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Why Do We Need Desktop Phones Anymore?

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2016 Business Communications: Changing the Way We Work

We all live on our cell phones now, and that brings more changes every day. Increasingly, folks are pulling the landlines out of their homes, as they don’t need them anymore. But businesses continue to deploy and use desktop phones. One of the reasons for this during the last decade was call costs and the fact that PBXs and high-end key systems did least-cost call routing, but thanks to unlimited calling plans, that is no longer a driver. That left intra-office calling, call forwarding and call tracking as reasons to keep that old PBX chugging along in the office. Now cloud-based systems from providers like RingCentral for large offices and Ooma for Business for small ones can provide many of these services. So why are you maintaining a PBX?

Death of the PBX

When I first moved into the technology market, it was to work for ROLM Systems which, at the time, made the most advanced PBX in the market (we called it a CBX, for Computerized, to be different). These systems were designed to last about eight years. The reason most of these firms, including ROLM, are gone today is that it turned out these systems could last a lot longer than eight years. Many from that generation have now been around 20 years or more, and that suggests that these aging systems are not only not secure enough for today’s world (they were mostly conceived before we had Ethernet, in fact, ROLM’s systems used a vastly slower networking technology called ROLM Lync), they were around before cell phones moved into the broad market.

The PBX model was one that profited from selling handsets, accessories and services, with the PBX part typically given as a loss leader. Highly proprietary and very difficult to update, most of these systems are not only well past their due date, but in many cases the folks who made them are long gone.

Ooma for Business

Because I’m a small shop, I use Ooma. The huge benefit is that I can take this system anyplace I move. Not only do I retain the same functionality, I retain the same phone numbers. So, for instance, when I moved from San Jose to Bend, the one thing I didn’t have to change was phone numbers, saving me a ton of time and aggravation. I didn’t even have to change out business cards because I hadn’t put a physical address on them. Ooma only scales up to 20 people max (though this is a logical limit, suggesting that in the future, it could go bigger), and it has all of the cost advantages (really cheap international calling, for instance) of any VoIP system.

Ooma has been able to automatically route calls to multiple phones for some time, much like Google’s service, but recently it added a professional client, Ooma Office, which abstracts all of the features you typically get on an office phone, like internal directory, call forwarding, group calling, and call transfer, to your cell phone. I’ve been using this app (available for Android and iOS phones) for several days and I’m a believer in the concept.

Larger VoIP systems like Cisco’s have had similar capabilities, so why provision desktop phones for employees who have smartphones? Why not just use the smartphone as the office phone and use apps for things like tracking, recording, and any other phone-dedicated process you need?

The result would be employees who have full phone capability wherever they are, and are far easier to reach after hours. This would not only eliminate another aging system but free up the space now taken by the PBX and eliminate the costs associated with managing it.

Wrapping Up: Axing Redundant, Aging Phone Systems

I think it is time to consider sending the wired phone, at home or at work, to the same graveyard where our old fax machines now reside. It’s time to begin to move to a model where employees use the phone they have on them even more aggressively and stop supporting yet one more out-of-date technology. The switching cost should be relatively low because employees already have smartphones, for the most part, and many of these services reside in the cloud.

I realize that these phones have been around a long time and it is hard to give up something you are used to, but wouldn’t it be nice to get some extra desk space, remove one more redundant and aging system, and save what is likely a lot of maintenance money?

Or, more easily said, why do employees need two phones in the office or at home, anyway?

Something to think about this weekend.

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm.  With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+

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