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The Basics of Phone Sytem Purchasing Using Detailed Needs Analysis Survey.

For large businesses or small, purchasing a telephone system toda is anything but a trivial decision. Communications is one of the fastest-growing of all areas of corporate expense and deserves careful attentin to assure cost efficiencies. In addition, most business rise or fall depending on their ability to communicate information, and whether that informaiton is electronic, written or verbal, a telephone system is a crucial link in overall company capabilities.

Owning your phones will save money, based solely on financing and tax advantages, but what makes the savings really significant is the impact that modern programmable features such as least-cost routing and call-detail reporting can have on your phone operating expense. Depending on the level of control being provided by new phone systems, businesses typically report between 10 and 30 percent savings in telephone expense.

What makes phone ownership most important is the new potential of telelphone-based communications for saving or making money throughout all parts of your company.

The "office of the future" is no longer a futuristic pipe dream. After nearly a century of relatively slow changes in phone service, the marriage of telephones and computers is making a drastic impact on all aspects of business today. As the costs of travel and face-to-face selling escalate and office automation advances, communications will continue to capture a larger portion of business spending as its role expands.

Making the right decisions about a new phone system involves looking at a lot more than traditional telephone requirements. You need to look at the total communications picture for your company, then find the most economical solution.

The advice in the article will help avoid three common phone-buying mistakes.

1. System too small. One of the most common mistakes made by buyers of new telephone systems is buying a system without enough capacity for growth. Adequate systems allow for about 10 to 20 percent growth per year.

Systems that are too small quickly become overworked; customers are lost on hold, messages may be misplaced or forgotten or business opportunities may be missed just waiting for an outside line. Instead of being the boon to productivity as promised, the phone system that is too small interferes with sales, and is counterproductive to the company's overall efforts.

2. Inadequate wiring. The mistake of buying too small applies not only to phone equipment, but to facility wiring, too. Despite its significant role--and price tag--in the office automation picture, wiring is hardly considered by many users. As a result, the problem of overloaded wiring is not only common in older buildings (where cabling requirements for computers, office terminals and advanced telecommunications gear have gone far beyond those specified by building designers just decade or two ago), but to new buildings, as well.

3. Not matching the system to your needs. There is basically no reason for having a PBX or key telephone system that can't handle your needs. In fact, with the technical flexibility of today's phones, the only way to end up with an inadequate system is to have missed some bases in assessing your needs.

The first step in any phone-buying exercise should be to think about all the things the phone system is supposed to be doing today, plus all that it could be doing tomorrow--actively managing the flow of both voice and data, controlling costs, networking computers, "smart" copiers, security, customer service--to meet your company's total communications needs now and in the future. Process Doesn't Have to Be Complicated

But, the phone-selection process does not have to be complicated, nor take an inordinate amount of time or effort.

Begin by finding out what's available. Perhaps you already have a stack of telephone brochures on your desk, and every one is telling you that their system is better than anyone else's. For now, forget about having to sort all that out. First, do some window-shopping to learn what features are available.

If you're looking for a system of more than 100 phones, obtain a brochure for a digital PBX for a specific listing of available features. If you need a smaller system, get brochures on electronic key systems. Almost every brochure will include a "laundry list" of available features. Terminology used in the brochures may seem confusing at first, but if you can see features demonstrated they're really quite simple to learn.

Call a telephone vendor and arrange to see a phone feature demonstration. As the sales representative walks you through each feature, imagine specific examples of how it may be applied in your business. If you can't think of examples, determine whether it's because you don't understand what the feature is for, or because there's no application in your business. Keep notes, and you'll leave the demonstration with a tool for making your first cut in narrowing the field of equipment suppliers.

Conducting a "needs survey" is the next logical step in selecting a system. It will help you compile an equipment list based on your organization's present usage characteristics and expected growth. It provides a logical, comprehensive guide for recognizing all the voice and data communication requirements of your company. The survey can be translated into a request for proposal (RFP) that will eliminate time wasted on proposals that won't meet your needs or pass the tests of finance committees or top management.

A needs survey helps you look at each department's objectives, procedures and performance. It helps you see the impact of communication on performance, and how it can increase productivity and cut costs. In other words, a needs survey helps you size your company's requirements and translate them into specifications for equipment and software that will get the job done.

We know from our customers' experience that hardware selection is simple if you've done a complete needs survey. By making the survey the very first step, you will be assured of getting a system that will handle the business as it grows and as its communications needs change.

Begin by determing management's requirements for the system. As a rule, these needs will tend to be more systems-oriented, while departmental and individual needs tend to be more task-oriented. Look for specifics within three major areas:

1. Maximize operating efficiency, improve quality. If you increase your volume of business over the phone, you'll not only see productivity gains, but better quality as well. With proper training, people all through your organization may use telephones to far greater advantage and cut down on time-consuming meetings and expensive travel. Of course, there are times when personal meetings are essential and the only productive way of handling a situation. But all too often, a simple call can achieve the same objective. Modern telephone systems will improve managerial productivity and cut down on inefficient time-wasters such as "telephone tag." Familiarity Saves Money

Most people in an organization can do a better job of using a familiar, cost-effective telephone system that is at their fingertips. Sales, customer service, order and inquiry handling, dispatching and purchasing are all areas in which you can be making or saving money.

