Choosing a Los Angeles Telephone Vendor

Baby elephant on a soccer ball

Obviously, just call (800) 640-2411 or email sales@teamextenda.com to make your life easy. Extenda makes picking a telephone system a breeze. Some of you will of course be skeptical and perhaps even standoffish, in which case you ought to see the baby animals at the L.A. Zoo to find love in your hearts again before returning to the phone purchasing trenches.

Baby elephant on a soccer ball

This happy guy called Extenda when it was time to modernize their Los Angeles telephone system

Picking your vendor

At last count, there were over 4,000 registered class C-7 contractors (low voltage voice and data installers) in California. Add to that total all of the IT guys, contractors and moonlighting network admins without licenses, and by conservative estimates one in three Californians are installing SaaS / hosted / cloud-based communications.

That means you, as a consumer, have a lot of choices.

We suggest you narrow down your choices with the following questions.

  1. How many technicians do you employ? How many are certified on the system you are proposing? (make sure you are not going to be left in the lurch when the only tech that knows your product skips town)
  2. Can we see a Certificate of Insurance covering your installations? (you want to see significant commercial coverage in case things go south)
  3. Can we try your system before we buy? Alternatively, is there a money back guarantee? (good companies will let you play with the gear before committing time and money)
  4. How long have you been in business? (longevity is good)
  5. Can we review a sample contract for a purchase or rental? For your managed service? (helpful to understand where the gotchas are – what is covered, what is not)
  6. What does our Total Cost of Ownership over five to eight years look like? (important to include phone, phone system maintenance and internet bills with this)
  7. What does the initial support period look like? (nothing worse than being left in the lurch because only so many hours were built into the implementation)

Note that there are some things typically recommended for phone system shoppers that I skipped over.

  1. Don’t check references. Everyone has a brother-in-law or other pet accounts. Conduct a customer site visit instead and see the system in action.
  2. Take awards and press with a grain of salt. Very few tests, reviews or surveys in the industry are being evaluated scientifically, unless you are measuring which vendor spent the most advertising on the reviewer’s website. Same goes for industry awards -be skeptical.
  3. Don’t consider the phone system first, the vendor second. Your dream system implemented badly will disappoint, while a second tier system implemented expertly will delight you. The manufacturers really harp on small differences to drive sales, but most phone systems provide similar functionality. If you want a smooth transition, recognize that a good vendor is as important as a state-of-the-art unified communications solution.

Happy hunting!

Choosing a Telephone Systems for your Los Angeles business

Joker shopping

Whether you are looking to replace a telephone system that is past it’s useful service life or hoping to improve your customer care, image and capabilities, it is important that you do your homework before shopping. Knowing the size of your system, how much you are paying, what your users want, what the boss wants, and how the system is used are very important. This empowers your vendors to come up with solutions that can add new value while preserving existing business rules.

Joker shopping

Shopping with confidence and a sense of humor as he looks for a new telephone system

I recommend companies take the following steps listed below when looking to replace aging equipment and/or acquire new capabilities.

