How long should my Business Phone System last?
This is a question that many business owners ask, “how long should my business phone system last?” usually followed by “how long will a new one last me?”
We ask this question because it seems like in this day and age, nothing is built to last.
We have mobile phones that we trade in every year. Our cars are often leased rather than sold outright (because we want a new car every 3-5 years).
Even housing is not a lifetime commitment anymore, with many people buying starter homes expecting to flip them within 5-10 years, if all goes well. But, at the same time, we want things to last.
We want to buy that phone system that will last us 20 or 30 years, the one that, like the Energizer bunny, “just keeps going and going,” that’s why we search for the one that will last the longest.
While that isn’t a bad thing (every one of us wants the best value for our dollar after all), I’d like to interject a thought: Value, especially when it comes to technology, isn’t always determined by longevity — in fact, when it comes to technology, longevity is almost a non-issue; let me explain.
In the past, your company may have purchased it’s phone system on the promise that it would last for as many as 30 years. Now, 20-30 years later, you may be in the frame of mind to find another provider that can meet that same requirement.
Our sales team regularly comes across older systems that have been in use for 15, to 20, sometimes even 30 years.
(OK, maybe they weren’t quite as old as this picture implies, but the fact that they were still running was impressive.)
These days however, phone systems are made differently. It’s not that the quality is so much lower than it was in the past, rather, the entire outlook of what a phone system is meant to do for your business has changed — and with those changes the way phone systems are built has changed.
With new powers come new responsibilities.
There are a few reasons why older phone systems (like the Nortel BCM) lasted as long as they did; as well as a few reasons why you should be glad that they don’t anymore.
Your basic PBX phone system hasn’t changed much since the 1990’s… hardware wise.
Sure, processors have gotten much faster, and hardware has gotten much smaller, but the service it delivers has stayed more or less constant, as has the price.
What has changed dramatically over the last 20 years however are the applications can be layered on top of your basic sending and receiving of phone calls. Voicemail to email, call control, voice analytics, advanced call flow architecture, mobility, presence, instant messaging; all of these applications are available today for a fraction of the price they would have been (had many of them even existed) 20 years ago.
(above: Mitel’s MiVoice conference phone, is a great example of the advanced features that are available with new phone systems that we only dreamed of only a few years ago.)
One of the reasons these applications are so easily integrated (or in many cases even come standard on your phone system) is because of the way phone systems are being developed these days.
Phone systems are being developed to integrate much more with other enterprise exchanges and the various systems you employ in your business.
The idea of a business phone system only being a phone system has long past; now it’s difficult to even find a phone system that doesn’t supply (at least as an additional purchase option) a full roster of integration options and features.
From CRM integrations (so calls to customers can be logged, stored, or analyzed) to email exchange; from project management software integration to hotel property management integrations; the automatic exchange of data between your phones and your systems helps to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks.
It also helps ensure your time and memory is left to use on other important aspects of your work.
Infrastructure and Resources.
In short, phones are being made to integrate with IT infrastructure and as such they face the same challenges as IT infrastructure.
Computer infrastructure (networks, PC’s, routers etc.) needs to be changed out every 5 years on average. The reason for this is explained well in an excerpt of this article from Forbes.
“Big data is stressing all infrastructures. One of the statistics from IBM indicates that digital content will grow by 300 x between 2005 and 2020. That’s 30,000%. The characteristics of this data avalanche are daunting. Data is constantly streaming in. The bandwidth and storage requirements are massive. The need for speed is, if anything, greater than before, despite the larger data pool.” – ( As Computing Tasks Evolve, Infrastructure Must Adapt).
This doesn’t only apply to the infrastructure of service providers either. As business needs evolve (in our data driven world) companies need to keep up with the demand that this places on their infrastructure.
Business telephone systems are the same way. Since they integrate with a myriad of databases, contact lists, email servers, CRM systems and more, they are designed to process data quickly and effectively. However, with the speed in which newer, faster, programs and services evolve, it’s not long before companies need a new phone system capable of keeping up with the growing demands.
