9 Steps to a Successful VoIP Deployment
When was the last time your entire organization adopted new technology at the exact same time? That’s essentially what happens when you deploy a new VoIP system.
That kind of orchestrated effort might seem daunting. But with careful planning--and the right partner--the process of implementing your new VoIP system can go much more smoothly. Follow this roadmap to successful deployment.
#1. Identify Your Business Needs and Goals
Implementing any new technology requires a significant investment of time and effort, so it’s important that the technology helps you achieve your business goals. Before you embark on the adoption of VoIP, spend time defining your business goals. Include key functional leaders, who will bring vital insights about day-to-day business operations and business challenges.
Common business goals associated with the implementation of VoIP include the following:
- Increased productivity
- Better customer service
- Reduced expenses
- Improved business processes
The key is to set realistic, specific goals. While VoIP can absolutely have a positive impact on the bottom line, it’s also not a cure-all for unsound business processes.
#2. Talk to End-Users
Ultimately your end-users will determine whether you achieve your business goals. But their needs are often overlooked. That’s not entirely surprising; every end-user might have unique preferences and opinions--and not all end-users will be equally comfortable with new technology.
It’s often tempting to present end-users with a “menu” of VoIP features and ask them to choose the ones that sound appealing. But the better approach is to ask about their communication habits and needs. Ask questions like these:
- How do you communicate with each other? With clients and customers?
- What communication tools or integrations would make your day easier?
- What tasks require the most time each day? How could those tasks be easier or more streamlined?
Asking this kind of question places VoIP services and features in the context of business needs. For example, you might learn that employees who are often out in the field (such as the sales team) would especially benefit from softphone apps that work with their mobile devices or laptops. Or employees in the office may get excited about receiving voicemails in their email inboxes.
#3. Prepare Your Network Infrastructure
The quality of VoIP service depends heavily on internet bandwidth. The service works by converting your voice to data bundles, known as packets. When the internet is slow or overloaded, multiple call-quality issues can occur:
- High latency: The time it takes for a packet to reach its destination is called latency. As this time increases, there can be a delay in delivery time. People might end up speaking over each other or experiencing noticeable lags in the conversation.
- Packet loss: When packets don’t arrive at their final destination, this is packet loss. It can cause calls to cut out.
- Jitter: Packets might arrive in the wrong order, resulting in distortion or a robotic sound. A jitter buffer can help prevent this issue.
To help prevent these issues, make sure that your network can handle the additional traffic associated with VoIP. Site surveys and performance tests help evaluate how well your network will support VoIP. You may need to update or replace routers or other equipment to ensure the best performance. The more proactive you are about preparing your infrastructure, the more likely it is that you’ll have excellent VoIP service from the moment of cutover.
#4. Draft a Project Plan
Starting with a solid plan is a best practice for any technology deployment. But it’s even more important with VoIP because communication is a core business function.
- Include the right stakeholders. Your communication system impacts virtually everyone in the company, and people in different departments will often have unique insights. Make sure that key stakeholders from across the organization have the opportunity to participate in crafting the project plan.
- Define the scope of the project. This might seem straightforward, but scope creep can occur even with a project as (seemingly) well-defined as a VoIP implementation. Limit the project scope to the technologies, tools, and capabilities that will directly impact your VoIP service.
- Set a realistic timeline for implementation. The timeline should include key milestones, such as dates for choosing a provider, training employees, and conducting the actual installation.
- Pay special attention to cutover day. The day you officially switch to VoIP service will likely be a busy one, with many responsibilities for different departments. For example, routers and switches might need to be reset. Or the credit card payment processing system may require attention. Try to anticipate these needs and assign duties as appropriate.
- Plan all the way through successful adoption. It seems natural to plan a VoIP deployment through, well, the deployment. But the success of the project also depends on the successful adoption of the technology. Address the potential need for additional employee training and other measures that will improve adoption rates.
- Outline potential risks. No project goes exactly as planned. Before you start, take the time to predict the challenges you might face, and document the possible solutions. You may even identify issues that you can address before the deployment gets underway, saving headaches down the road.
#5. Evaluate Potential VoIP Providers
Communication powers your business, so it’s crucial to select the right VoIP provider. Don’t choose based on price alone. Look for an enterprise-level provider with a solid track record of working with companies like yours. The ideal provider will offer the following:
- Business-class products and services: By now, you have a firm grasp of the features and functionality that you’d like to get from your VoIP provider, along with an idea of what new equipment you’ll need. Look for a provider who can deliver all that, at the business-class level. Even SMBs with only a few employees should use enterprise-level services.
- A long list of happy clients: Don’t be afraid to request references, ideally from customers who are about the same size or have similar communication needs as your company. Ask how long they’ve worked with the provider, what issues they’ve had with service, and how they would describe their implementation experience.
- Experience with industry-specific regulatory needs: If your industry is governed by any communication- or data-related regulations, it’s important to find a provider that understands these requirements. For example, in a healthcare setting, HIPAA applies to any digitally stored information related to someone’s health--which might include call or video recordings acquired and stored via your VoIP service.
- Self-management tools: Calling your provider every time you need to change a user is..so 2012 (not to mention potentially expensive). The best providers will certainly offer managed services, where they take care of everything. But they’ll also have a robust set of web-based tools such as portals that you can use to manage basic changes and updates for your communication system.