  1. Phone Audit. First, figure out what you have. This includes basic things like how many phones you own by type. Be sure to count those door phones, fax machines, conference room phones, cordless phones and paging horns. Many systems are sized for a specific range of devices, so this helps you narrow down your choices considerably.
  2. Map Programming. Then, write down how the system is programmed. A spreadsheet of users by name, extension, personal phone and fax number is the best place to start, usually by copying over a company directory. If you have special features or software people find useful, this is a good time to note those things. It also means calling into your phone system and mapping out your automated attendant and call routing – where do calls go and who answers the calls. Simply drawing the routing out by hand gives you great insight into what it is like to be a caller trying to reach your company, areas for improvement, and an idea as to the problems you might want to address with a new system.
  3. Survey Users. Ask employees of all stripes to list their favorite features and biggest gripes with the system. Focus on power users like people in sales, operators, receptionists, customer service personnel, mobile workers and anyone else who tends to be a heavy phone user – they will complain (or thank you) the loudest when the new system is in.
  4. Talk to IT about disaster recovery. Living in Los Angeles means being prepared for anything. Be it earthquakes, fires, flash floods, mudslides, civil disturbances, or a mountain lion on the loose, there are plenty of reasons to have a good backup plan in place. Find out what your IT department is doing for backup, so you can easily integrate the telephone system solution into whatever else the company is doing to protect its data and critical services.
  5. Talk to management about management. Who is running this thing? Know up front who is in charge of the phone system so you can gauge the amount of time they have available and technical expertise. While every vendor says their phone system or hosted service is easy – plug and play! just point and click! – even the easiest looking systems are installed by professional technicians and engineers.
  6. Figure out what you are spending. This includes not just monthly phone bills, but internet bills, maintenance or repair bills, software assurance and upgrade programs, and associated services from IT companies and maybe even your internal support costs for the system. We usually end up saving our customers money overall when we get a big picture view of what they are spending on communicating, because we can tailor solutions, payment plans and managed service contracts towards your financial goals from the start.
  7. Talk to management about their goals. I saved the most important step for last because it is better to approach managers with your homework done and without biasing your results from your user surveys. At this point, you are the phone system expert. Provide candid feedback on your findings – knowing how the system is used and what users find important are invaluable to the person in the company that might know the least about the phone system they are about to invest in.

And now the fun part starts – start calling vendors! If your professional contacts and partners can’t recommend anyone, a good place to start is business.com. This will allow you to see demonstrations and get budgetary pricing quickly, so you can determine if the project is even realistic at this stage.

Good luck, and don’t hesitate to call Extenda (800) 640-2411 or email us at sales@teamextenda.com.

Top 5 Teleworking Tips

Jedi checking in remotely

As New England is feeling Nature’s blizzard wrath over the deflated football scandal, it is a good time to reflect on what makes it easy to telecommute and stay in touch with the office.

Jedi checking in remotely

Productive from home, he is

TeleWorking Tips

  1. Instant Message with Unified Communications

    Of course we said that, you mutter under your breath. While the desktop unified communications solution (“MXIE”) from Zultys is the best, most cost-effective UC solution on the market, we know there are other options out there. The trick with teleworkers is keeping them in the loop. The trick for managers and customer support is being able to see at a glance who is available. Native UC apps from Zultys (and Mitel) allow this granular level of presence information. Meebo is a browser-based chat client with video and voice support. Adium improves on OSX’s native iChat while Pidgin and Digsby are great for Windows.  These UC clients allow you to integrate all sorts of text-based communications such as email and social into a single interface. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the coolest communications startup on the block, Slack, that is aiming to replace email and SMS for internal communications.

  2. Support mobile

    I really beat the drum on this, loyal reader(s), but your organization needs to support the devices your users want to use. Support for mobile phones and tablets and phablets and Chromebooks and Surface and all the other permutations of these devices enables you to extend your voice network and the cool chat and presence apps onto the devices we have on us at all times. The Zultys mobile app is just one example (Slack is another) of a way to stay in touch, keep colleagues informed, and chat from any device to any desktop, instead of bouncing between email, text, and phone.

  3. Remote connections

    Employees should not be copying important files to USB to transfer to a home laptop to work from home. You run the risk of misplacing the drive and it leads to a lot of messy file duplication and version control problems. File sharing and storage services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and even Microsoft allow for you to keep tabs on files without storing them locally (though users will have the option to sync a folder locally). If you are nervous about the security of these services, use a VPN – it takes a VPN router, a client on a laptop or computer, and a public IP address at the office. Extenda or your IT partner can help get this set up for you.