2. Control phone costs, allocate expenses. A typical reason companies upgrade their phone systems is to get their long-distance bill under control. Least-cost routing and queuing (holding callers in queues until low-cost long-distance lines are available), can trim up to 30 percent from your bill. Plus, computerized call accounting can help allocate phone costs to clients for rebilling, or to projects and departments for performance appraisal.

3. Resource Optimization. Of course, in purchasing a phone system, management will want to get the most functionality for the best price and terms possible. But a new phone system can be the key to optimizing a company's resources in other ways, too. For example, recent advances in data communications and office automation have spurred many business to do their banking and cash management through their phones. Inventory management also is being handled through the phones, especially where multiple plants, warehouses and stores are involved. And, phone access to central data bases and costly peripheral equipment is helping companies optimize their investments in information resources.

Now you can begin the actual survey. This is the process of defining calling requirements, services and features needed to meet the objectives.

It's critical that you get an accurate analysis of company needs. The way you approach the survey and administer it may well determine the success or failure of the survey.

Look beyond formal reporting structures and divide your company or facility into logical groups and sub-groups that reflect how the organization actually functions. From one perspective these groups may be called "communities of interest"; from an information management perspective they're called "decision groups"; from an operations perspective, "work groups"; from an accounting perspective, "revenue/cost centers." But, depending on your type of business, you might call them "executive," "administrative," "sales," "customer service," "shipping and receiving," "purchasing" or "city desk."

The whole point is to look at the organization from a process point-of-view, to follow the flow of work, money and information, and be able to identify those people and departments with unique requirements that go beyond basic equipment and service needs.

Once you're able to segment the company by function, list key personnel within each unit who are, or will be, the most frequent users of the new phone system and networked peripherals. These are the people to be interviewed.

What questions should be asked?

* Objectives. It is imperative to establish the objectives of each user group and how communications impacts the group. Formal objectives may vary from actual function, so it is just as important to know where the group is headed as well as where it is now.

* Function. Open the interview with broad, open-ended questions to give workers and managers a chance to describe their work, evaluate the operation of the current system and elaborate on how the new system should work. The key questions you should be able to answer after the interview are: "What are the primary objectives of this area/group?," "What specific tasks do they perform?" and "How can better communications improve performance?" Look for the need to communicate logistics, scheduling, coordination, tasking and dispatching.

* Information. These questions probe for needs to capture, store and access data. Questions should be more specific, probing for user needs to make comparisons, calculations, control transactions, quality and so on. Look for opportunities to pool or share common data or resources with logical sets of users, such as users within a single department, departments that work closely together, or organizational categories (such as top management and their administrative staffs).

* System Equipment. These questions deal with the telecommunications equipment and hardware required. They will enable you to develop numbers and quantify your need. Begin with questions concerning how many outside lines and types are needed, plus the number of extensions and phones. Then ask questions to measure the volume of phone traffic. All traffic should be divided into three groups: incoming, outgoing and internal.

If certain classes of service are to be restricted or given priority, these should be noted. End with questions that identify user telephone functions, as well as peripheral equipment such as computers, speaker phones and dialers.

Questions in each category should not only deal with the present situation, but address future needs, as well. How far into the future? The entire term of lease or finance--normally three to seven years--should be covered at a minimum for all systems; with very large systems, 10 years is perferable.

A sample format for a needs analysis is shown on the first page.

Complete your analysis by measuring the cost-effectiveness of your present system. Being able to make bottom-line comparisons is one of the most useful outcomes of the needs survey. The following three options are available to help:

* Basic Bill Analysis. Following the AT&T divestiture, you probably have three or more bills to look at: AT&T Communications (for WATS, interestate direct-dial and international long-distance service), AT&T Information Systems (for leased telephone equipment and service) and your local phone company (for local line service, intrastate long-distance and additional services such as Centrex and directory assistance). If you purchase long-distance service from another carrier or carriers, you'll need to look at those bills, too.

Review previous years' phone bills to determine usage patterns. Look for repeated calls to certain area codes or numbers; call frequency; time of day calls are made; and whether calls are dialed direct, through a long-distance service or are operator-assisted.

* Equipment Record. If you're leasing equipment from AT&T, your monthly bill details the equipment for which your company is being charged. Look it over thoroughly and physically verify that all list equipment is actually part of your current, on-premises phone system.

* All-Trunks-Busy Study. This is a study your local phone company will conduct up to once a year at no cost. The purpose of the study is to tell you how many calls do not get through because incoming lines are busy (blocking). Though performance requirements will vary depending on the type of business, most telephone systems experts experts agree that a telephone system should allow no more than two percent of the incoming calls to be blocked during peak business hours. Be Specific on Needs

The next step is to assemble data into a written request for proposal. Assuming you will be looking for more than one proposal, each equipment supplier will interpret your needs differently unless you can specify in writing precisely what you need. One of the most common problems in comparing systems is that different vendors will not only propose different configurations of equipment and user features, but will offer different sized systems, too.

So, at the conclusion of the needs survey, develop a request for proposal (RFP)--a written summary of the compiled information. The RFP will help you make "apple-to-apple" comparisons when the proposals come in.

Writing the RFP will also help you refine your thoughts, set priorities for your objectives and requirements and decide exactly what you're looking for. The outline in the boxed item on this page can serve as a basic guide.

Following this guideline will help assure the selection of a telephone system that will not only meet your present and future communications needs, but help you cut operating costs at the same time you increase productivity.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Garrett, K.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Dec 1, 1984
Words:2380
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