This has brought about a shift in the way that many companies purchase technology, giving rise to the ever-increasing popularity of cloud based systems and leased infrastructure.
Many companies prefer to have a service provider be responsible for their hardware, and, every 5-7 years, that provider can just update their infrastructure on a new lease or on a pay-per-seat model.
This way, they are always on the cutting edge of new technology and new features that will help improve their business; and keep them ahead of their competition.
A few years ago cloud telephony was still very much in its infancy; whereas now, especially with the changes in the way companies are purchasing technology, cloud options and virtual office phone systems are becoming the rule rather than the exception.
The cost of holding on too long.
The average phone system today lasts about 5-8 years, however many of them will continue to work (with maintenance and regular parts replacement) for longer than that.
When phone suppliers say that a system should last between 5-8 years, they don’t usually mean that it will completely stop working on the final day of year 8. Often phone systems can run for several years after the “best before date,” but there is a danger in holding on for too long.
The biggest danger is the very real threat that, no matter how much duct tape you use to hold it together, eventually your phones are going to go down. The question then becomes – what happens when your phone system finally does go down? What effect will those missed calls have on your business, even if it’s just down for a day?
For some businesses, phones are “mission critical” meaning they cannot miss a call without it having a detrimental effect on their business in some way. If this is your business, then you cannot afford to push your phone system to its dying breaths.
If one dropped call is going to negatively affect your business, or possibly be the difference between a dispatched or non-dispatched ambulance, or losses on the market because a trader was unable to make the call to buy or sell at a moments notice, then you must make sure to keep your phone system in pristine condition.
There are all sorts of disaster recovery and redundancy options, but for this kind of event the best medicine is prevention. By keeping your system up to date, you are taking every precaution to ensure that the chance of phone downtime is minimized.
The penny-wise but pound-foolish method
When a company’s phones give out on them, one response we see frequently is a scramble to find a quick replacement. Obviously it’s a scramble, no one can be in business for long without adequate systems of communication. This puts them in a poor position to objectively shop around for the best solution for their business.
If this were to happen to you, you wouldn’t have the luxury of shopping around for the best system (one that suits your companies goals and integrates well with your day to day systems), you’d need something quick, you’d need something cheap, and you’d need it yesterday!
The issue with this should be obvious, a phone system is not just a commodity it’s a business decision. When you’ve finally patched the problem (with a hastily bought phone system) you are not going to be in the frame of mind to shop around for the solution (features, integrations, etc.) that would improve your business.
Often, after this happens, businesses think they have a phone system, however, in reality, you have a band-aid, not a solution.
A good phone provider should be reaching out to you around the 5-year mark to have this discussion, to help you put a plan in place for transitioning into a new system with ease.
It doesn’t mean you’ll be changing your phones right away (unless there’s new technology that you need to have to stay ahead of the game), you are just engaging the people you trust, who know the field and can help you avoid this unfortunate eventuality by helping you put a plan in place.
Right now the efficiency and cost benefit of cloud telephony or HaaS (Hardware as a Service) style deployments are what are proving the divide between those who are evolving and those that are falling behind.
Looking forward to the next few years, technology will be changing, possibly faster than we expect, even by today’s standards.
Mitel recently published an e-book called Mobile Enterprise 2020: 8 ways mobility will transform communications for business which outlines just a few of the changes they expect to see in the next few years.
This is one reason why many businesses have opted for the HaaS (Hardware as a Service) purchase model for their phone systems, or the pay-per-seat cloud based model; at the end of the agreed upon term, they are automatically engaging with the experts and discussing what is new and what would be the best course of action for their businesses going forward.
It’s important to find the features that are going to help grow your business. A good phone company will make sure that what they provide is continuing to meet your business needs, so you can continue to focus on what you do best – your business!
So when it comes to phones, longevity is not the question that should be asked; rather, ask how your provider is helping you stay ahead of the game technology wise!