  4. Use conference calls to keep in the loop

    Schedule regular check-ins with remote personnel to keep in touch and keep tabs on issues and progress. One danger we found with telecommuting is feeling isolated and cut off from the office. Mitel and Zultys offer amazing conference systems with video, desktop sharing, chat, audio, automatic scheduling, calendar integration, secure dial-in, conference leader features, remote support and more. That said, if your budget is tight, FreeConferenceCall.com and UberConference offer free calling services. UberConference provides desktop sharing.

  5. Stop worrying about productivity

    Did you know that 1 in 10 US workers is a TeleWorker? A Stanford University study cited in SiliconAngle found that, on the question of whether home based workers were more or less productive than office workers, it was largely a matter of personality. They had a striking example of contact center performance improving when agents worked from home. The biggest concern home-based workers had was that they were nervous about promotion opportunities since they worked out of house, so management awareness of this is helpful for guiding the careers of your best and brightest.

Extenda’s TeleWorking History

In 1999, Extenda started experimenting with the Inter-Tel Axxess IP Phone+ and quickly implemented teleworking for key employees. Our Operations Manager Doug Botti even moved full-time to Portland, Oregon, doing almost all of his work and prolific yapping via ISDN connections.

Some IT advice:

Invest in a remote support app for supporting remote workers. This will allow your IT staff to take over a PC or laptop that is away from the office. GoToMyPC, TeamViewer, LogMeIn and Bomgar are options for providing remote access of varying levels of sophistication.

Five Steps for Managing your Telephone System

In light of the blizzard hitting the east coast right now, I thought it was a good time to discuss post-installation phone system management.

While blizzards and Nor’Easters are not too common in sunny Los Angeles where we are based, we see our customers’ phone systems go into deep freeze all the time. All too often, organizations spend months and years picking out a manufacturer, collecting proposals interviewing vendors, then days, weeks or months implementing the system and then…

Payphone encased in snow

Most telephone systems are frozen the day of installation… don’t let this happen to you!

The deep freeze. Your telephone system becomes a time capsule of your company on the day of the cut-over to your new gear, instead of a dynamic part of your business.

These five tips will help you keep your phone system up to date and make sure you are getting the most out of what for many is a significant investment in capital and time.

1. Track your phone bills

Write down, in a spreadsheet, what you are spending each month, so that you have monthly comparisons. Do not be shy about calling your account rep to ask about inexplicable charges. With the advent of autopay and QuickBooks, we see telephone spending go on autopilot and costs spiral upward right under our customers’ noses.

2. Diagram your call routing

This is easier than it sounds! Call into your phone system and just sketch out the phone tree – you don’t need to go crazy and purchase software. Your goal is to find annoying things in your call routing to correct.  Note the options available at each step. Is it hard to figure out where you want to go? Do options make sense? Does your music on hold sound terrible? Are the most popular options presented first? Can you escape ‘voicemail jail’ by hitting “0” or are you stuck in a holding pattern? This is the easiest way to understand your user experience.

3. Practice a fail over

Everyone with experience in IT knows the story about the backup that was never tested and so failed when it was needed. Backups and disaster recovery plans should be tested. If your failover plan is just a call forward to a cell phone, test it after hours – unplug the PRI circuit or phone lines, or ask your vendor to safely power down the phone system. Test your battery backups and replace them every 2-3 years. Then call your number. You do not want to test your recovery plan during a disaster. To quote Warren Buffett, “you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.”

4. Offering Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) support

Mobile workforces are here to stay, along with our new best friends: smartphones, tablets, phablets, smart watches and intelligent homes, glasses, cars… the list goes on. In short, your phone system needs to be integrating office communications with the devices attached to your employees, giving them the ability to multi-task, work while away from their desk, juggle work and home, and use the tools we rely on today. Review what you are offering your employees for connectivity and provide trial software to some key influencers.

