware will be recommended by VoIP system experts with a complete understanding of the company's needs, budget, and growth potential.
The physical implementation of VoIP services — no matter the size of the company — involves numerous departments: Internally, there's desktop support, IT, and facilities and operations, just to name a few. Externally, efforts must be made to coordinate with telcos, ISPs, and VoIP service providers. VoIP consulting providers can help marshal and manage all the necessary team members to facilitate a smooth transition from a PSTN to a VoIP phone network.
VoIP Consulting Services
Some of the services provided by VoIP consulting professionals are:
- Needs assessments
- Benefit/risk analysis
- Infrastructure optimization
- Strategic planning
- Coordination of resources and vendors
- Project management
- Software integration and system development
- Monitoring and maintenance
Understanding the current and future needs of a growing business is key to developing a realistic and flexible plan for a scalable VoIP system. VoIP consultants will visit with key personnel, gathering requirements and getting a clear picture of the quantity and type of calls made on a regular basis.
A VoIP consultant will determine critical factors such as:
- The number of lines
- Bandwidth capacity
- If some extensions will make only internal calls
- Whether wireless VoIP is a possibility
- Hardware choices such as IP phones, softphones, or ATAs
A needs assessment will help VoIP consulting professionals make the most appropriate recommendation for basic system needs (what type of PBX), as well as additional hardware and software recommendations — such as gateways, softswitches, third-party VoIP software, and more.
VoIP consulting services will also investigate the complexity of desired and required office communication functions in order to understand what types of features should be integrated (for instance, unified communications or a host of business VoIP features from call park or SimulRing to Internet fax and call recording).
Migrating to a VoIP phone system can bring many benefits, primarily in cost savings. VoIP PBX systems also offer more features than a traditional PBX system. However, there is also some inherent risk with a VoIP system, and a qualified VoIP consultant will conduct an exhaustive cost benefit/risk analysis assessment in order to determine the best VoIP solution for any business, small or large.
Most VoIP consulting professionals will calculate the savings a VoIP transition will involve, factoring in all possible variables based on a thorough needs assessment. A VoIP consultant will determine long-term savings to the company based on models that accommodate:
- Bandwidth and line costs
- SIP trunk use
- Hardware costs (gateways, IP phones)
- VoIP provider fees
- Network upgrades to safeguard against dropped calls
- Possible software costs
- Third-party vendor service contracts
A VoIP network is inherently less secure than a traditional PSTN network, and prone to vulnerabilities and exploits. VoIP phone service is subject to the same hacks and threats that affect Internet data: Hacking, malware, phishing, worms, viruses, Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, and more. There are vulnerabilities at almost every point on the VoIP network:
- Endpoint (such as a softphone)
A competent VoIP consultant will conduct a risk analysis in part to determine a company's risk tolerance. In some industries, such as the health and financial industry, there is little room for risk — and in fact there are government regulations in place to help ensure network security. The FDIC, GLBA, and HIPAA are just some of the organizations and acts governing the security of VoIP networks in sensitive industries.
To build a robust VoIP network that guarantees good and continuous call quality, a company's infrastructure must be able to support both voice and data. In some cases, video must also be integrated, meaning that the network infrastructure must be able to support what's known as 'triple play' — data, voice, and video.
Evaluating the existing company network is one very important segment of the overall needs analysis phase. The network and system architecture must be able to handle VoIP calls with no significant packet loss (packet loss results in dropped calls). In some office situations (such as a hospital or medical facility) dropped calls can be more than inconveniences — they can be life-threatening.
If the existing LAN or WAN is unable to support voice traffic, a complete redesign might be in order. Other modifications might be router and switch upgrades. Quality of Service (QoS) can be measured, monitored, and managed with the appropriate tools and system upgrades. Continuous monitoring and testing can also be an ongoing function of the VoIP consultant, as well as managing warranties, maintenance schedules, and service contracts.
If wireless VoIP is an option, some companies offering VoIP consulting services will incorporate predictive RF CAD modeling to visualize the appropriate locations for hotspot access points and minimal interference (such as by break room microwaves).
