Nov 24 2014

Is Cloud-Based VoIP Right for Your Firm?

Four considerations for businesses considering a critical communications upgrade and VoIP.

Choosing a corporate phone system is not as simple as it might have been a decade ago. Dennis Wakeman, information systems manager with the law firm of Bonner Kiernan Trebach & Crociata LLP knows that all too well.

When the time came to replace the firm’s public branch exchange systems, Wakeman researched whether a Voice over IP system had the potential to save money, improve communication and help the firm’s attorneys and staff work smarter.

“That PBX system had become difficult,” Wakeman says. Tasks such as forwarding calls or changing names associated with phones required a call to the firm’s communications provider.

“It took hours,” Wakeman adds.

Fortunately, unified communications technology has changed a lot over the past 10 years. But while some of Bonner Kiernan’s attorneys sought the latest and greatest tools, others relied on their phones to communicate in the way they always had. Wakeman’s new dilemma became how to move his firm into the future without causing pain to those who preferred to work in more traditional ways.

When the firm’s Philadelphia office was relocated, Wakeman’s decision-making time was up. Moving the office’s PBX system would be a pointless hassle. He needed a solution scalable enough to roll out, eventually, to all nine of the firm’s locations.

Firms and businesses facing similar choices should focus their research on available technical solutions, the backgrounds of the companies providing those solutions, and the true solution cost in both dollars and support time. Here are some questions to help narrow that task.

1. Closet or cloud?

Because Wakeman had experience installing and supporting an on-premises VoIP system at a previous job, he considered doing so again. Still, supporting a system of servers in a closet onsite might be more than Wakeman’s small, one-and-a-half-person IT department could handle.

Chuck Ludwig, a solution architect at CDW who supports VoIP phone services as well as legal customers, felt certain Wakeman didn’t want to install his own in-house VoIP system. “Dennis was supporting nine offices. People choose cloud VoIP services when they are looking to take something off their plate,” Ludwig says. With a cloud service, all support questions, maintenance, backups, upgrades and redundancy of services are handled by the service provider.

2. Are there hidden costs?

Calculating costs for an on-premises solution is more complicated than many realize, Ludwig says: “Businesses often amortize the cost over the years they expect to use the system, adding in monthly operating costs. But, when I ask about software upgrades or maintenance patches, they shrug.”

Calculating the length of time a system will be in operation — a basic part of the formula — is a wild card. People assume they will use the system for 10 or 15 years, but that number may not hit the mark. While Wakeman and his firm are replacing 10-year-old systems, they feel like historical artifacts.

“People do it,” Ludwig says, “but eventually, the decision to replace comes down to not being able to get support for a legacy system.” It’s also difficult to predict when in the future of technical innovation that will happen.

“In the hosted world, you pay on a per-seat basis,” Ludwig says. “It’s a utility. So Bonner Kiernan will know exactly how much each seat costs, regardless of the geography, as they roll the system out to all of the offices.”

A big plus for Wakeman was his ability to plan accurately for those. The solution “had no capital costs, and would save a couple hundred dollars a month,” he says, making the decision doubly easy.

VOIP Phone
Photo: Lexey Swall/GRAIN


3. Which hosted service?

“Some people just want the cheapest solution,” Ludwig says. “For business, that’s a service routed over the Internet. But with no private connection, there is no service-level guarantee. There is no contract either. And for a law firm, that’s not acceptable.”

Because he had a long relationship with the company and knew other law firms that were happy with it, Ludwig recommended ShoreTel Sky.

The installation was first rolled out to Philadelphia. Everyone there seemed to like the technology, so it was added at three more of the firm’s East Coast offices over the course of 18 months.

The ShoreTel Sky tools were easy to install and offered Wakeman’s team redundancy — service that is automatically rerouted to another server if a failure occurs. He tested it by unplugging one of the switches while talking on the phone. The system’s web-based portal simplifies tasks such as attaching names to phones, forwarding calls and resetting passwords.

When evaluating other systems, it’s helpful to similarly detail the types of features and services the IT team can’t live without, as well as those features that will save on future costs.

4. Will it make end users happy?

Ultimately, the more traditional Bonner Kiernan lawyers who at first were resistant to new technology (or simply were more focused on litigating than on the tools they used for communication), didn’t have to change anything when the new system came online.

It’s a phone on the desk,” Wakeman says. “They don’t have to use any of the new tools if they don’t want to.”

Alexander H. Gillespie, special counsel in Bonner Kiernan’s New York and New Jersey offices, says he’s happy that Wakeman changed it. The new system makes his job easier — for instance, emailing a .wav file within minutes after his line accepts a voicemail message.

“If I’m in court, I can see that I received an important call as soon as I get it. In the past, I had to call in to listen to voicemail to know whether the call I was waiting for came in. Now I know immediately.”

CDW Staff

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