The PBX Is Dead; What Do You Do Now?
It happened at about 9:33 AM Eastern time on March 19, 2013. In the opening General Session Fred Knight, GM/Co-Chair of Enterprise Connect, asked three customer executives if they would ever buy another PBX. One had already committed to moving to the cloud and had that migration in progress, so that answer was, "Not in the foreseeable future." The other two responded that their intention is not to buy another PBX. In addition, vendor after vendor on the show floor was talking about "voice is just another bit stream," and also was demonstrating how their equipment really treated it that way. The era of a standalone voice communications system is over. From my perspective, this is a pretty clear public answer to a question that has been asked for about 10 years now. The question: Is the "PBX" dead? The answer: Yes, a panel of enterprise IT Execs declared the PBX is dead on March 19, 2013.
So what do you do now? Here are three important answers:
1. Don't buy another PBX (or an IP PBX). Most PBXs in the market today will last another 5 to 10 years and most vendors will continue to maintain the three most current releases of those PBXs to keep them functioning reliably throughout that time.
This is also advice to avoid replacing your PBX if at all possible. That is not necessary and is a waste of time and money, especially in context of the two other answers below. But, if you haven't been keeping your PBX at current releases and decide that you "must" replace it, then at least consider the two points below before you spend money, so that the PBX is replaced by unified communications voice media streams, likely with as few desktop phones as possible.
If you want to save on the costs of trunks and long distance, then use gateways to access your enterprise WAN or SIP trunks or Ethernet Backbone carriers from the existing PBXs. If you want the new functionality often known as Unified Communications, Collaboration or Social Business, then buy the UC system you need and install it next to the existing PBX. At Enterprise Connect, we showed the results of our RFP: UC Without a New IP PBX. The results based on written RFP responses and price quotes from seven vendors show that you can get the new UC functionality for half the cost by repurposing, rather than replacing the existing PBX and the attached phones.
2. Understand how new communication capabilities can transform your business. Communication technologies have changed, dramatically, over the past 10 years. This represents the same "sea change" magnitude that we have seen in the past with the automobile, the airplane, the Internet, the web, and wireless mobile devices. It is really important to figure out how to take maximum advantage of changes both in (a) infrastructure (Ethernet, Internet, PCs, mobile devices, software) across all media and (b) communications tools and applications (presence, e-mail, instant messaging, video calling, web sharing, voice/video/web conferencing, social networking, collaborative workspaces, application programming interfaces [APIs] and software development kits [SDKs]). All of these changes are in combination with or include voice media, of course, but all of them can go far beyond management of traditional (aka PBX) voice calls.
To find the opportunities for business transformation, examine the workflows and the business processes. Just like Lean Six Sigma tools find the improvement opportunities in Manufacturing, and just like workflow analysis makes call centers into sources of improvements and business benefits, examining workflows and business processes from the perspective of these new communication technologies will almost certainly yield a long list of opportunities. Usually, this also provides a definition of Usage Profiles which match specific sub-sets of the new technologies to specific groups of users in your business.
3. Buy business transformation, not just Technology: Once you have an understanding of the transformation opportunities, it will be both feasible and economical to organize your new communications system investments into a roadmap of modest-sized, high-return projects which are targeted at the most strategic (for your business, not the vendor's sales plan) opportunities. This will almost certainly deliver a solid string of business benefits.
We know this approach works, since we have been doing these sorts of reviews with our clients for the past six years. As the technology advances and as the systems integrators get more and more capable, and as the case studies of success continue to pile up, now is definitely the time to re-direct the talent and the precious capital and operational assets of your company away from the routine-and now dead-end-decade-by-decade PBX replacement and focus on the transformations possible with these marvelous new technologies. We wish you success with your transformative efforts.