The DeskPhone – Friend or Foe?

by Dave Michels

Should the desktop phone be viewed as a visitor or long term resident?

Earlier this week, I posted Discussing Cloud Trends at UCStrategies. It includes a prediction by Televerse CTO that desktop phones are doomed. In that post, I take issue with it, their death is greatly exaggerated.

Meanwhile, the subject also came up at Enterprise Connect 2012. Let me clarify my position:

The primary folks that insist the phone is dead are the hosted folks (some exceptions). They are enamored with recurring services and hate on-prem hardware. They generally pitch no up-front costs, but if you are a laggard and insist on a phone you are penalized and asked to buy them up-front (which defeats the value proposition). Since most hosted providers don’t make phones, and don’t profit from them – they sell whatever they can at the lowest possible price to get the recurring monthly subscription. The phone itself offers no meaningful part of their value proposition, raises the cost of admission, and complicates deployment.

The other group that pitches the death of the phone is Microsoft Lync types.  Interestingly enough, these phones do offer some unique value and benefit, but again Microsoft doesn’t sell phones. They do indeed profit from them, but Microsoft see’s itself has a software company. The bigger issue is ROI – Microsoft see’s the phones, even their branded phones, as a barrier to a quick ROI. If they can convince their customers to eliminate the phones – the ROI and deployments are much faster. The Microsoft customers that presented at Enterprise Connect 12 all agreed phones are for laggards.

But there is a much larger group that still likes phones. Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, NEC, ShoreTel, and Siemens Enterprise all support softphones, but believe their physical phones offer a compelling experience. I’ve written several blogs on phones and believe they are in need of a major update/facelift, but do not believe they are going away anytime soon. The fact the conversation – the death of the phone – has continued for about five years now, could be seen as a self evident proof of exaggeration.

The vendors and strategies are, of course, just part of the argument – what does the customer want? Here the message is more confused. Customers like low prices, and initial costs are lower without phones. However, headsets are a non trivial expense and don’t last as long as phones. A phone has a reasonable lifespan of 5-10 years. A headset has a reasonable lifespan of 1-2 years, but typically don’t survive employment churns. Phones can be capitalized, headsets typically are not. Since a nice headset can run $300+ and a basic phone can run $150 – the low cost champ isn’t so clear.

On the other hand, phones are easy – anyone can walk up to a phone and use it – donning a headset and accessing a softphone tends to be more personal. Not a problem at YOUR desk, but we tend to be at other desks more often than before.

The key to the phone is to maximize the experience of a fit for purpose device. If the phone is treated as an afterthought – or as an analog set equivalent – it is doomed to fail. If the phone is tightly integrated into, and optimized for, the communications process it will flourish.

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