Hosted VoIP: Does it make sense for your schools?

Contracting with an outside service provider to host your VoIP service offers many potential advantages, but it might not make sense for all school districts. As with any project, school technology leaders must do their homework and must carefully weigh several questions when determining whether outsourcing their telephone service makes good business sense for their schools.

“The biggest problem with outsourcing now is an inexplicable faith in service providers,” said Geoff Tritsch, vice president of Vantage Technology Consulting Group, during an ed-tech conference earlier this year. “Too many [schools] give critical functions over to outsourcers without doing their due process.” He noted that outsourcing your IT functions doesn’t “absolve you from managing.”

Outsourcing any IT functions also carries several possible risks, Tritsch said—including the long-term viability of the service provider; the privacy and security of information; the performance of mission-critical applications; and the potential loss of flexibility that comes with vendor lock-in. The key question to ask, he said, is whether these risks are greater, less, or the same with outsourcing?

Other questions to ask as you consider moving to a cloud-based VoIP system include…

• What does an outsourcer bring to the table that you don’t already have in-house?

• How much control would you lose (or perhaps gain) by outsourcing?

• Is the outsourcer stable? Likely to merge?

• What has been the experience of other organizations that have chosen the same provider? (Be sure to check references.)

• How does the outsourcer address disaster prevention and recovery?

• How will customer service be handled? Will the change improve or degrade the customer service you’re already getting?

• What are the qualifications and experience of the employees whom the outsourcer will provide? How will performance assessment and monitoring be handled? What recourse will you have if anything goes wrong?

• What changes or upgrades will need to be made to your school technology infrastructure and WAN links? What about present assets and investments?

• To what extent might your decision limit choices in the future?

SLAs are ‘critical’

Service level agreements (SLAs) are “critical” to the success of any IT outsourcing project, Tritsch said. A good SLA should define what the outsourcing company will do and how, as well as acceptable response times and your recourse if these aren’t met.

SLAs must be measurable and enforceable … but don’t go overboard with them, or you’ll risk ruining the relationship, Tritsch said. The purpose is to “get all the issues on the table,” so there are no surprises when problems arise.

When drafting an SLA, consider how performance will be measured—and by whom. “You need independent metrics,” Tritsch said. “Don’t just rely on the outsourcer’s.”

Also, consider your exit strategy: Do you have a plan for resuming the delivery of services yourself if things don’t work out? And finally, are there limits on price increases at the end of the contract term? If not, you might feel trapped if the service provider decides to double its costs when the contract expires.

Outsourcing is merely “a tool,” Tritsch concluded. “Use it where it has the most value—and don’t forget your safety goggles.”

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