5. Watch a customer interaction over the phone

Wait what? How do I watch a phone call? Is that like tasting a color? No, what I mean observe what it looks like for a customer call to be dispatched. Watch what your employees do on their computer while on a call. Write down how many steps it takes for them to handle a customer call and time them. Typically there is a lot of productivity waiting to be unlocked by applying simple, cost-effective software and call routing changes. Saving a full-time employee making $20 an hour just 5 minutes a day saves the  company $416.67 a year in time. Aggregated over whole departments, small changes can make big differences to your spending, your employee job satisfaction, and your customers’ experiences calling your company.

Hope this helps you keep your telephone system alive and well.

Survey says: Telephones still useful

Richard Dawson

The invaluable telecom resource No Jitter has the results of a survey performed by Pew Research Center regarding the most useful office communication tools. Pew asked 535 employed adults what they consider to be ‘very important’ to their job. Results show that the office phone, considered roadkill by Forbes recently and as long as four years ago by TechCrunch, might have been declared dead prematurely. While email has become more and more the primary mode of communication, telephones apparently still have their uses.

Solutions for our Los Angeles telephone system customers such as Mitel, Zultys and NEC provide not just landline phone integration but voicemail integration into email, smartphone apps, ‘Find Me Follow Me’ features for cell phones and home phones, software-based telephones that are like an office telephone system version of consumer products like Skype and FaceTime, and desktop applications that can serve as your business communications dashboard.

Office Communications Survey

All the usual suspects still here on this survey by the Pew Research Center

Pay $20.15/mo for 2015 on equipment leasing!

One of our long time leasing partners (Marlin Leasing) is offering a low $20.15 monthly payment (tax not included) for the first three months of the lease. This helps businesses manage cash flows while implementing their new network or phone system.

Contact us (sales@teamextenda.com) if you are thinking about leasing – there are a number of tax benefits with Section 179 investments in plant and equipment. More importantly, it can often help you save money on a monthly basis when combined with a voice and data service reconfiguration, without requiring a big up-front capital expense.

We can even finance your purchase of powered switches and IP phones with your cloud-based / hosted / SaaS equipment for your ExtendaCloud service (or other, inferior providers such as RingCentral, 8×8, Five9s, Vonage for Business, Lync, Shoretel Sky or – if you are really desperate – from the carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, MegaPath, Intermedia, Windstream and TelePacific).

The fine print on the offer:

  • Must be over $1,000 of equipment financed
  • Deal must be for 36-60 month leases
  • You have to pass credit with Marlin leasing
  • The promo expires on March 31, 2015

The frustration of buying a telephone system

This blog post in the New York Times is a couple years old but still excellent (and is not behind the NYT paywall).

It speaks to the many frustrations experienced by our customers:

  1. Feeling overwhelmed when purchasing a telephone system. There are not a lot of great research sources, and what resources are out there are compromised by the ad and consulting money of the manufacturers they write about and review. You are relying on salespeople.
  2. Finding out that the system they were promised will not work because the salesperson did not do enough discovery – in this article, it sounds like the salesperson in the call center forgot to ask if the customer used computer cables (to plug the VoIP phones into).
  3. Using vendor-shopping services and getting hustled and overwhelmed by phone calls after hitting ‘submit’ – brace yourself, as you will be called, immediately, by any number of eager salespeople. These salespeople will ask a handful of qualifying questions and email you a quote. Great solution for customers that are educated on installation and that are primarily looking for the cheapest possible system.
  4. Transitioning to VoIP can be painful if you are not careful. Cloud-based providers make their living on a 50% cancellation rate – they are not going to invest a lot of time troubleshooting with you, and are mostly doing everything over the phone so there is a limit to what they can accomplish if you have something on your network causing a problem. Many IT guys – like the person they hired to do the install in this story – are fantastic at desktop support but not all that schooled in computer networking and specifically, voice over IP.