- A collaborative, creative approach: Your company’s communication needs are unique. You need a VoIP provider who understands those needs and translates them into a comprehensive, cost-effective solution. The right provider won’t try to force you into a one-size-fits-all communication system, but will think creatively to come up with the right VoIP options for you. They’ll walk you through everything from choosing the right phone equipment, to deciding whether you need a hosted or on-premise solution.
- Ongoing support: Your VoIP provider will play a key role on cutover day, but what about afterward? Will the provider take an active role in training your staff on all this new technology? Does the provider offer 24/7 support in case your phone system goes down?
#6. Design Your Solution
Your service provider should take a leading role in designing your VoIP phone system. It’s important to know that transitioning to VoIP doesn’t always require you to start from scratch with all-new equipment. That “rip-and-replace” approach is certainly an option if you’re working with truly antiquated equipment, but most companies opt for a more intermediate option. Together, you can make some fundamental decisions.
Hosted vs On-Premise
One great benefit of VoIP is that you can keep your system on-premise (on-prem) or have it hosted by your VoIP provider. Also known as a cloud-based phone system, a hosted PBX is a great solution for businesses of any size. It can be scaled quickly, and the VoIP provider handles all maintenance, upgrades, and data security. If you have remote workers, a hosted PBX is also a good option since it can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection.
An on-prem system might be preferable for businesses that have large call centers or other extensive communication needs. It might also be ideal if you’d prefer to maintain full control over your equipment and data. For instance, financial institutions might need an on-prem system because their communications might involve customers’ sensitive personal data.
CAPEX vs OPEX
Most VoIP implementations will require at least some new equipment, and many businesses treat it as an opportunity to upgrade their entire communication system. That can represent a considerable investment. Some companies might prefer to structure this as a capital expenditure (CAPEX) and purchase all the equipment outright.
The alternative is a device as a service (DaaS) plan. For a monthly fee, you’ll get both services and equipment. If you’d rather structure your equipment costs as an operating expense (OPEX), then DaaS is the right choice. A managed services plan might also be ideal for companies that don’t have the IT infrastructure and staff to support and manage the VoIP system themselves.
Necessary vs Nice to Have
The features of VoIP are seemingly limitless. From auto attendants to video conferencing, the list can be truly overwhelming. And it can be tempting to get a system with “all the bells and whistles.” But that might mean a VoIP system that’s more expensive, without really delivering additional value for your company.
Go back to the business goals and end-user input. Which features will really help your employees to reach those goals? The right provider can help you think strategically and creatively about these choices. In a traditional office setting, a Microsoft Teams integration and easy video conferencing are often must-haves. Auto attendants are indispensable for call centers, but might be less important for an SMB with a dedicated receptionist and low call volume.
Less obvious might be the use of softphones and mobile applications using computers, cell phones, and tablets versus traditional desk phones. Your VoIP provider can help you explore overlooked use cases and tailor a communications system that balances features and budget.
#7. Plan and Execute a Successful Cutover
All the planning has paid off, and you’ve finally arrived at cutover: the period when you switch from your old provider to your new VoIP provider. Cutover should be as seamless as possible to minimize communication disruptions. Depending on the size of your business, the number of locations, and the complexity of your network, cutover might take a few hours or a few days. And although your project plan probably has some cutover-related milestones, it’s also important to have a much more specific, detailed cutover plan. What actually happens during cutover?
- All of your company’s phone numbers are ported to your new service provider.
- Any new equipment must be set up and connected to the network.
- Everything must be tested to ensure that it’s functioning properly, including phones, fax machines, and credit card machines.
Before cutover, decide where any new equipment will be installed. Make room as needed, and clearly label where everything goes. Your VoIP provider will also provide a cutover sheet, which lists all the numbers to be ported; equipment to be set up and tested; and programming to be done, along with who is responsible for each item.
It’s also useful to think through any potential problems and how to handle them. Your VoIP provider can walk you through these scenarios and related contingency plans. When it comes to planning for a smooth transition, more is almost always better.
#8. Train Your Employees
To maximize the return on your investment in VoIP services, you need a successful adoption of the new technology. That starts and ends with end-users, that is, your employees. Thus the most successful VoIP adoptions are those that incorporate thoughtful, thorough employee training. Ideally, your VoIP provider will support your efforts with on-site training right after deployment, to ensure that everyone knows how to use the system from the very beginning.
All employees should receive training in basic telephony. They'll need to learn how to execute the following tasks:
- Handle inbound and outbound calls, along with making internal calls
- Use basic features like call transfers (both blind and assisted); speed dial; Do Not Disturb (DND); and call history
- Initiate, join, and record conference calls via both three-way calling and the conference video bridge
It is often helpful to provide a one-page “cheat sheet” on these functions so that employees have a brief, accessible reference.
Some employees will also need additional training on other, more sophisticated features. Rather than going through every single item, focus first on the features that will have the most impact on the employees’ productivity and workflows. These are usually also features that they’ll use frequently, so they’ll need to feel comfortable as quickly as possible.
Also pay close attention to employees who may identify as less “tech savvy” or who seem to be struggling with the new technology. Offer supplemental one-on-one training, or consider asking another employee to act as a sort of onboarding buddy.
But most importantly, emphasize that help is always available, and make sure that employees have access to any additional resources from your VoIP provider, such as training videos or knowledge base articles.