How to make a vendor short list.

For small business owners, making the switch from conventional telephony to a VoIP solution is a sound business decision; especially since IP telephony is set to become the most utilized form of business communications by 2013. While the primary driving factor for businesses when it comes to deploying VoIP is the substantial ability to reduce communications costs, there are many forms of business oriented VoIP systems and it is important for businesses to correctly identify the solution that best suits their needs. If correctly facilitate VoIP provides all enterprises with increased proficiency and productivity.

Voice over IP Call Termination is one of the most common variations of VoIP telephony; if correctly deployed it will allow smaller enterprises to eliminate nearly 80% of their regular monthly telephony expenses. Like most VoIP platforms, Voice over IP Call Termination harnesses the Internet to terminate business calls instead of operating over the packet switch telephone network. The second most referred to form of VoIP is known as Hosted Centrex, this is thought to be a matured replacement for a PBX system. While operating on a Hosted Centrex platform, the VoIP service provider delivers PBX features from their softswitch to the business’ current broadband Internet connection. It is essential that businesses evaluate which VoIP solution will adequately meet business demands prior to the implementation phase.

Due to the growing demand for IP telephony services the list of available VoIP service providers has grown drastically over recent years. Because of the influx in service providers it is essential that small business owners carefully research the vendors that make their short list. There are many inexperienced and unreliable providers on the market making claims of high Quality of Service and below industry pricing; claims they cannot substantiate. Selecting the wrong service provider will only result in inadequate VoIP service. An established and knowledgeable host will be able to prove a strong client base, trained management and technicians and will have been in the business of providing corporate VoIP solutions for more than two years.

Since every VoIP provider and reseller on the market will claim to provide the best VoIP service, how does a smaller enterprise create their vendor short list? VoIP vendor selection can be broken down into 6 key steps; Voice Quality, Pricing, Network Integration, Features and Tools, Billing and Test Results.

1. Voice Quality
VoIP service providers experienced in providing high quality business communications solutions will maintain a multitude of POPs, or Point of Presence, and softswitches. High quality voice calls made over the Internet depend on both to minimize latency and maximize connectivity. Small business owners should become accustomed with the providers Mean Opinion Score (MOS) number to determine overall voice quality. While a MOS of 3.5 is the industry average, business owners should specify a minimum of 4.0 and work towards a score of 4.4 as this would represent the same voice quality as that of a conventional telephone network.

2. Pricing
The potential to save money is the primary motivator for most businesses to migrate to a VoIP solution, and most providers claim to have the best pricing structure. While performing vendor evaluations it is important the businesses clearly understand the rate structures of the providers under their radar. Given the highly competitive nature of VoIP services, rates will differ greatly. A VoIP solution provider’s rate structure and profit margins can result in a lengthy list of pricing schemes. A savvy business professional should be able to procure rates based on their average calling volume.

3. Network Integration
It is almost impossible to locate a business that does not have a existing telecom network, for this purpose migration to VoIP should be relatively effortless. It is important to carefully evaluate each vendor to ensure that they will be able to effortlessly integrate the existing network with VoIP; lowering the risk of network interruptions during the initial implantation phase.

4. Features and Tools
Some of the most advantageous benefits of both VoIP and hosted VoIP service are the multitude of rich and business enhancing features that can be provided; Call waiting, conference calling, automated attendant, hunt groups, address books and much more. Most VoIP solutions providers will present their business clients with all of these features and more at no additional charge. When making a short list, cross reference the list of providers with the services and features that the business requires to maintain a competitive advantage.

5. Billing
A professional VoIP solutions provider will offer real-time billing and the expertise necessary to maintain proper control over the VoIP minutes utilized by their consumers. It is essential for businesses to receive a Call Digital Record with each billing statement.

6. Test Results
Any VoIP provider worthy of topping the short list will provide a trial service. This allows business owners to evaluate and verify voice quality, VoIP service and the ability of the service provider to meet the needs of the business. Business owners should adopt the practice of always signing up for a live test trial, which lasts for no less than 3 business days. The end result will provide a clear forecast of the services and features provided. It is recommended that businesses request Average Call Duration metrics, Average Success ratio and Post-Dial Delay results as these will provide insight into the Quality of Service offered by each VoIP solutions provider.

By carefully evaluating each vendor, with the services and features offered and how they can add value to the business, small business owners should be able to clearly determine which type of service will best meet their needs and the service provider most capable of provider that service.