Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Avaya IP Office is a Versatile SMB Phone System

Avaya's IP Office is much more than just a business phone system for the small to medium business. It's a PBX, a branch office, and a call center as well.

IP office is really more of a product line than a single product. There are several platforms with plug in modules to custom configure your phone system depending on your needs. You get to pick the type of phones you want and the way you want to interface with the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). You also don't have to pay for a huge system if all you have is a few extensions.

You should take the IP in IP office loosely. Yes, it will function as an IP PBX system using IP phones that share a common Ethernet LAN with your computers. But you're not tied to a strictly VoIP solution. For instance, you can use a wide variety of telephones with the IP Office system, including analog, digital, IP, and even soft phones. Avaya has two series of business phones that are specifically designed for the IP Office. They are the 5400 series digital phones and the 5600 series IP phones. The digital phones connect via two wire connections from handset to chassis. The IP phones have a 10/100BASE-T Ethernet LAN connection.

Even with IP Phones, you have the option to configure your IP Office system as a standard voice PBX. Within the office, you have the ease of moves, adds and changes by just plugging the phones into your LAN. To the outside world, you can choose to show standard analog phone lines or a T1/PRI digital trunk for more cost effective multiple lines. These are still circuit switched phone services with Caller ID available.

Or you can stay in IP mode with a WAN connection to a private line service, Frame Relay or dedicated Internet access. This lets the Avaya IP Office function as a branch within a much larger organization. The IP Office is designed to link similar systems together easily to use a centralized voice mail or call center configuration.

Speaking of call center, you can actually use the IP Office to create your own small stand-alone call center with CTI or Computer Telephony Integration. CTI is the feature that lets incoming customer calls generate "screen pops" of customer information from a company database to the agent's PC. Each employee in the call center can also control their phone using a graphical interface on their PC screen. The TAPI (Telephone Applications Programming Interface) is an industry standard and supports use of Microsoft Outlook and other Windows applications.

An unusual feature of Avaya IP Office is support for digital wireless phones. Using a plug-in interface, the system will include wireless phones on, say, a factory floor.

While Avaya IP Office is scalable from 2 to 360 extensions, the "small" in SMB should also be taken with a grain of salt. This may be more system than the smallest SOHO users can justify, unless they are remote workers, branch offices of a larger organization, or start-ups that want to accommodate potential rapid growth without investing too much up front or being stuck with a "fork lift" upgrade by selecting a too-limited phone system. For these and medium size companies, the IP Office can provide a sophisticated product with a lot of versatility and scalability.

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