When I owned a small business in the late ’90s, the day came when a couple of analog lines and multi-line phones didn’t seem professional enough. So I had to start calling local phone-system companies. They all came out with their brochure, and pretty pictures of ugly boxes, and phones with lots of buttons to learn. Eventually I settled on a five-year lease, and they came and installed their ugly boxes.

I soon began to regret making that commitment. The monthly fee; calling them and paying to make changes; not being able to forward to my mobile phone; and having the system never quite work the way we wanted … but this was long before “the cloud,” so I really didn’t have much choice.

I would never buy another physical PBX – and I’m not alone. Every employee in a given office has more phone-system power in their pocket than the best PBX can offer. Businesses are realizing they should take advantage of the power everyone already carries.

And mobile technology can be complemented by IP desk phones, which provide high voice quality, require zero provisioning, can plug in anywhere, can be re-assigned easily and are affordable.

So why exactly would I never buy another PBX?

  • They don’t scale linearly in terms of upgrades/downgrades as your business changes.
  • Fixed expenses constrain your options.
  • Typically you need one at each location, so opening a new office is a pain.
  • They don’t work very well for mobile employees.
  • They have weak smartphone integration.
  • Many employees don’t want or need a desk phone (the entity around which PBXs revolve).
  • Control and configuration is centralized, which creates an extra burden on the owner and requires hiring expert help.

For a while, a lot of businesses were just getting rid of their PBXs and not replacing them with anything – letting employees just use their individual mobile phones, for example. But businesses like mine bought those PBXs for a reason – for the professional image, corporate ownership of the customer contact, control, cost, flexibility, etc.

With the power of cloud-based business-phone systems, business owners don’t have to make this either/or choice anymore.

With a cloud-based phone system, configuration is now in the hands of the business owner and the employee end-user. If users can set up their iPhones, they can set up their business phones (if you buy the right cloud system). By letting end-users control many of their own settings, the small-business owner not only doesn’t have to call for outside help but doesn’t even need to worry about it. Power is pushed down to the user. (Nisha talks about this in her post on the consumerization of IT).

So while the PBX is dying, the cloud business-phone system is taking its place; small-business owners don’t have to accept the shackles I had when I owned a small business. Pay for what you use, upgrade and downgrade when you need to, let your end-users take care of themselves and administer the whole system yourself.

Long live the cloud.