Baby Boomer ‘Brain Drain’ Threatens Viability of Legacy Phone Systems

Millions of U.S. businesses remain heavily reliant upon functional but aging telephone systems that are at heightened risk of failure. As these systems age, so do the engineers and technicians who keep them up and running. Industry analysts warn that companies could lose their ability to maintain and operate older phone systems as key people retire over the next few years.

Baby Boomers are now reaching retirement age at the rate of 10,000 per day. When they leave the workplace, they may take years of valuable institutional knowledge with them. Sometimes known as “tribal knowledge” or “tacit knowledge,” this refers to expertise, processes and contacts that have never been documented. Without a plan for transferring that knowledge to a new generation of employees, companies rightly fear the effects of a potential “brain drain.”

It is estimated that nearly a quarter of U.S. businesses still use an analog or traditional landline phone system. Roughly the same number use a combination of Voice-over-IP and analog. Studies show that these older systems are becoming increasingly unreliable with frequent outages that often take more than an hour to resolve.

No Easy Fix

Maintaining these older systems becomes more challenging with each passing day. Manufacturers typically only support PBX servers, routers, cables, gateways, phones and other gear for about 10 years. If your system is older than that, it will be your responsibility to find replacement parts and other components. That will mean searching after-markets and alternative sources where prices are at a premium and the quality may be questionable.

Still, it is the lack of in-house maintenance expertise that creates the greatest risk with these older systems. As phone system engineers and technicians retire, key skillsets go with them. Finding someone qualified to service and maintain legacy systems is difficult and expensive.

Without that expertise, even routine changes can create compatibility problems that lead to outages. For example, a router update could cause you to lose dial tone. Power supply changes could create static interference. A mis-configured software update could cause cascading switch failures.

Be Prepared

Few companies are effectively preparing for a potential skill shortage. According to a recent study by the University of North Carolina, more than three-quarters of Fortune 1000 companies have not analyzed the retirement rates of their employees. Only about a third have asked their retiring workers to provide any sort of knowledge transfer, even though most retiring Boomers say they are willing to mentor younger coworkers, who are overwhelmingly eager to learn new skills from a mentor.

A mentoring program is one way to facilitate the transfer legacy skills. However, organizations should also work with their older employees to create and store documentation, plans, processes and resources related to legacy systems.

Knowledge transfer isn’t enough, though. Legacy analog systems simply won’t be around much longer. AT&T is actively retiring its copper-wire technology with plans to eventually create a full VoIP infrastructure. Even IP-based systems more than 10 years old are no longer being fully supported by manufacturers. Marketplace changes in recent years have also pushed vendors such as Nortel and Toshiba out of the picture.

Even if your legacy phone system has served you well for years, it may be time to upgrade to an IP-based system that won’t require legacy skill sets. Depending on your business requirements, Cerium Networks can help you transition to a robust, feature-rich cloud communication platform. Give us a call to learn more.

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