When it comes to acronyms, the telecoms industry must be up there with the best of them. There’s PSTN, PABX, ISDN, VoIP, DDI, POTS, GPRS, 3G, SIP – alphabeti spaghetti. The industry is pretty confusing – particularly small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that often don’t have the time or expertise to really understand the implications of their decisions.
On the flip side, organisations sometimes fail to view IT as a strategic tool. Many SMEs see it as a cost to be minimised. However, telecoms and IT can be of strategic importance, enabling organisations to stay close to customers, suppliers and employees. Organisations that see their ICT simply as a cost can be at a fundamental disadvantage to their competitors. How, for example, could your business improve its customer experience through mobile technology? Could you win more business through more flexible call handling? What would be the impact of building greater rapport with customers?
But change is no simple task. Customers often have a range of different telecoms products and services with different contracts under different terms. Sometimes other software is integrated with the phone system. Add to this the fact that it is almost impossible for a company that reviews its telecoms once in a blue moon to know what constitutes good value, and all too often the result is not surprising: Poorly informed decisions that lead to higher costs, unclear lines of accountability for support and missed opportunities to enable wider business strategies.
Here are some pointers to deliver a better result:
Consider how your telecoms should support your business strategy.
What are your business strategies and plans over the next 3-5 years? How fit for purpose is your ICT infrastructure? Ask customers, suppliers and employees what issues they face as users and how they impact their day to day work/interactions. If these issues were resolved, what would be the impact on profitability and customer satisfaction?
Understand your current services and related contracts
Identity exactly what products and services you are paying for – and which ones you are actually using. In addition, review the terms of your contracts, as you are likely to find a mixture of notice periods, contract tie ins, etc.
Identify the art of the possible and shortlist preferred options
Telecoms is moving quickly – both in terms of capability and cost. Get a broad perspective of available systems and the pros and cons of each, then narrow it down to two or three to investigate further. Whatever you do, don’t just keep going back to the same supplier – you will just get the same results. You may end up with a bit of a discount, but chances are you could do a whole lot better.
Review your data connectivity
Data connectivity is absolutely vital – and is becoming more so as the cloud becomes more prevalent. Scrutinise the bandwidth and quality of the data lines into the building – if they are not “wide” and “clear” enough, performance will suffer. There is a widening choice at different prices, with different levels of functionality and performance. Decide whether you plan to place voice calls over your data connections. If so, consider how the support arrangements will work to avoid one supplier blaming another if a fault occurs.
Conduct a tender and assess the options
You’ve narrowed down the options. Now conduct a tender and accurately model the costs and pros/cons of each in order to identify the preferred solution. Make sure you understand what is and what isn’t included in the price.
Assess the cost/benefit of upgrading. New systems are often easier and cheaper to support, so you can end up with the new solution, fully installed, at a lower cost than your current system. If you decide that a change is warranted, consider whether you actually need to purchase a new system, or rent the service in the form of cloud-based telephony.
Complete your due diligence on the suppliers
Take up supplier references and ask for ones that are relevant to your size, type and sector. Ask their customers searching questions to uncover any issues. There are likely to be unexpected problems at some point – key is how the supplier handles them. Understand their structure, size and credit rating. Visit their offices to see their operations first hand.
Once you have completed the steps above, you will be in a much stronger position to make a well informed decision that will help your business achieve its goals.