Technology

The beginner’s guide to getting your business phone system sorted

Andrew Sadauskas /

Last week, SmartCompany examined some of the options small business have when setting up a broadband service for their shop or office for the first time.

Unfortunately, the telecommunications challenges don’t begin and end once you get broadband connected – you then have the issue of how you get a phone on everyone’s desk.

Especially when you set up your first shop or office, setting up a phone system can be intimidating.

In many ways, setting up a phone service for your business is very different to getting a home phone line connected.

For example, you probably wouldn’t consider having multiple phones with different extensions connected through a Private Automatic Branch Exchange System at home.

Meanwhile, there are a growing number of new options on the market, including Voice Over Internet Protocol systems.

SmartCompany has asked a number of leading experts in the Australian telecommunications industry for their advice about the phone options available to a small business of between five and 10 staff.

Landlines with a PABX

As recently as the late 1990s, the standard way for a small business to connect a number of phones for staff was through a Commander-style PABX system.

As the name suggests, a PABX basically functions as a small scale telephone exchange system within an office, with each person in the office given their own line and extension. In turn, the PABX system is usually connected through one or more lines to the outside world, with staff often needing to use a special dial-out code to place an external phone call.

However, there are several downsides to running a PABX system, including the need to employees with enough technical know-how to keep it functional.

As iiNet’s general manager for government and business, Daryl Knight, told SmartCompany, an additional problem for small businesses and start-ups is the up-front capital needed to be invested in such a system.

“For a business to thrive, it needs a large pot of working capital – which can be diminished by heavy capital expenditure at the start such as buying and setting up an expensive PABX and other IT&T systems,” he says.

“Such expenditure ties up cash that could be directed to grow other areas of your business. Also, as technology often changes, you may find yourself locked into a solution that is not flexible enough for you. 

“While buying a PABX – or a Commander-style system for smaller offices – was the only option for businesses two decades ago, much more flexible and affordable phone systems are available today.”

As recently as a decade ago, Telstra advocated fixed-line systems as the best option for small businesses.

However, as Telstra Business group managing director Will Irving told SmartCompany, in many cases a PABX system is no longer the best option for most small businesses.

“In many cases, that is no longer the case, but it does depend how the business operates.”

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Andrew Sadauskas

Andrew Sadauskas is a former journalist at SmartCompany and a former editor of TechCompany.

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