Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stumbling Into VOIP

IP Telephony is an interesting world.

In 1998 I got a new client because the phone guy pulled me into the job. The telephone business has historically been pretty profitable. It consists of selling "systems" that are too complicated for the client to understand, plus all the labor to pull wiring, and configuration labor.

The bad part about the traditional phone business has been that it's 98% project labor. There's essentially no maintenance. A fifteen year old phone system works as well as a one year old system. So once a client is set up, they don't see the phone guy until it's time for an additional phone line.

So this phone friend of mine gets a job with seven phone lines and they say they need computers. He figures he can be the one-stop shop, so he calls me in to design and set up a network. He knows CAT5, which is better than many phone people.

In a couple of days the client is ready to rock and roll.

At this point my friend tells me that his type of people (phone) are going to put my type of people (network) out of business. The way he sees it, he just has to learn or hire someone to do computers and he'll own the whole relationship.

. . . Skip ahead five years.

It turns out that it's a lot easier for a computer technician to learn the phone business than it is for a phone tech to learn IT consulting.

It helps that phones have come over to the world of I.P.

We've taken a circuitous route, but we've finally arrived at a happy place that works for us. And we are now moving full speed ahead with VOIP.

Here's our history for whatever it's worth.

The Beginning: Plug and Play

We jumped into VOIP with Packet8 (8x8) because it was super easy. I like the fact that I could have phones all over the place. We had a phone at my house, two at the office, and one that wandered with one of the techs.

This was something we could easily sell and set up.

But as the years rolled on, Packet8 had some serious issues. Primarily, outages and the need to "rebuild" our phone system at their end from time to time. Overall, I would rate it 95% of what you'd expect out of a land line.

Lesson Number One: That 5% is critical. People expect their phones to just work. And when they just don't, you're just stuck.

At this point, we'd been using and selling VOIP for about three years and decided to fish around for an alternative.

Sorry, Trix

We considered TrixBox. Bought the books, downloaded the software, built a machine, configured it.

But in the end, a TrixBox is a physical thing that lives on site (client site or our colo) and has to be maintained.

The zealots will tell you how easy it is . . . blah, blah, blah. But these people tell stories on facebook and blogs about staying up til midnight and working on systems 24 hours straight to fix stuff.

We don't do that. I'm not saying there are any problems with the TrixBox. But the people who advocate it all have a very high tolerance for working late into the night. I have zero tolerance for that.

And because the TrixBox is a physical thing that exists at someone's office, it needs maintenance.

That taught us that we are not going to push Response Point, Panasonic systems, etc. At the high end, I can see putting in a Cisco phone system for a client with a serious budget. But in (now) five years, we haven't had any of those opportunities.

We've been selling hosted systems that work. We decided that we're really looking for a hosted system that works better.

Lesson Number Two: Go with what you know. We are very comfortable with hosted VOIP and we've had success with it.

Hosted VOIP, take one

We did some research for a hosted VOIP provider. We wanted something on a solid network (like Level 3). We were also spoiled with the flat monthly fee. So that colored our decision a lot.

NOTE: At this point, we had seven phone lines for KPEnterprises and two for Great Little Book.

In the true spirit of eating our own dog food, we decided to try our new hosted VOIP provider at GLB.

It was a smooth transition and we got up and running pretty quickly. We learned that the company we chose was 90% old-school telephone and 10% VOIP. So they did not understand computers, computer techs, or the system flows within an I.T. consulting business.

They talked in acronyms I didn't understand. And when I asked what they meant, they sent me a glossary of VOIP terms. But nothing I asked about was on the glossary -- it was all internal to their company.

Anyway, the phone lines were rock solid and the telephone service was completely top-shelf. It was, in fact, Level 3.

Then . . .

A month later the company went out of business and gave us ten days to port our phone numbers (a virtual impossibility).

Lesson Number Three: Shit Happens. I don't think additional research would have revealed that this company was going out of business. But it's very difficult to "try" a VOIP provider without taking a plunge. Luckily for us, we did this with GLB on two phone lines and not with KPE and not with a client.

Hosted VOIP, take two

We went back to the research lab, and dug a little deeper this time. Finally, we settled on Vocalocity.

Vocalocity has a great program for educating partners. They have excellent, mature online dashboards.

Their documentation is so good that our first client set up everything online before we could get the telephones in their hands. Auto Attendant, call routing, extensions, etc.

I personally deal with Brian Kelly, but you can get started on the Partner Portal. You want to be a reseller.

Will they be perfect when I look back five years from now? I don't know.

But The Cloud's The Thing, as Shakespeare would say. I know going forward, our company will use and resell more services that are hosted, month-to-month, and pay as you go. Going forward, our company will use and resell fewer systems that require hardware on site at the office (ours or client's).

The phone system as we know it will move to the cloud.

I know we're not done learning yet, but I'm very excited about the path we've chosen.

And as soon as we have the spare cash to buy a bunch of phones, KPEnterprises is moving to Vocalocity as well.

- - - - -

I'm posting a link to this story on Telephonation. Some of the details of our ordeal are already posted their.

Comments and sob stories welcome.


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  1. Many customers would like to retain control of the Phone system. We just need to make it an easier process. Check out 3CX Phone System for Windows at - its really very easy to install and manage...

  2. Thanks Nick. I forgot to mention that blatant self-promotion is also welcome on this post. :-)

    To make your link into a link on Blogger, just type out the URL HREF as you would on a web site

    e.g., < a href= . . . etc.

  3. You make a great point about VOIP, but also you briefly touch upon the reason I have refused to resell pretty much anything. If they (vocalocity) should go bust your client looks at you as having failed, no matter what. I have many clients on ringcentral, but I stay out of it and only assist when needed. It means less revenue for me, but more trust in the long run.

  4. Karl, apparently calls your blog post has caused a flood of calls to Vocalocity today. I called them after reading your post.

    We've been looking for a good hosted VoIP PBX solution for a while and I'd given up. After reviewing Vocalocity's site and talking to them for a good 1/2 hour today we're giving them a try internally.

    A hosted VoIP PBX won't make sense to everyone, but especially for smaller clients without the capital to invest 10k+ to invest in a new system this is a great option.

    Thanks again for the good information!


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