Owners and directors from SME’s are often time and resource poor when it comes to researching different technology.

Fresh Business Thinking caught up with David Galton-Fenzi, Group Sales Director and resident VoIP expert at Zycko, a leading distributor of IT systems and products.

David outlines four steps, which he believes makes a good guide for SMEs looking to change from their current systems — with hints and tips to ensure they get it right.”

As businesses strive for better and faster communication services at reduced cost, VoIP is fast taking off as an essential tool. Small to medium sized business in the UK, often with tight budgets, see VoIP as an effective affordable tool with many are looking to implement it this year. Like any business introducing a new service, they will have a number of pressing questions. Do they have the budget to adopt the technology? Which supplier should they use? Will the new system be easy to use? Will it be secure?

A lack of knowledge about the kinds of products on the market has meant that many businesses are holding back.

A survey by Vanson Bourne last year highlighted that of 3,000 UK enterprise IT managers, 54% felt there were more advantages than barriers to the adoption of VoIP. The barriers they felt existed included lack of budget (40%), lack of internal resource (33%), and a lack of knowledge about the market (18%). SMEs are resource poor and do not have lots of time to research different technology and often do not have dedicated IT in place. However, their challenges can be tackled by taking four essential steps before procurement.

1st step:
Investigate the market – both in terms of various providers and products. Is your current supplier able to migrate you to VoIP and will this be your best option for the future? Organisations need to audit existing communications system to see where opportunities lie for improvement.

Often staying with the same supplier is the best option because you know how and what it can deliver. Service is an important factor — you have to trust that your supplier will deliver a solution that works and fulfils its promises.

2nd step:
Define your objectives. Ask yourself why are you changing to a VoIP system? Is it that you want reduced costs, like 73% of the managers in the Vanson Bourne survey, or you have reached capacity on your current system? Then, how much are you prepared to spend? Often the two are inversely related as you need to find the right balance between cost and the performance you require. The key is working with a reseller who will offer you the best value within your budget.

3rd step:
Once you have chosen your supplier, and briefed them on your requirements, you should look to implement a trial system. Examples of this include a “free try and buy” scheme which will allow you to see how the new system works.

You should work with a supplier that offers you consultation to help fully integrate your new system into your own, or even to upgrade your existing one.

A live trial will highlight if the new VoIP system works within your current IT infrastructure. This is vital as you have to be absolutely certain your current network can handle the transition from an analog system to an IP one — your supplier should be aware of your systems capabilities.

One method that can be used when implementing VoIP systems is to create “super-users” – a test group who are given the new system to use which will provide a good indication of its effectiveness.

Whichever method you use, you must be confident your IT systems will remain secure. Indeed, 36% of those questioned in the survey indicated they would not consider VoIP unless it was secure.

4th step:
Proof of concept. So you have done your homework, selected the right equipment and contracted the right team to install it and ensured it works with your system. Now, you have to go ahead and install it across the organisation, while at the same time ensuring there is not any disruption to your business processes. If it works, roll it out.

In the past, VoIP was seen as being similar to video conferencing with time delays and grainy quality – leaving users wary of adopting the technologies. As a result, many companies opted to meet face to face to ensure perfect communication. This has changed. Today the technology is reliable, cost effective and enables high quality communications. There should no longer be any barriers for small business owners to adopt VoIP and I am sure many will take the plunge in 2007.

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