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Evaluating Vendors and Making a Selection

When considering options for our new phone system, we looked at eight vendors selling five different phone systems. It was easy to see which systems were not going to meet our needs; systems that support our 150 employees ranged from $100,000 to $350,000. Quite a large price range. The $100,000 system was underpowered and didn't offer UM (which became a requirement once we fully understood what it could do). The $350,000 system had everything, but was way over our budget. We wanted the solution that provided the most value for the least investment, and settled on a system that was in the middle of the price range.

Defining Your Requirements

What do you want out of your phone system? I had never purchased a phone system before this move, so I knew little about what was available. I assembled a team of four people to look at the systems; after we saw a few systems, the team wrote a requirements document that listed all the features that we wanted. Some were wants and others were needs, and we didn't get everything that we wanted, but at the end of the process, I'm certainly satisfied with what we selected.

My recommendation is the following process:

  1. Form a group to perform evaluations.

  2. Identify and rank the primary features for the systems that you review.

  3. Graph the rankings to get an overall ranking by vendor.

  4. Create a features/pricing matrix to determine what you can get for the amount of money that you want to spend. We put together a spreadsheet with a bar graph to show pricing.

To our amazement, two of the systems in our ranking system were tied. The tiebreaker was the price and the service that we anticipated from the local vendor.

Leasing Versus Buying

Should you lease or buy your phone system? Many variables factor into the decision. Here are a few:

  • Do you have the cash to make the purchase? If so, great, but you aren't done there. Perhaps you should finance the purchase if your return on invested money would be greater than the amount you'd spend on finance charges.

  • When considering a lease, you need to consider how long the phone system will be useful. Will you be using it for five years or more? Some systems last for fifteen years or more. The shorter the time for which you intend to use the system, the more strongly you should consider leasing. Just as with leasing a car, you may be able to trade in your old phone system (to the same dealer) and upgrade to the newest system available. My best advice is having an accountant compare the numbers for the term during which you intend to use the phone system.

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