A better approach to buying a new telephone system:

  1. Take the time to meet with a handful of local, established companies. When the you-know-what hits the fan, you will want a technician that is familiar with your system, your system’s programming, and your network. The cost of an extra couple hours of downtime is HUGE relative to the savings you can wring out up front from an untested or unprofessional vendor.
  2. Perform a network analysis before you purchase a new system. Many VoIP companies will provide you this at a discount or rebate you if you buy the phone system from them.
  3. Do a few speed tests from resources like speedtest.net and see what internet bandwidth you are actually getting. Try to write down what the upload and download speeds are at different times of day. Doing a speed test at 6pm when no one is at the office is a useless test – try for standard business hours.
    VoIP Speed Test screenshot

    Megapath’s SpeedTestPlus is a great tool for testing your bandwidth’s health

    Megapath’s SpeedTestPlus is a great tool as it includes stats that will impact your VoIP call quality like packet loss (audio drop-outs), latency (lag time), and jitter (echo and distortion). The human ear picks up on distortions at around 1% packet loss, 20ms of latency and 5ms of jitter.

  4. Ask for a phone bill analysis. Using new phone system technology such as SIP, you can drastically cut your monthly phone bill, and internet circuits are only getting cheaper. You should be shopping new phone and internet services every 2 to 3 years – if your contract is 4 years old, you are overpaying for a commodity.
  5. Look at Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). This concept is very important – there is an upfront cost to the system, and then the cost of repairs, upkeep, and upgrades over the years. Try to nail down these TCO costs for the first 5 to 8 years of ownership when you are shopping for a solution.
  6. Kick the tires. We will set our customers up on our phone system with a couple of phones and our desktop software to try out a Mitel or Zultys solution. The beauty of voice over IP systems is that no matter if our customers are in Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange County, Riverside or San Bernardino, they can connect to our phone systems in our St. Louis, Los Angeles or Boston data centers so long as they have an internet connection.

Going Cordless with a Mitel or Zultys Telephone System

Yealink W52P Cordless

Yealink-W52P-cordless

Affordable, easy-to-use cordless phone for Mitel and Zultys telephone systems.

Yealink W52P is both SIP and DECT, providing you with a great combination of acronyms. The base stations connect to your IP network and register phones as SIP devices. This allows us to use them with the Zultys MX-250, MX-SE, MX-30, MXvirtual and Zultys hosted systems, as well as the Mitel MiVoice Business (3300 / MCD) and Mitel MiVoice Office (5000 HX/ 5000 CP/ 5200). You could also just register them with a SIP carrier if you just need a very small office or home office solution.

The wireless communications are using the DECT range, which is better than standard 5.8GHz cordless phones. DECT offers superior range (as much as 300′), lower power consumption for longer battery life, encrypted communications, and uses spectrum not occupied by other devices for clearer conversations.

Funny aside: DECT in the USA is called ‘DECT 6.0’ for the sole reason that American consumers had seen a steady progression of cordless products of higher and higher range – from 900MHz to 1.8GHz, 2.4GHz, and later 5.8GHz. While DECT operates at 1.9GHz frequency, there was concern that it would appear inferior to other, higher spectrum cordless devices. (Hat tip to Wise Geek).

Each telephone can connect to 4 base stations, and each base station can support 5 telephones. This allows you to put base stations around your office to expand the range of the telephone across multiple base stations, so you can wander around your office on the phone, looking very busy and important.

yealink-W52-Color-Screen

Lovely screen to interact with

The handset has a color display and can do all your basic office phone functions like transfer, hold, conference and indicate if you have voicemails via the color display and interactive keys.

The unit takes a standard 3.5mm corded headset. This allows you to use those iPhone 3G ear buds you have lying around, connect to your wireless Yealink office phone, and get a wireless headset that can finally transfer calls and put calls on hold while you wander around. Because the Zultys system allows users to associate 4 phones with each user, you can assign a desk and cordless phone to VIPs and operators that have a need to get up and move throughout the day. Zultys eliminates the confusion of having multiple extension numbers for the same user by assigning multiple phones to users.

yealink-w52p-Conference-call

Conference calling is very easy on the Yealink cordless telephone

Mitel On a Roll

Mitel new 2014 corporate logo

Mitel new 2014 corporate logo

Mitel’s new logo reflecting a role as a communications software developer, versus a telephone system manufacturer

As both of my regular readers know, once upon a time I worked as a stock analyst. While I no longer pick individual stocks, I still read the financial news religiously. Our very own Mitel Networks (MITL) has been prominent in the news, and not just for being one of the best VoIP telephone system manufacturers available to businesses throughout greater Los Angeles. It appears that abandoned bids for competitors aside, (which we commented on as well), Mitel is also doing pretty well financially of late.

