It’s 2010. Nortel Networks has fallen to grace. Avaya is kicking ass. Talkswitch is still struggling. Kids are making “ip pbx’s” in their garage and trying to get noticed (good luck there). Everyone’s going VOIP nuts. NEC further segregates themselves. Mitel buys Intertel. Samsung goes cheap and opens to anyone who wants to buy their phone system. Panasonic locks down their product tighter than ever; the same mistake Intertel made. Secondary market reseller giants flop like a tea party convention. Vertical, who bought Vodavi, still grasps at straws. Toshiba.. well who cares about Toshiba? … and we all sigh.
What is a small business trying to navigate THIS mine field to do?
Any small business looking to upgrade, buy, change, replace their current phone system really has a lot to think about.
The choices are over communicated. Manufacturers tell you what you want to hear via their online sales pitches, nicely fluffed to tickle your.. well. Sales people are even worse. As with everything a small business has to do, you know all to well how important it is to do your homework. That might be the reason you’re reading this right now. Good for you.
So let’s delve into the state of affairs in 2010 with the small business phone system mine field.
Nortel suffered. (period) Nortel Networks has always been one of the gorillas on the market. Nortel manufactured the Norstar key phone system from 1989 to 2010 (RIP). Nortel slipped and Avaya stepped in with a hefty check and liberated the entire phone system business from Nortel. Maybe that will help Nortel pay some bills. As a deep insider in the industry, I can assure that Nortel left some of their small vendors out to hang.. off a cliff.. with one hand holding a large, unpaid invoice. Nortel generally subcontracted the manufacturing of products to small vendors throughout North America. Hate to hear their stories and glad I wasn’t one of them. At any rate, Nortel slipped and Norstar is over. Avaya basically says they are going to keep the Norstar equipment in production for a while, hopefully making some improvements on the way. I’m begging Avaya to please please please kill all Norstar digital Norstar cordless phone. Shoot them into deep space please. Avaya says they are going to make their AURA product talk to both Avaya systems and Norstar systems. That would be pretty cool, but it hasn’t happened yet.
As a result, early 2010 has resulted in a run on Norstar hardware, which seems stupid to me, but either way, Norstar hardware prices have spiked by 50% or more. The result from my stand point makes “selling” Norstar phone system much less attractive when the equivalent Partner ACS phone system now costs less. Seems like a no brainer to me. Any customer I have explained this to, also see the brainiac rational. What’s happening is that secondary market resellers with a little money left over from 2009 are buying up as much Norstar equipment as they can and setting it on their shelves in hopes of high profits as people get desperate to buy Norstar phone systems due to low supply. I dunno, know one is beating down any doors over Norstar phone systems and you don’t see me shoving a truck load of the stuff on MY shelf, I’m too busy buying Avaya equipment.
So Avaya is kicking ass. I can see why. The new Avaya Partner phone system is really well suited for small offices. The Avaya IP Office phone systems are also well suited for small AND medium offices and offers the IP flexibility you may want. You’ll pay for it if you use it, but that goes with any IP system. Anyone buying me a beer this year whilst asking the question “Which phone system do you think is the best?” gets a quick answer; Avaya.
The reasons are numerous. The product is flexible. It’s been around a long time, which equates to lots of spare parts and lots of technicians that know the equipment, a factor most small business owners seriously fumble over like a guy I saw in a parking lot who knocked his kid right in the head, clean to the ground while watching a pretty girl instead of what he was doing, all the while with his wife watching the whole thing.. funny story. It’s easy to get caught up in the marketing hype a webfront or a salesperson puts in front of you. Please remember, these pitches are designed to tickle your fancy ideas and trick your wallet all at once. Back to Avaya. The product is affordable. Avaya is NOT going to disappear anytime soon. Knowledge of the system is widely available on the internet. It just seems to be “made of the right stuff”. Avaya has been flexible. They don’t overpromise the product. Big Gorilla. Can’t go wrong their. Phones are attractive too.
The Partner ACS processor on it’s own, right from the box, is attractively priced in the 700 to 800 dollar range. It’s out of box configuration will do just fine for most very small offices with 5 phone line ports and 9 phone ports. Another $400 to $500 will net you another 3 line and 8 phone ports. The Basic voicemail enters at a very nice $450 to $550. Phones are not too pricey at $139 to $159 and the system is a snap to install. It will actually just work right out of the box. You can plug your phone lines right into it. Then plug your phones right into it as well and wala, it works. (i still always recommend you have a knowledgeable tech install this stuff, but you get the hint).
Keep in mind that I am truly speaking to small businesses or small offices. Insurance offices, real estate offices, dentists, doctors, restaurants, orthodontists, churches and the like. Those offices who might have 3 to 10 phones, up to 40 or so. That size office is a huge market. If not, Norstar and Avaya wouldn’t even make key systems.
That being said, those offices are always budget conscious, and lurking salesman with oil are around every corner to play that.
So what are they lurking with? Well ESI for one, Talkswitch, Vertical, Comdial, Intertel (mitel) ECX 3000 (sounds too cool), a kid in a van with an asteriks based sip computer thingy ding. None of these are inherently bad phone systems, they just have never become large players and some have hidden costs you don’t realize. Don’t tell Talkswitch that though, they won’t believe you.
