Today, every office environment requires some type of voice and data system in order to function at peak efficiency. The particulars of the system will vary, based on the current and projected needs of the client. When evaluating different voice and data elements for your system, it is important to begin with the basics and then identify additional functions that will be used at least periodically. At the same time, it is important to think beyond today and make sure your system has the capability to expand as the business grows or changes in some manner.
Setting Up the Backbone
Whether the project involves establishing a voice and data structure for a single location or a series of interconnected locations, it is important to begin with the basics. The process will begin with the wiring at each of the locations involved in the network. If your company is building the facility from the ground up, then you will want to prewire the office. When doing so, make sure that the structured cabling wiring will support typical voice communications like basic telephony. You also want to ensure that the low-voltage wiring can support advanced data communications that is capable of supplying bandwidth for everything from a robust Internet connection of some type to high speed transfer into, out of and within your network. Most structured cabling systems use category 5 cable for the entire system. These systems are often installed by the interconnect who provides the telephony system or a contractors who specialize only in structured cabling systems. Providers who specialize in the development of structured cabling solutions can evaluate the scope of your office environment and come up with a wiring plan that will easily serve your needs today. Make sure to obtain suggestions from a couple of different sub-contractors before choosing one to manage the wiring process. This strategy provides the benefit of getting more than one perspective and possibly identifying a very helpful function that you had not considered in the past. Additionally, you will want to get at least three cabling quotes or RFP’s from three different structured cabling sub-contractors. This goes for the telephony or VOIP system as well. You will want to get at least three quotes or bids from each interconnect that you interview.
Addressing the Voice Component
Options for voice communications are considerably more varied than in decades past. Once upon a time, the company would purchase a private branch exchange or PBX to manage inbound and outbound calls. The PBX would physically reside at the office location and allow for both manual intervention and automated options for routing calls to open extensions, voice mail boxes and other options. A single line would connect the PBX with a public switched telephone network and allow inbound calls to be routed to different trunks or trunk groups found in the internal voice system. Today, there is also the option of going with a virtual PBX. This solution offers all the same benefits but allows them to be managed in a virtual environment as long as you have an appropriately designed and installed structured cable wiring netwokr. Using a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) connection, the functions are managed remotely. One benefit of this option is that if your office is damaged due to a natural disaster, you can make a few changes to the virtual PBX and have your employees work remotely. You can also go with a hybrid system that involves a combination of the traditional and virtual PBX structure. This gives you the best of both worlds and also helps to create an element of redundancy with your voice communications. Should one component be inoperable for a period of time, the remaining component can easily take on the call traffic. That translates to no downtime for your daily office functions. With any type of PBX, you want to make sure the configuration includes several basics. The system must support enough trunks to allow extensions for each workstation in the office. You also want additional trunks that can be called upon for conducting audio conferences that include locations outside your network. Don’t forget to allow for functions such as call waiting, call parking, voice mail, internal paging and other features that will make life around the office a lot easier.
Considering the Data Component
Designing the data system for the office calls for identifying the right type of hardware and software to drive the needs of your individual business. Keep in mind that while a doctor’s office will function somewhat differently from an attorney’s office, both will require a few basic elements as part of the design. Ideally, you want the data system to support all clerical, administrative and accounting processes with ease. The selection of hardware is extremely important for any data system. The data must be housed in a server that is protected with adequate security measures. The software used to drive that server should allow a master user to assign specific credentials to each user of the network. The idea is to make sure employees can add to, correct and access the data they need to do their jobs, but are still unable to reach proprietary data that is not associated with their standard and usual job tasks. The server should be able to house large amounts of data without experiencing any type of slow response during peak working hours. Depending on your business model, there may be a need to allow remote access to the server. For example, sales people may want to be able to link with the main sales database while on the road. This allows them the option of updating customer profiles or placing orders for clients in a real time manner. The software used to configure the server will make it possible for remote access to occur while still protecting the integrity of your data. Keep in mind that network redundancy is also important with the voice component. To this end, consider either installing a backup server or possibly using a virtual server. In the event a problem occurs with the primary server, the network should automatically switch to the backup source. Don’t forget to configure the connection between the servers so that new data added to the primary server also updates on the secondary server on a regular basis. That update may occur every hour if your office processes a lot of information. Many smaller offices will find that updates occurring nightly will be sufficient. By creating an adequate schedule of updates, the loss of data due to a hardware failure is kept to a minimum.
Planning for the Future
Many company owners make the mistake of thinking about the here and now when putting together a voice and data system. While immediate needs must be met, also plan for what you will need a year, two years and possibly even five years from now. Ideally, you want hardware that can be modified and expanded when and as necessary. You also want software solutions that will aid in keeping up with the demands of a growing business. As part of the support with the structured cabling plan, a competent provider can make suggestions of how to ensure your network has this type of built in flexibility. Including at least some of those ideas will save a significant amount of money and time in the years to come.
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