Seeking Alpha’s Jarrod W. Jacinth wrote in Feb of 2013 that he was buying Mitel. His argument was that the company was a bargain at a price-to-earnings ratio of 4.42 at the time, given even fairly modest annual growth of 15% coming out of a restructuring. He used the Graham Number and found that even that very conservative measure determined that Mitel was undervalued. So from a value perspective, this is a fantastic stock. To give non-finance people some perspective, a P/E of 10 means that, with the profits generated today, you could buy the stock at today’s price in 10 years (assuming you are looking at annual earnings). The average P/E of the S&P 500 stocks as of Jan. 1, 2013 was 17 – Mitel looks pretty cheap at first glance.

Jacinth hypothesized that Mitel’s low stock price came from their debt load. In 2013, Mitel owed $313M with operating cash flow just shy of $39M. If we look at coverage ratios of operating income-to-total-debt, we get 0.12 ($39/$313). In the industry, Avaya in 2014 earned $197M in operating income on $6,023 of debt, for a ratio of 0.03. Shoretel for the year ending June 2014 earned $36M in operating cash flows on $47M in debt in 2013, for a ratio of 0.76. To their credit, they paid down 30M in debt through a combination of stock sales and operating cash flows, though like Avaya, the company continues to lose money on a net income basis. Cisco earned $12.3B in operating income for the year ending 6/30/2014, on $35.8B in liabilities, for a ratio of 0.34.

More recently (last week), David Zanoni wrote that the turnaround at Mitel is under way. He notes that cloud services are growing by double digits, driving recurring revenue ever higher. A year after the Jacinth article, the debt picture is looking even better. For the most recent quarter ending 10/31/2013, operating income was $54.6M, up 40%, and debt is down to $288M, putting the coverage ratio now at 18%. Most importantly, Mitel has had some time to integrate the large purchase of Aastra further into its operations and can start to reap the benefits.

Mitel and Aastra have merged

Mitel and Aastra, combining like Voltron

As an investor, despite the recent run-up in Mitel’s stock price, I would think that Mitel’s stock has room to keep going up, assuming it can keep up the pace it has established. As the revenue mix shifts to recurring revenue from the cloud business, the company will throw off more cash which can be used to get the debt burden down further and continue investing in new technology. Mitel has a strong position and can continue to reap the benefits and scale of the Aastra merger, such as cheaper unit handset manufacturing costs and sales of Mitel software into Aastra customers. Of course, this is all just guessing – past performance is no guarantee of future results, and you should do your own homework before buying a stock.

For companies considering Mitel, the recent financial results should make you feel at ease. Mitel is on a roll, and every indication is that the company has a lot of momentum heading into the US economic recovery. Unlike competitors such as Shoretel and Avaya, it is able to maintain profitable growth while investing in the future and paying down debt, no easy trick. Unlike the Cisco behemoth, Mitel will return your call if you have under 200 seats.

Affordable Desktop Unified Communications

Dogs need UC tools too

Mitel Phone Manager and Zultys MXIE

Zultys MXIE Unified Communications UC

The MXIE desktop interface really makes it simple to communicate using nearly any media

Small- and medium-sized businesses, non-profits and government organizations throughout Los Angeles and Southern California are in luck! The Mitel Phone Manager and Zultys MXIE are on sale today for your Mitel MiVoice Office 250 (former Mitel 5000, 5200, 5400, 5600, and 5000 HX variants count too) and Zultys MX-30, MX-SE, MX-250 and MXvirtual systems, respectively. Several licenses of each desktop software are, as of the time of writing at least, bundled in with the purchase of a new system, so you can roll out advanced features to power users and VIPs right away.

