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Buyer's Handbook:

Assess a combined VoIP and unified communications framework

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6 questions to ask before choosing a SaaS or hybrid cloud VoIP system

Before choosing a SaaS or hybrid cloud VoIP vendor, it's important for organizations to create a list of must-have features that can be used to narrow down their selection criteria.

Cloud-first is the idea that if an app, service or piece of digital information can live in the public cloud, it should live there.

Business leaders love the cloud because it has low upfront costs, services can scale up or down as needed, and it requires fewer dedicated resources to set up and maintain. Organizations with a cloud-first mentality may benefit from implementing a full SaaS or hybrid cloud voice over IP, or VoIP, system.

But because numerous SaaS or hybrid VoIP platforms are available, it's important for organizations to know what questions they should ask. The answers to the following questions can help them develop a list of must-have features they can use to narrow their search.

1. Can any of the current VoIP platform components be reused?

If a company is planning to migrate off a legacy, on-premises VoIP platform, it's important to review the existing system to see if any components can be reused for the new VoIP system. For SaaS and hybrid deployments, the only parts of a legacy telephony platform that could possibly be reused are unified communications (UC) endpoints, including desk phones, conference phones and video conferencing equipment.

Repurposing fully compatible endpoints on a SaaS platform can save companies a considerable amount of money. Some vendors even offer a list of compatible and incompatible devices for their SaaS platforms.

Editor's note

Using extensive research into the VoIP market, TechTarget editors focused this article series on 10 industry-leading business VoIP providers that offer on-premises and cloud-based VoIP and that combine unified communications functionality into a single communications system. Our research included data from TechTarget surveys and reports from other well-respected research firms, including Gartner.

2. How many users does the organization have?

Companies with large corporate offices and hundreds or thousands of users must consider how a SaaS or hybrid model will affect data flows.

In a SaaS model, each phone call creates an individual data flow from the local end-user device to the vendor's public cloud. In most cases, the interconnect between the end user and the cloud service provider is the internet.

So, if an organization is migrating from a legacy telephony system that uses traditional Public Switched Telephone Network circuits, it will need to account for the increase in internet bandwidth used. This may mean bumping up internet bandwidth levels, enabling burst internet capacity and implementing multiple internet circuits for improved redundancy. If there's a location where sufficient bandwidth isn't available, the business may want to consider a hybrid or on-premises VoIP architecture as an alternative.

3. Where are the organization's users geographically located?

The days of having all your employees at a handful of corporate or remote sites are rapidly coming to an end. Mobile employees are beginning to outnumber those that come into the office each day. Understanding where your company's mobile users are likely to connect from geographically is an important step when choosing a SaaS VoIP vendor.

Some vendor products are not fully supported in all parts of the world. That's not to say a service won't work around the globe, just that the call quality may suffer. Thus, for users outside of North America, certain calling features may not be technically supported. If that's the case, a hybrid architecture would likely be a better fit.

4. What voice and collaboration features does the business require?

One critical area that sets one vendor's UC cloud product apart from another is the features they offer within the platform. While every cloud calling platform will generally provide standard calling and voicemail functionality, the add-on features are what set one product apart from the next.

Perhaps the most exciting part of implementing a cloud-based VoIP system is the wide array of third-party integrations that can be deployed alongside the SaaS offering.

For example, team chat and messaging platforms that are integrated into SaaS collaboration platforms are all the rage today. These tools allow users to interact using their phones or desktops with text- and photo-based messages. Businesses are finding that team chat is driving team collaboration to new highs.

Other UC features can include online web meetings, virtual whiteboards, file sharing, and presence and contact center capabilities.

Organizations that have a call center should be aware that some SaaS VoIP platforms have contact center features while others do not. But some platforms do offer contact center interoperability with third-party platform integrations.

5. What integrations does the organization require?

Perhaps the most exciting part of implementing a cloud-based VoIP system is the wide array of third-party integrations that can be deployed alongside the SaaS offering. This includes integrations with external collaboration applications for team chat, meetings, contact centers and customer relationship management systems.

Additionally, some VoIP cloud vendors allow the ultimate in third-party integration flexibility by giving customers access to software development kits or APIs so they can build their own integrations.

6. How much does cloud VoIP cost and what purchase options exist?

Although vendor pricing for legacy, on-premises hardware, software and licensing can be confusing, cloud VoIP systems are usually priced much more simply.

Companies can choose from several user license types. These user licenses differ based on what features the end user will access. For example, if the end user only needs calling functionality, but will not be conducting online meetings or video chat, the vendor may be able to offer a stripped-down license at a reduced cost.

Beyond licensing costs based on features, some vendors offer various payment options for their cloud licenses. Some VoIP vendors offer added discounts if the organization pays upfront for one-year or multiyear contracts.

Although most VoIP vendors require a one-year commitment, some also provide options for companies that wish to pay month to month. Contract terms will vary from one vendor to the next, so it's up to business leaders to evaluate the payment options to see which one is right for the organization.

Lastly, in addition to evaluating features and payment options, a company must also consider the support capabilities attached to a licensing agreement. Because customers must rely so heavily on the cloud provider to maintain their telephony services, the organization must fully trust the vendor's ability to support and maintain its user base. This includes methods of contact, support hours and service-level agreements.

Evaluating a cloud-based VoIP system requires a surprising amount of research. While there are plenty of benefits and efficiencies for companies, there are also several drawbacks and pitfalls that organizations must investigate and acknowledge before choosing a SaaS or hybrid cloud vendor. Because the intelligence that drives voice and UC functions resides in a public cloud, there's a certain amount of risk in relying on a third party to deliver those services to end users.

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Which of the above criteria is most important to your organization when searching for a SaaS or hybrid cloud VoIP system, and why?
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