So you’ve decided to update your small business’ communications systems and start taking advantage of modern collaboration capabilities to improve productivity. You’ve agreed that hosted UC is the right answer for your company, you’ve educated yourself on what is necessary and you’ve even decided upon a UCaaS platform and a service provider. Well done! Now the real project of getting the rubber to meet the road can start, right? Let’s plug these phones in and start making calls.
Not so fast, says Bill Balvanz, the Manager of Learning and Development at hosted UC provider ANPI, there is a vital step that needs to take place between signing on the dotted line and executing on the project. “We call this interim step the design call and it is a critical step in the process. During this discussion it is important to validate everything learned during the sales process, set clear expectations prior to the project kicking off and work through issues related to the call flow inside the business.” By doing this up front, Balvanz says, potential roadblocks are identified and the project parameters and timelines can be more clearly defined, eliminating a lot of headaches and resulting in happier employees and more successful implementations.
Start by Validating the Order
There is a lot of information gathered and shared during a UCaaS sales process, including details on the number and types of employees, network configuration, hardware and bandwidth specifications, calling plans and much more. For most small and medium businesses, these are not questions they have generally associated with communications and it is important to readdress these findings prior to putting the implementation into motion. While every company and situation is different, Balvanz says it is important to get the right people in each company on this call (or meeting) including the IT people (and anyone else who can get access to the routers, network details, etc.), as well as project leads and any line of business team leaders that will play a significant role in deploying and managing the system.
“We always start by going through the order specifics and double checking everything. For example, the salesperson may have defined 20 phones and an auto attendant at a minimum, but when you get into the details this might be 10 deskphones, two for the front lobby, one for a receptionist, four collaboration licenses and four mobility licenses. This call can stand as a double check to define exactly what is need from a hardware perspective and which employees need more advanced UC features.” It is also a great time to go through the details about the network uncovered during the sales process. “This call is very hardware related,” says Balvanz, “How the phones connect is a big deal, and finding and reviewing other potential network-related issues can make or break the success of a project.” RELATED: Network Considerations for SMBs Looking to Move to Hosted UC or VoIP
Set Clear Project Expectations
For most SMBs, a UCaaS implementation is a new experience and very different from a phone / PBX installation they may have lived through in the past. First, there is a heavy networking component which may require internal expertise or a 3rd-party network VAR. Second, they will need to rely on their UCaaS vendor for guidance and advice through the whole process.
“It is important to have a primary point of contact with the UCaaS vendor that can be the go-to person and help steer the implementation” says Balvanz. “This person should be responsible for identifying issues, defining a realistic timeline, explaining exactly what is happening at each phase of the project and who is responsible for each task.” For example, how long will it take for the phones to be pre-provisioned and delivered, what does it take to hook them up and activate them? What is the UCaaS vendor doing vs. the internal team, vs. a networking consultant? “Training is another important component,” explained Balvanz, “being sure that online and self-service training is built into the project timeline is another way to ensure that the deployment meets and exceeds expectations.” Dig Deeper: 3 Keys to Effectively Implementing and Rolling Out IP Telephony in Your UCaaS Solution
Defining the Call Flow
As great as advanced UC capabilities are, when push comes to shove a UCaaS needs to deliver a rock-solid telephone backbone, and defining how the phone system works is perhaps the most important aspect of the design phase. Balvanz refers to this process as In - Out - Across, or “what number do people call to get to your company or employees and what happens when they get to you, what do people see when you call out from your company, and how do you manage extensions, numbers, internal dialing and transfers inside the company.”
How Do You Want Inbound Calls to Work
Start by looking at how your existing system functions. Do you have an auto attendant or do inbound calls go to a receptionist? Do you rely on hunt groups? Now envision how you want the call logic for your inbound calls to work in a best case scenario. Do you want to maintain your current receptionist approach, or would it make sense to put self-service options in place? How do you want the system to function when someone is calling the company versus an employee directly (you can set up defaults so a call to an employee will ring on their deskphone, mobile and softphone simultaneously, for example).
Even seemingly simple things like redirecting a company phone number that they have been using for 20 years can be a hassle. “The local portability process takes time. The desire to redirect that number to a UCaaS provider needs to be communicated to the existing phone company in order to get it redirected. It requires a lot of paperwork, documentation and can take 10 days,” says Balvanz. “This is the kind of issue you should be able to rely on your UCaaS provider to identify and deal with.”
What About Outbound Calling
What numbers are visible on caller ID - the direct line or the main company number? Do you want all phones to be able to call internationally? If not, which ones can? What happens when an employee makes a call from a mobile phone while using the UC client? All of these things need to be considered prior to setting up the system and provisioning the phones. “It is critical to make sure that e911 information is accurate for each employee and location and it is tested prior to rolling out the solution.”
Moving Calls Across the Enterprise
Just as important as inbound or outbound calls, how you want to manage internal communication needs to be defined early. This can include setting up extension numbers (for example, everyone in sales gets a 100# extension, accounting 200#, etc.) and defining whether calls can be parked, or if they need to result in a direct transfer. Even whether announcements need to be made over an intercom needs to be clarified prior to doing the system build out.
“It is easy to believe that once you have made the decision to implement UCaaS, it’s as simple as flipping a switch and putting new phones on people’s desks - especially with the amount of discussion that went into the sales process,” says Balvanz. “Taking the time to re-examine everything initially discussed and go deeper during the planning and design stage is the critical next step and you will look back at is as time well spent.”