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How do we weed through the telecom options to choose the right system with the right options to meet

We are a small company in a high tech medical field. We are launching an expansion in a new building but our current phone system is incredibly outdated. It doesn't even have voice mail. How do we weed through the telecom options to choose the right system with the right options and technology to service our current needs, but with the ability to expand and update as new options and technology come available. Price is also a significant factor here. I've listened to quotes and presentations from four different companies and I'm more confused now than when I started. We will have four facilities when we finish and I don't even know if the benefits of networking the four outweigh the cost or how the various options work. Our three current facilities all are on fractional T1 lines.
Based on your company's needs and your requirement to easily expand and update the phone system as your needs grow and evolve, it would be advantageous to utilize an "open" telephony system. Open systems are those which are composed of industry standard components using standard interfaces. Open systems ensure that you'll be able to easily adapt your company's phone system to take advantage of new technologies and applications as they emerge.

Another consideration is whether you want to use Voice over IP (VoIP) for your voice transport, or, if you prefer to stick to the traditional phone system (PSTN). Before deciding, determine which applications you will need to deploy (voicemail, unified communications, voice self-service, conferencing) on your phone system, and find out if these applications are available on the solution you are evaluating. Understanding this availability will significantly impact your decision.

Given your needs, I would explore solutions from Vonexus/Interactive Intelligence, Vertical Televantage and 3COM NBX. All of these offer expandability and can integrate with other systems through standards. Each of these companies also offers their own and partner applications to meet most business needs.

Since price is very important to your decision, make sure you compare prices over the long term, i.e. maintenance, upgrades, etc., rather than just the upfront cost of deployment. Whether you will be better off integrating all of your offices or not is a more involved question. This will depend on several factors including price of bandwidth/per minute toll charges, interaction between the offices, and productivity gains brought about by improved communications, balanced with the added cost of maintaining a distributed system. You may be wiser to start with a solution for each office and look to consolidate later.

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