Nice VoIP upgrade! Too bad you killed the sales lines

A tech consultant's first PBX-to-VoIP upgrade goes surprisingly well -- until the staffers' own cluelessness gets in the way

IT lives to solve problems, but we techies can do without the frustration of ironing out issues that could have been avoided if people had taken the time to document their systems' workings. I've run into many of these situations during my IT career, such as this three-ring circus that should have been a simple phone fix.

The company in question had only one IT employee -- whose background, it turned out, was in a different field and qualified as "IT" in only the most basic sense. Thus, I was hired as a consultant to come in once a month or so to take care of computer, printer, or network glitches. Little did I know I'd get caught up in a bigger task than my title would suggest.

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One day, the office manager asked me to take a look at the phone system -- employees had been having problems with dropped calls and busy signals. The company hadn't transitioned to much of a Web presence yet, so it did most of its business by telephone and bulk mailings.

I found out that the office manager, rather than the IT-in-name-only person, was in charge of the phone system. The office manager hadn't made any changes to the phone system because she was worried she'd break something. She also hadn't called the vendor in years because the last time a tech had come out to fix a problem, it cost a lot of money. Furthermore, she didn't trust that the vendor had given good recommendations in the past.

She thought that since I could maintain the computer systems maybe I could fix the phone issues, too. I didn't share her confidence, but decided to take a look. The company was paying me by the hour, and my fee was cheaper than the vendor's.

I took a look at the PBX, and in the course of checking its specifications, I was quite surprised to discover its handling capabilities. Intended for 10 users, with a ceiling for 25, the system had a maximum of eight concurrent lines for both inbound and outbound calls, as well as voicemail checks. Considering the company had grown to a little more than 100 employees -- a sharp increase from the five users at the start of business two decades earlier -- it was no wonder there were so many busy signals.

I reported back that the firm was using the PBX way beyond its intended capacity and would need to upgrade. I recommended a move to a VoIP system -- still relatively new then -- and I would help work with a vendor to port the system. I found a capable vendor, and the company agreed on the upgrade.

I was a bit nervous at first, because prior to this I had never used a VoIP system. But I was pleasantly surprised when the upgrade went smoothly. We ported all the numbers over, at the same time keeping some analog lines should the VoIP system go down. The new system had 16 concurrent lines, which seemed to resolve the issues with busy signals and dropped calls, and it allowed the company to add capacity in the future.

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