As technology advances in leaps and bounds, so does the complexity of our decision making when it comes to choosing the right voice solution for our business. While many articles on the subject focus on the technologies currently available, what is more important to you, the decision maker, is how to leverage the right solution for your business. Factors to be considered when making this decision should include up-front cost, total cost of ownership, ease of use, purpose of use, productivity, and business presentation. Being an informed shopper can help any business leverage the most out of their phone system and ensure they don’t leave money on the table each month.Phone systems are an investment in your business. They can increase productivity by more efficiently managing work flow allowing end users easier access to the customization and management of their phones through a web interface. A well planned, quality phone system will ensure that communication is routed efficiently and effectively throughout your business through the use of call pick-up groups, hunt groups and auto attendants. This combined with newer features such as find-me-follow me, which allows users to forward calls to their cell phones or other extensions, can insure critical calls are not missed no matter where you are.With the advent of IP based phone systems, businesses no longer have geographical limitations. They only need access to the internet in order to be linked to their phone system. This gives small and even medium sized businesses much needed flexibility for telecommuting and saves a lot on long distance charges for companies with many branches who make the bulk of their calls between locations. With Auto Attendant features present in most phone systems, even businesses with 2 or 3 employees can present themselves as large companies.Up-Front Cost vs. Total Cost of OwnershipMost businesses look solely at up-front cost because they often shop for a phone system without first identifying what goals the new phone system is to achieve. They also fail to realize the level of increased productivity and cost savings new technologies can offer. Many decision makers shop for phone systems as though they were buying a non-durable good, deciding not to invest enough into a system that will be obsolete in a few years. Or even worse, they look at a phone system as a luxury item, and decide to hold off until more funds are available. While up-front cost is a factor, is should only be a factor after you are certain the system you choose will meet all of your stated goals.While customer owned VoIP systems have a higher up -front cost, companies with an in-house IT department can often decrease total cost of ownership associated with adds, moves and changes that accompany larger businesses with an analog system. They can also save money in wiring by utilizing existing network jacks for phone connection, which is an advantage if your company is planning new construction or a building renovation. Properly designed VoIP systems also offer more fault protection by allowing phones to still operate with some functionality in the event the main call processor should fail or a link between buildings should drop. Since many VoIP systems are software based, they can be installed on a wide range of servers from many manufacturers giving companies more purchasing options. Being server based also allows for the replication of those servers, giving the business even more fault protection which decreases the chances of downtime for your company.Some of these costs savings will be offset in increased costs associated with upgrading your network to handle the added voice traffic. However, they will also provide the added benefit of a more robust network partially paid for by your phone network.A third option for businesses is the fast growing market of hosted VoIP. Hosted VoIP gives you the benefit of having a VoIP service, but the phone system is hosted and managed by the phone company. The phones can be leased or purchased and in most instances the monthly costs are no more than the cost of POTS (plain old telephone) lines. The advantage to this system is that you do not need to know how to manage the system. As the technology changes you will always be current without having to invest in a new system. You also no longer bare the risk or cost associated with head end system failure. Many providers provide feature sets in an ala carte fashion allowing you to only pay for features you use while others provide all features for one low price.Hosted VoIP can be a great option for all sizes of business and provide a way of getting a robust phone system as a manageable monthly expense. Since many providers use fixed term contracts on average of one to three years, you also gain the advantage of being able to leverage better pricing or even moving to a new service at the end of your contract, something not feasible with a customer owned system.Everything has a downside and hosted VoIP is no different. The total cost of ownership will be higher as the cost of the system becomes a perpetual cost. Regardless of this negative, from a budgetary perspective, the monthly expense becomes a much more predictable expense and is often more favorable. Hosted services also reduce the number of capital expenditures freeing up time and resources for other expenditures.Believe it or not there is still a place for the old school phone system. Many manufacturers carry, small business lines that can be purchased for a few thousand dollars which is a relatively low up front cost. The drawback to these systems is that they often need a third party vendor to manage the proprietary nature of the system. For small to medium size businesses with few changes, this can lead to a relatively low total cost of ownership. Many of these systems are built to last and can function for many years. As long as companies provision for an eventual end-of-life for the system, these systems can be just the right fit.Business presentationFor many small and medium sized companies, choosing a phone system can have a dramatic effect on how your company is viewed. We often take for granted that when we call into a business and connect to an auto attendant, that we are talking to some mega corporation. When dealing with business-to-business relationships, presenting this image can make a big difference on how a company views you. While at the same time, having the ability to get customers routed directly to a person preserves that personal feel you want to convey. Both hosted VoIP and small analog systems can accomplish this at a reasonable price.Putting it all togetherThe key to purchasing any phone system is first knowing your business and understanding how voice technologies can be best leveraged to support and enhance that model. With so many choices and technologies out there it can be a daunting task to choose a system when being sold on rich feature sets and fancy bells and whistles. When the features align with your company’s goals, and your company’s financial position dictates which purchasing model to utilize, you will know you are making a sound investment in your company for years to come.