11 November 2018

Your Phone System Is Not Going Anywhere

Rumors of your phone system's demise
are greatly exaggerated.
Perhaps the most common theme among telecommunications analysts and "experts" is the pending demise of the phone system, or PBX. Phone systems are obsolete, we are told, and desk phones are not far behind. Everything voice related will exist "in the cloud"--or so we are told.

As with most simplistic views of technology, this assessment is mostly wrong. Telecommunications technology has evolved and continues to evolve, but telecommunications is not a dying technology and telecommunications systems--including both the PBX and the desk phone--are not dying either.

Consider the three most common jobs in America:
The modern workplace still revolves around a desk and a phone
  • Retail Sales
  • Cashier
  • Office Clerk
No matter your industry or type of business, no matter how you organize your business, the odds are very high you employ at least one of these three types of workers--or your employees perform tasks that fall under one of these three categories of work. Add in other work categories such as customer service and call center occupations and one quickly touches upon virtually every business in America.

What do these occupations have in common? They all involve being in a single place, working from either a desk or a station of some kind. While the "future of work" might be some highly mobile and decentralized environment, the present of work is not mobile, not spread out, and takes place in a single location. Even remote workers are not drifting hither and yon, but work from a single place--oftentimes a home office.

With most work still occurring in a single central place, what is gained by decentralizing telecommunications? There is no functional efficiency gained within a business by discarding phones and phone systems in favor of ethereal "cloud" solutions that pretend as if telecommunications itself does not still mandate some physical device. Your phone system is not going anywhere, and neither is your desk phone--because that is not what you want or need.

VoIP Hardware is generic PC and Server Hardware
What is happening is that how that phone system operates is changing.  Instead of being a single purpose piece of hardware that cannot be repurposed for other use, or shared with other business functions, your phone system is now just another computer. Instead of your desk phone requiring a special connection that cannot be used by anything else, your desk phone is now a network device. The technological foundations of that phone system are now based on computer networking fundamentals, rather than on an isolated, non-integrated set of voice communications principles.  The phone system, as it were, is now a phone server.

Is that a major change to the end user? No. People still use phone systems the same way they have since the days of Alexander Graham Bell--to talk to other people, be they in the next room or in the next state. No matter what changes under the hood, this is still the mission of telecommunications, helping people talk to each other. If you are in business, you want to talk to people, you want to interact with them, you want to communicate with them--for otherwise there is no business to be had.

What is a major change to the end user is the cost of telecommunications.  Because a phone system is no longer a specialized device, it is now just another computer--be it server or appliance--that is connected to your network in some form or fashion, and runs software that does what traditional phone systems and switches used to do. Because your phone system is now your phone server, the cost of the system is much less--a small server or appliance that can be used for almost any type of application costs only a fraction of a specialized single-purpose device, and, thanks to the virtues of Open Source software, the necessary applications are oftentimes "free".

In actuality, Open Source software such as Asterisk™ and OpenSIPS are not completely without cost. Rather, the cost is all directed towards the telecommunications professional that can install and configure the software.  I characterize the distinction between commercial and Open Source software as the difference between investing in a product and investing in people--who are needed to set up the product no matter what. That companies such as IBM and Microsoft are acquiring businesses who are exclusively grounded in developing and distributing Open Source software demonstrates that it is not merely viable, but is in fact the future of software--which makes it the future of phone systems as well.

"But," I hear you say, "that software will be running out in the cloud. I don't need a server." Is that so? As I have written previously, the cloud can be more problem than solution. The cloud does not scale and is neither simple nor even economical. It may be convenient, but no more than that. Consider the following limitations of solutions off in the cloud:
  • They depend on you having a reliable and sufficiently robust Internet connection. While this is usually achievable, every Internet Service Provider will experience outages, and every Internet customer will suffer a loss of service, if only because of a cut fiber optic cable somewhere.  If the entirety of your telecommunications is off in the cloud, when your Internet connection goes down (and it will), you lose even internal communications; in a cloud telecommunications solution, without Internet there is not even communication from the front office to the back office within your place of business.
  • They depend on someone else showing good stewardship of the solution. Moving solutions to the cloud means moving control of your application and even your data into someone else's hands. It means moving your business processes onto someone else's infrastructure. If they fail to perform as needed, your only effective recourse is to move applications and processes to a different cloud provider. If the personnel supporting a premise-based solution fail to perform, your options range from replacing personnel to replacing applications to replacing both. The cloud inherently represents a loss of control.
However, even if the software is run off in the cloud, the phone system function is still being performed. Even a cloud telecommunications solution requires you have a phone in order to use it. There is no phone solution that does not involve phones. There is no voice solution that does not involve phones. Even with the cloud, you will still have a phone system of some kind.

Will your phone solution be in the cloud?  Possibly. If it makes sense, that is where it should be--and the most fundamental business question is always "does this make sense?" Where particular resources should reside should be driven by the needs of your particular business, by what makes sense for your business, and not by what is trending or popular among analysts and experts. Whether it makes sense for your phone system to be on premise or in the cloud, however, your phone system will always exist somewhere. A phone system in the cloud is still a phone system.

At Voice The Right Way, we deliver phone systems and services that utilize a full
At Voice TRW, we make technology valuable to you
range of both on-premise and cloud alternatives.  We have customers that use on-premise solutions, we have customers that rely on our cloud solutions, and we have customers that make creative use of both. We develop and extend our Open Source based platform to put phone services exactly where the customer needs them. This is how I know that, so long as our customers need to communicate with people, their phone systems are not going anywhere.

So long as you need to communicate with other people, your phone system is not going anywhere.


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