SMEs: Don’t abandon your PBX

In a recent LinkedIn survey the desk phone ranked the device as the fifth most likely piece of business equipment to shortly disappear from offices around the world. Yet according to Daniel Fuller-Smith, Sales Manager for Europe, Toshiba, today’s desk phone offers significant value to SMEs – provided it is invested in correctly. 

The current heir to the desk phone’s throne in the workplace is obviously the smartphone, a device which the younger generation have grown up with, and so many aren’t accustomed to the desk phone way of working. According to ABI Research, smartphones will be in the hands of almost 1.5 billion people worldwide by December 2013, posing a dilemma to SMEs – why invest in desk phones when your employees can use their smartphone for business as well as leisure?

But businesses shouldn’t abandon traditional telephony altogether. I’d argue that the desk phone needs to be the constant, the cornerstone of the SME office – or any office for that matter. You might think I have to say that taking into consideration what I do for a living, but PBX systems were brought into being to provide important features to improve business working between groups of people. Features such as group ringing and call parking benefit businesses immensely, allowing them to improve customer service, reduce costs and create a well-connected workforce.

SMEs should be encouraged to consider the risk to their business. Allowing staff to move their business calls to mobiles can significantly disrupt integration with business processes. For example, more and more employees make calls from their smartphones, which often leads to customers and suppliers ringing back to the mobile. While this might be great for keeping the individual in the loop, this also has the potential to significantly impinge on day-to-day processes. What if the employee is in a meeting and their phone is on silent, or they go on holiday and leave their phone at home?

The PBX evolved to help businesses become more productive through twinning, cascading of voice mails, and more. It’s natural for smartphones to become a part of this equation, but it shouldn’t replace traditional telephony in the office altogether. PBX functionality should be combined with the flexibility of using a tablet or smartphone, either for voice or as a remote control for the desk phone.

Bridging the gap

The sub-100 market needs to be encouraged to invest in Unified Communication solutions (UC) on the basis that they bridge the gap between these two devices.  Resellers can discuss how employees can take calls on their mobiles, but will often need to transfer the call to a fellow worker. This paints the picture of a business that runs the risk of appearing less professional if a staff member has to run upstairs, or to the next room to pass a mobile phone around the team.

Integrating smartphones into business systems not only enables companies to track communications more effectively and thus increase, rather than decrease, productivity, but it also makes life easier for employees. The mobile isn’t popular because it is a more sophisticated device; it is ease of use and the ability to dial a number from the contacts list rather than dialling into the desk phone that appeals to employees. By unifying communications, businesses can empower their staff to use their device of choice, increasing productivity regardless of location and saving money.

In fact, the desk phone can be more advanced when integrated with a database and PC. This opens doors to functionality, like Computer Integrated Telephony. With deeper integration, the system can check that a customer’s account is up to date before putting the call through, and, should it be overdue, the call can be transferred automatically through to the accounts contact before tying up a more senior member of staff.

Best of both worlds

Buying decisions on smartphones are based on features such as size, screen size and operating system. They are rightly and undoubtedly the device of choice for consumers from a lifestyle perspective. SMEs on the other hand should be looking at business processes, application integration and workflow management when deciding which system to buy, and a PBX remains a critical communications pillar for these solutions.

The end user will have their own device of choice, which will often mean they require several devices depending on their needs at the time. As an office based person, I would personally find it very hard to give up my deskphone but, with UC allowing me to pick up messages on multiple devices, synchronise deletions and use my smartphone to make calls or trigger a dial on my deskphone, I have the flexibility I need.

On the flip side, it can also support flexible working for staff when they’re away from the office. When integrated effectively, smartphones and wider mobility products allow SMEs to get the most from their employees, regardless of their location. It can act as a company’s insurance and help to prevent any slumps in productivity. For example, staff can simply access the system from home if they are unable to come into the office because of unforeseen circumstances, like adverse weather. Integration of mobile is key, not using them to replace the PBX.


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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine
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