Extenda also sells enterprise-grade Unified Communications software for large deployments, with the Mitel MiCollab software being the most popular for the MiVoice Business (former 3300 and MCD). I would argue that the Phone Manager and MXIE UC clients are as good or better than competitors such as Microsoft Lync, at a fraction of the cost. Not to brag, but deployments on Mitel Phone Manager and Zultys MXIE take hours instead of weeks, and you don’t need multiple servers to get them to work. Zultys doesn’t even require an external host computer – the MXIE runs right off the physical, virtual, or cloud-based system appliance.

Mitel Phone Manager provides users with desktop control of their calls and messages with an easy to use Unified Communications interface

Mitel’s Phone Manager allows you to control your status. This lets coworkers know where you are and tells the phone system where to send your calls.

What UC Means to Me: Presence

Cutting through the marketing hype, I will use myself as a (very, very biased) case study, so you can see how I use my MXIE UC client to make my work life better. I can see in Outlook and on MXIE what everyone in my company is doing – are they available, on a call, logged out, in a meeting, etc. I can then choose to text someone who is on the phone, or call them if they are around, or send them a voice message they will hear later, or email. I have access to all of these options through MXIE or through Outlook – just hover over a user’s contact or email address.

Mobile Integration and Find Me-Follow Me

When I need to get up from my desk – rare, but it happens – I change my status. Having created what are called ‘Find me / Follow me’ rules, I can decide how I want my calls to get routed. If I am ‘In a Meeting’ calls should go to voicemail, but if I am ‘At Lunch’ calls should try my cell phone and then ring a backup coworker in the office.

An advantage of this type of call forwarding is clear to a mobile salesperson, field technician, plumber, on-site consultant or any other classic road warrior type of worker. You get your calls wherever you are, without giving out your cell phone number to everyone in your life. But there are huge benefits to office workers as well – you can transform your cell phone into a cordless office phone. Everyone knows how to play music and Words with Friends on their smartphone, but leveraging office WiFi allows you to make and receive office calls from anywhere in the building or out, without impacting your voice and data plan. If you have ever shopped for a cordless office phone, you probably know the sad truth that prices start at $200 a device and climb steeply if you need multiple antennae or access points.

Collaboration and Conference Calls

Conference Calling has been solved by Zultys

The Zultys MXIE conference call feature could not be easier. Automatically integrate new conferences into your Outlook calendar to block off time and set reminders. Send formatted conference invites out like a pro. Drag and drop participants into a call too, for on-the-fly conferencing.

Conference calling and collaboration are increasingly vital parts of my work day. I even have to pay attention during these calls now, instead of putting my phone on mute and surfing the internet, protected by my blocked off calendar time labeled ‘conference call’ – ah the good old days. Setting up a conference call continues to be either painful or expensive for most companies. UC desktop software solves this riddle – just a few clicks and you have a conference set up, you sent out the invites with automatically formatted instructions, your calendar has the time and instructions blocked off, you get a reminder on MXIE, and if someone throws you a curve ball and wants to join last minute, just use your mouse and drag their icon or call into conference. They enter the PIN and you look like a hero.

Collaboration always means desktop sharing and video. The Zultys product provides all of the above out of the box with a few MXvideo licenses included in every system. There is an optional add-on, the MXconference, that can allow you to expand your conferencing to hundreds of users for webinars useful for internal communications, sales, training and showing off your new haircut to everyone you know.

