One enticement of voice over IP is that it lets you offer productivity-enhancing applications, such as unified messaging, presence and telecommuting. We've seen these features in high-end, enterprise VoIP systems and wondered if smaller deployments (with matching budgets) could get the same functionality. So we crafted our RFP around a modestly sized fictional company, HaveNoFear Insurance. We required that the responses support ACD (automatic call distribution), telecommuting, unified messaging and presence. Phones had to support the 802.3af PoE (Power over Ethernet) standard with two 100-Mbps ports and QoS (Quality of Service). We also made clear that cost was an important factor (see our scenario for more details).
We invited every voice PBX and VoIP provider we could scare up and received solid proposals from Alcatel, Avaya, Interactive Intelligence, Nortel Networks, ShoreTel, Siemens and Zultys. Cisco Systems declined to participate.
We were excited to find that some advanced features are offered in systems for small enterprises. And not only did the vendor proposals meet our minimum requirements, but they all demonstrated that VoIP has advanced the state of communications. All the responses offered conference calling and voicemail in the price (for a list of must-have features, see "Checklist of Basic Features,").
We weighted cost at 30 percent for scoring purposes (see our report card). This is a heavy weighting, but based on recent conversations with readers in small business IT shops, cost is an overriding concern. Many enterprise departmental branch-office deployments also must adhere to strict budgets. Remember, too, that prices for these types of products are negotiable.