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PBX Replacement Plan 2.0

It’s time to dust off that old PBX replacement plan. And throw it away.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Ah, the sound of your "good ole" PBX humming away over in the phone room. You never intended to keep it for 20 years, but the blasted thing just won't die. You are fond of saying "It takes a lickin and keeps on tickin!" It is bulletproof after all. Or is it? Maybe that ticking is something else.

I admire you. You resisted the hype. You didn't buy into the sometimes-false premises and promises of VoIP, convergence, and unified messaging in the early years. Your system is paid for and provides users with exactly what they asked for--reliable dial tone.

Sure, you were tempted over the years, but the compelling case was never really there to make the large investment for system replacement. And even if you wanted to, your executives didn't see the need to approve your budget request year after year. And then the financial crisis hit and your company went into survival mode, where replacing the phone system was the last thing on anyone's mind.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

At some point, perhaps now, the realization that all good PBXs must come to an end sometime will begin to sink in. Support is getting harder and harder to procure, as the industry is ending-of-life an entire era of technology. There is also the interesting trend of users and departments actually beginning to ask for things your PBX can't do or are no longer being supported. (It may even be coming from the well-meaning folks that have been denying your budget requests all these years.)

So it is time to take out that old PBX replacement plan, dust if off, and put it into action.

Let's stop right there.

You can dust it off, but only as a courtesy to the folks that empty the recycling bin. Yesterday's replacement plan is no longer valid. Too much has changed over the last 5 years. While the changes are numerous, for the sake of brevity I shall pick 2 "megatrends" that need to be considered at the outset of developing your PBX Replacement Plan 2.0.

1. The industry is radically different.
Call me "Captain Obvious," but we sometimes see the world changing but don't change our perspective or take action to respond to the change. Sometimes we do this because we are overly cautious, which often serves us well in this crazy industry. Other times we do this because we simply don't like change. Or perhaps more often, we don't like the particular changes we are seeing.

This used to be a fairly stable and predictable industry with a tested and defined process for making changes. Neither is true anymore. There are realities that must be addressed before even beginning to think about a PBX replacement.

The Cloud is for real and here to stay. We may be calling it something else in 5 years, but the concept is taking off and will dominate the industry. And while it has its own share of hype, it will continue to dominate because it is mostly a consumer-driven shift as opposed to an industry-designed shift like we have seen in the past. In fact, the transition to the cloud could be detrimental to nearly all of the traditional players in our industry if they are not successful in making the transition. But that's another post.

In addition to taking a serious look at Cloud providers, one should also seriously consider folks like Microsoft as a potential option, whereas you might have been hesitant in the past. The combination of product maturity and increased market share has made Microsoft a top tier possibility as they continue to expand their reach in the industry.

The key takeaway here it that these decisions are often hard to hash out during the RFP process. Some serious conversation needs to take place BEFORE the RFP process to define the direction that makes the most sense for the overall business. The old way of hashing decisions out in the RFP evaluation breaks down when you start looking at premise, cloud, and pure software solutions.

2. Your user requirements have changed
There came a day, or will come a day very soon, when the light goes on in the executive suite and people realize that communications technology can be leveraged to help meet business objectives. (I know, that seems like a no-brainer to us, but it can be less obvious to folks who haven't been concentrating on this arena like we have.) And it may come from the same folks that have said all along that all they need is a phone with dial-tone.

Again, the reasons for this are numerous, be they driven from marketing, the consumer focus of folks like Apple, or the influence of a younger generation of customers or employees. The point is, things have changed and this perpetually back-burnered project will now become a high priority rather quickly.

So scrap your old plan and your old notions of what the "new system" should be. Get out a clean fresh legal pad and start from the beginning. As always, invest in time with users to find out what they need today and where they want to move. Then consider the changes in technology and the marketplace.

The good news is you have skipped entire generations of "solutions" that were, well, worth skipping (to be polite). But users are expecting more, and that old PBX just isn't able to handle the increase of demands.

Tick. Tick. Tick. You may hear it as a precision instrument doing its thing. Or it may sound like a bomb is getting ready to explode. Either way it will be a bad day when the ticking stops.

The Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC) is an international organization of independent information and communication technology (ICT) professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.