Wireless VoIP is much more sensitive to packet loss and demands a higher signal strength and signal-to-noise (SNR) and carrier-to-interference ratios (CIR). Predictive modeling can help a VoIP consultant establish a system where an adequate signal is available in all parts of a building or campus, and can mitigate spillover into public accessways or adjacent buildings. Wireless VoIP also requires more security — 3 levels in all.
Armed with a thorough needs requirements document, a VoIP consulting firm can set in motion a strategic plan for implementation. This may require project management, establishing an implementation team to oversee each stage or component, and hardware and software purchases for a network upgrade prior to the VoIP rollout. A VoIP consultant may also contact VoIP service providers and equipment resellers to solicit bids, and then evaluate and select a vendor and negotiate a contract.
Strategy development should include redundancies to minimize packet loss, failsafes and disaster recovery, and network security measures (especially in the health and finance industries). A VoIP consultant designing a wireless VoIP network must take additional security precautions and create a system design that minimizes interference while maximizing accessibility.
A well thought-out strategic plan should facilitate a smooth transition between PSTN and VoIP networks. For companies with unified communications, enterprise resource planning applications (ERPs) or other customer relationship management (CRM) software, and/or round-the-clock services (such as a call center), a hiccup-free migration is mandatory and requires extraordinary efforts to guarantee consistent call quality and uptime.
Coordination of Resources and Vendors
Transitioning to VoIP phone service is very involved. Efforts must be carefully planned to unify action across not only multiple departments — IT and operations — but also coordinated with external service providers such as ISPs, telcos, and VoIP service providers.
A VoIP consultant will be responsible for researching and evaluating vendors and products, obtaining bids, selecting hardware and software, installing and configuring software, and even conducting contract negotiations. VoIP consultants may also be responsible for managing a premise-based PBX, ensuring consistent VoIP network quality and call uptime, and monitoring and coordinating upgrades and warranty service.
A VoIP consultant will also take the helm on project management, ensuring that all milestones and deadlines are met. Project management on a VoIP rollout will include all stages of planning, from research (needs assessment) to strategic planning to procurement to implementation — all the way through maintenance. A VoIP consulting professional will be responsible for developing a detailed project plan with cost controls and ensuring that there are no overruns or missed deadlines.
Software Integration and System Development
If there's a need for third-party software, such as an IVR solution, fax module, or testing or monitoring software, a VoIP consultant will install and configure the software to integrate with a softswitch or on-site IP PBX. Software integration may include detailed documentation creation, so that an in-house team or employee can take over management once installed. VoIP consultants may also be charged with configuring softphones and their integration with other programs, such as Windows and Outlook.
Companies with call centers may need software integration with proprietary or open source applications such as SugarCRM, queue controls, or predictive dialers. With system development, a VoIP consultant may set up a comprehensive, end-to-end program merging multiple CRMs and ERPs to track a customer from first contact to issue resolution, or from ordering to billing to shipping.
Monitoring and Maintenance
Once a VoIP system is established, the VoIP consulting professional may be tasked with the responsibility of overseeing continued performance of the network, and with coordinating the scheduled maintenance of components as dictated by warranties and service contracts. A VoIP consultant providing a managed PBX system will also be responsible for moves, adds, and changes to personnel extensions as well as software and hardware upgrades.
VoIP consulting experts may be required to run regular monitoring and testing programs, analyze traffic patterns, and continually work to optimize the voice network. A VoIP consultant may provide QoS metrics, conduct packet traces, and use call load generators to ensure call quality and uptime.
VoIP Consulting: Providers
Through VoIP consulting, providers are evaluated for the services and features they can offer within the scope of both a budget and a thoroughly researched process design. A VoIP consultant can leverage not only their many years of experience in the industry, but the relationships they have with VoIP service providers and VoIP equipment manufacturers. Cultivating these relationships can result in favorable terms and bulk discounts, as well as well-supported warranties and even a graduated replacement plan for various equipment.
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