“That’s the story of my life, no respect! I don’t get no respect I tell ya!” – Rodney Dangerfield

Much like the late Rodney Dangerfield, business phones tend to not get much respect. Considering the mission critical role that communications play in many organizations, it’s surprising how phones usually get taken for granted. The prevalence of cell phones as a “back up” has certainly contributed to the laissez-faire attitude about the necessity of voice infrastructure. The fact is if you are not the guy that is tasked with managing your organizations communications solution, you probably don’t give it a lot of thought.

It’s almost understandable, even legacy PBX’s that are based on decade-old technology can run for years without a hiccup, which means they’re easy to forget. Unfortunately this leads to a lack of upgrades and maintenance, other than moves, adds and changes, as well as little or no thought regarding the ongoing support and security posture of the system.

Support and maintenance means a lot more than replacing a phone when it breaks – it means safeguarding your investment and managing your organization’s exposure to risk. Having spent a few years working on the carrier side of the industry providing POTS, PRI and SIP trunking services exposed me to the woes that are caused by a nonchalant attitude towards voice. A typical scenario starts with a customer call to the NOC because their phones are not working, resulting with a diagnosis of a failed PRI card on their PBX or some other customer hardware issue. It was usually around this time the customer would discover that they either didn’t know who their vendor was, they hadn’t renewed their contract because it was ‘too expensive’, or their system was end-of-support. This is not the kind of thing you want to discover on a Tuesday morning at 10:33 a.m. when your peers can no longer work, every manager and C-level exec is breathing down your neck, and sales is complaining about how many opportunities they are missing, all while you scramble to locate a used PRI card for your unsupported PBX on Ebay. This is also usually the time when most organizations realize that no in fact; cellphones do not constitute an effective communications DR plan. Yes, I have seen this happen more than once. If all the potential loss from an outage isn’t bad enough I haven’t even touched on the biggest problem that unmaintained communications systems present yet.

According to the Communications Fraud Control Association, in 2011 toll fraud in the US due to compromised PBX and voicemail systems totaled $4.96 billion dollars. Yes, BILLION. It’s such a profitable venture that there are multinational crime syndicates springing up to exploit it, and it’s not just IP enabled systems that are at risk.

Every phone system connects to the oldest network of them all – the PSTN, exposing you to literally a world full of potential attackers. One voicemail box with a weak password or a misconfigured call forwarding setting is all it takes for an attacker to initiate tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of fraudulent calls in short time. The truly scary things about toll fraud are that most carriers don’t actively monitor for this type of fraud and most contracts explicitly define the end customer as the liable party for any fraudulent traffic. Imagine receiving a phone bill with $166,000 in fraudulent charges and being contractually obligated to pay these charges. Does your business loss insurance extend to cover claims caused specifically by toll fraud or negligence?

Unless your organization has senior level expertise on staff – I’m not talking about the kid from IT that knows how to reset voicemail passwords – then you have to rely heavily upon your solution vendor. If that vendor is not working for you as a trusted partner to make sure your systems are covered; your software and hardware are patched for critical flaws; your system’s security posture is evolving to account for current best practices and new attack vectors; your exposure to risk is minimized and is not delivering 100% customer success, then you may want to seriously consider looking for a new one who will.

Luckily there are vendors, who understand the nuanced interplay of converged UC solutions and security, and manufacturers are making it easier than ever for customers with expired maintenance and support contracts to become current and gain reassurance. Offerings like Cisco’s “Get Current Stay Current” program provide steep discounts that make it easy for customers to refresh their hardware, upgrade their software, and take advantage of exciting new unified communications functionality like instant messaging and presence, mobile device integration and multiparty desktop video.

In summary – your communication’s infrastructure is just as critical to your organization’s longevity and operations as any other infrastructure component. Please give it the respect it deserves.


Written by Robert Dawson

Robert is a Solutions Architect for Force 3, specializing in Unified Communications and Collaboration technologies.

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