Zultys MXIE video calling

Make video calls and desktop share with MXIE

Inspired Laziness

Instead of reaching for the phone, I just click my MXIE interface when a call comes in. I can, with my mouse and/or keyboard hotkeys, transfer calls, send calls to voicemail, park and hold calls. Yes, this is easier than lifting up the phone – my hands are always on a keyboard and this makes it easier to stay in a productive groove. At a glance, I see all the calls active on my phone too – this is another item that has bedeviled phone users for 30 years. Juggling multiple calls when I just had some red lights and a tiny display was never easy. Everyone over age 30 has likely answered the wrong line with the wrong name, dropped calls, transferred calls to the wrong person, and otherwise let your callers know that you are a bit of a phone klutz. Now, you can just drag and drop calls to other users, see the caller ID, and basically have no excuse for hanging up on anyone.

Dialing out is just as easy. Now you can simply highlight a number and hit a hotkey in any application on your computer. Whether on a webpage, Outlook contact, email signature or in a PDF, if you can highlight the number, we can dial it. This is especially helpful for environments where, if you are like me, you might have a list of people to call back at set times when your schedule opens up. You can make a spreadsheet and just knock out a bunch of calls in a row without touching your phone.

Softphones and Smartphones and Operator Consoles

Both the MXIE and Mitel Phone Manager transform into a full-blown telephone – just add a USB headset if you want some privacy. This saves you money over deploying physical phones throughout the office, as you not only avoid the phone itself but the Power over Ethernet switches and electrical power costs. It also let’s you skip cabling, as it will work over a computer’s WiFi connection, or skip out of the office. For years, we sold a second IP phone to managers as a home office phone, but with softphones, this is largely unnecessary as it is more convenient to have a license on a laptop, tablet or smartphone, though perhaps not as impressive for guests. The MXIE even runs natively on Mac and Linux, in addition to Windows. The Mitel product is limited to Windows.

Mitel Phone Manager can function as a telephone

Mitel’s Phone Manager transformed into a phone, as if by magic

The MXIE offers a smartphone app for Apple iOS and Android phones and tablets that fully integrates the majority of desktop UC functions into the palm of your hand. Calls can be sent to the app rather than the cell phone functions, so you can retain full system features such as hold, transfer and conference. These mid-call features are available with the Mitel through the basic system and accessed via touchtone keys rather than touchscreen.

Interestingly, the MXIE doubles as an Operator console without additional licensing, so full-time receptionists can take advantage of the UC features. The system provides a full set of user tiles for easy access to everyone’s status and better capabilities for handling a high volume of calls. A similar product from Mitel is called the Attendant Console, which is separate from the Phone Manager. The Attendant Console, however, allows for Attendants to also make a limited number of programming changes to the telephone system.

Microsoft Outlook and CRM Integration

The best part of UC is that it can save you time. With optional licensing, we can integrate your MXIE or Phone Manager to Salesforce, Outlook, Act!, Goldmine, MS CRM and Dynamics, and many other popular CRM packages. There are APIs and SQL integration available too, as well as the ability to use GET commands to integrate to other web-based packages. Why do you care? Because we can open a customer record automatically when they call in or you call out, we can open a ‘new record’ when an unidentified number comes in, and overall, we can make it easy for you to improve the quality of customer interactions while cutting down on the time spent on data entry.

The Zultys offers out of the box integration to SalesForce or a Flex Communicator license that allows integration to a host of different CRMs. Mitel Phone Manager’s core strength is the number of out-of-the-box integrations it has with different CRM packages.

Mitel Phone Manager integrates with just about every CRM you can imagine

Screen pop just about anything you can think of with the Mitel Phone Manager’s CRM integrations.

Costs and Deployment

Costs vary by system and how many users you have on the system, as we can bundle licenses together in bulk purchases, but in general, I would budget for about $200 per seat, about the same cost as three months of a SalesForce Pro subscription or a single license of Act! Pro 2013. However, both systems have starter kits that include a number of these UC seats, so often customers find that they don’t need to purchase seats a la carte. Compare these costs to Lync – upwards of nearly $2500 in the first year!