Each of these types of systems will generally have a few lurkers in town selling these phone systems to people who don’t know much better, possibly low budgets have one seek these types out. The issue that I have with these systems are really the lack of everything on a whole. Who knows if they are going to be around for long. It’s likely the local rep probably won’t but they will never tell you that, so don’t even ask. Finding someone else in your city who even admits to working on these systems can be tough in the event your sales person folds up his suitcase and shuts his garage door or if you simply have a falling out with them, which happens easily. Lack of spare parts. Lack of knowledge about the system. Kept passwords. Expensive expansions you didn’t see coming. The list can get long.
I would say the smaller the town you live in, the more you should stick to a top name. Avaya, Panasonic, Toshiba (not a fan, however they are big player), Norstar….. hmm well now Avaya Norstar. And again, with Avaya you would be hard pressed to go wrong.
With all of the new entrants to the marketplace, the ESI’s and Mitels (who is actually well known for hotel motel systems) and Talkswitches, the message can get cloudy. Every manufacturer is grasping for market share. In doing so, they refine their pitches with a little sweetness. So be careful.
That being said, I should touch on Samsung. For a long time, Samsung has made nice phone systems. I make fine penance repairing them so I know there are a lot of them out there! Samsung was very smart to unify their phone systems into one OfficeServ platform. It’s affordable and robust and the phones are ugly as sin. But what I’ve noticed with Samsung over the past year is their willingness to be open about their product. They’ve gone to strides to make it easy to purchase and support, it’s locally available to most resellers through widely dispersed, local level distribution and it’s a fairly simple product to maintain. I like the fact that Samsung is not playing the “you can’t play with my toy unless you register here, sign here, dot there, talk to bob first, then sign this document, now this contract and we’ll keep your password hidden from you” game. I genuinely hope that Samsung continues this open architecture and I hope they gain wider market share and please make a hotter looking phone.
NEC has JUST discontinued the Aspire phone system, which sold really well. They have moved onto their UX5000 and the UNIVERGE product. If their product is anything as cryptic as their terrible website (good luck finding the products, hope you packed a sandwich) then we are all in for a good time here. Each time these manufactures make a huge swapparoo in their product line, it’s difficult for anyone to keep up and the smaller the worse. To that end, I haven’t discovered much about the new NEC platforms and frankly, nothing exciting seems to be happening to make me want to. NEC also still has their DSX budget phone system. I hope they don’t screw everyone who buys them like they did with the previous DS line by abruptly cutting the line and making the new line completely incompatible thereby leaving you in a lurch when you need a part cause the crap broke (don’t drop a phone!) It’s up in the air, for a budget system I liken to the Panasonic KXTA a little more with their exceptional cordless phones. I guess the DSX deserves some credit, it’s made it over a year now so WOOHOO cheer cheer cheer.
Speaking of Panasonic.. what a HOT looking telephone! Man that KX-TDA phone looks hot! (NOTE THE D. Talking about the advanced hybrid system, not the kxta analog system) And boy did they lock that system down tight! I’ve never seen a mother bear so fervidly guard her cub….from a blade of grass. When it comes to the new Panasonic hybrid phone system, Panasonic is not joking around. They limit the number of dealers in a geographical location. They do not allow the dealer to sell hardware outside of their geographic location. Panasonic forces a check of all serial numbers of ANY hardware before it gets turned up so they can tell if you bought it from someone local or not. And the dealers seem to love to keep the password to your phone system. They can, at request, pass it to another local authorized dealer. Hope you have more than one in town! Hope you like them! Hope they don’t stick you when you’re in the corner. I don’t stomach that model very well. The stories that I have heard within my own local geographic area go like this. “I have this Panasonic system. It’s a new advanced hybrid system and well I asked the company who installed it to come move a phone from one office to another for me and they wanted $280! So i was wondering if you could help me?” NOPE, I can’t! Did they give you the password to the system? “Where would I find that?” I have no idea, written down somewhere “Oh no i don’t see that” Call them and ask for it. …………….. “They said they wouldn’t give it to me! They said that only authorized dealers are allowed to access my equipment but they wouldn’t tell me who else in town can do it.” Well there you go, don’t know what to tell you, call Panasonic I guess. “I tried to call Panasonic but all I got was a recording.” Here try this number ………….. “I called the number you gave me and they told me to call my local rep, what do I do?” Light it on fire.
You be the judge. How much hassle can you afford? Some companies I imagine never have to worry a thing about that. My doctor has a system like that and they don’t cry about the up charging (until last year, when he finally admitted that crap hurt a little during the recession and office moving. ahhh haha, shoulda talked to me first silly)
Consult with colleagues. Use online forums. Ask local businesses. And make a very good, educated decision on how to walk that mine field.
If you are in a super hurry (maybe your current system chucked a wooby) buy Avaya, immediately. If you have time to shop, look em all over, no problems there. Don’t get ripped off. Don’t spend more than you need to.