Sooner or later, all conversations about UC come around to the PBX. For better or worse, this is the starting point for many businesses, and drives their thinking about UC. Let’s step back and clarify the language. Not every business has a PBX, but you do need some degree of IP integration for UC. As such, I’ll leave the KTS market aside for now. Key systems are largely the domain of SMBs, and while this represents the majority of businesses, UC options are limited here. Of course, this begs the question among KTS users to re-think their telephony plans to jump curves and take advantage of UC and the broader world of IP.
Coming back to the PBX, UC can certainly work for both flavors – legacy and IP. Legacy represents the majority of the installed base, but as you know, virtually all new installs or upgrades are IP-based. Of course, the main issue with legacy is sunk cost, and many of these have several years of life to go. Does this make the legacy system a UC enabler or an albatross? The answer lies not in the technology behind the PBX, but the mindset of the business.
Legacy PBX’s can be IP-enabled, and while this only supports limited UC functionality, the business can keep using their system as long as they like. This provides the best of both worlds, as the business keeps capital costs in check, and gets started on the UC path with minimal disruption. In this regard, the PBX is a UC enabler and reflects the hybrid migration to IP. This is especially true for newer systems where the capital cost has not yet been amortized. Given the reliability and rich feature set of a legacy PBX, it would be difficult to justify a forklift upgrade just to deploy UC. Remember, UC can be very modular, and features can be added over time. The more important thing is to IP-enable the system and support SIP trunking, and from there the benefits will speak for themselves.
On the other hand, consider an aging PBX. These systems could easily be 10+ years old, and while they may function perfectly well, they pre-date IP and have a very different value proposition. These systems commanded such a high price because they were the hub of communications. A lot has changed since then, and that hub is rapidly shifting elsewhere, primarily to the Web and the desktop. In this environment, not only are there more communications modes, but the cost of these applications is much lower.
This is a very different scenario, but certainly not uncommon. For businesses that still want – or believe – telecom to be the locus of communications, there really is no problem here. VoIP is still breaking through for business use, and the historic quality and reliability of TDM is something they do not want to compromise. If they believe IP-enabling or replacing the PBX will do that, then UC is really off the table.
There is no albatross here, since the PBX is doing its job. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the traction that other modes are getting, and more importantly, the benefits they bring to the business. This may be first nature to UC proponents, but these businesses will need some form of trigger event to see a different picture.
One example would be that a capacity threshold has been reached, such as features people want to use or the number of connections the system can support. Another would be a material change with the vendor who can no longer support the system or offer upgrades. On a business level, it may become apparent that more responsive competitors are taking business, or they are having difficulty attracting and retaining top talent. Now they see the albatross, and with that, the UC conversation begins, and usually very quickly.
Is your PBX an albatross or an enabler for UC?