What Small Businesses Want from Their Cloud Communications System

One effect of the pandemic has been a quantum increase in remote working and working from home. IT strategies have morphed from strategic to survival as they change to cope with the new business imperatives.

In remote working the need to communicate increases, and it is even more important in helping to maintain team morale and manage projects with a geographically dispersed workforce.   

Collaborative applications like SharePoint, Zoom, NetMeeting, and Skype have become the norm in business. Cloud storage as a means of document sharing and project communications is now essential. A Cloud Phone, a phone that uses Voice over IP (“VoIP”) over the Internet is becoming indispensable for productivity, privacy and general communications.

More than ever, business communications are vital to a business’s success. Customers and suppliers need to get in touch. The company needs to maintain an Internet presence to market its goods and services and support an e-commerce facility. Geographically dispersed businesses need business communications to link home office, manufacturing sites and depots at home and abroad

New company business, communications and IT strategies need to reflect the new realities.   Many companies are looking to implement an Integrated Communications Strategy that defines a common look-and-feel throughout the business.

The first step is for a business to set out what it wants from communications. The strategy will be a mix of policies and procedures defining how the look-and-feel is developed and maintained and the technical elements needed for delivery.  At its heart is a VoIP telephone system. A VoIP telephone system is a lot more than “just a phone”.  The move to Cloud-Base communications is accelerating.

A system supporting VoIP brings with it a host of new features and functions. It provides simple telephony obviously, supplemented by programmed and on-the-fly group voice and video calling. VoIP supports apps like Skype to allow one-on-one and group video calling, file transfer and desktop sharing. Coupled with a full-blown video-conferencing system, it provides a powerful environment for video calling, information sharing and transfers worldwide.

Smart devices can support software that turns the device into a Cloud Phone, connecting the user to the corporate communications system anywhere, anytime.

Benefits of a Cloud Communications Strategy

There are several benefits that a customer can expect from a Cloud-Based Communications system. The main tangible benefit is the financial benefits that accrue from the supply of cost-effective services. Significant intangible benefits accrue for presenting an identifiable, common face to customers.

Tangible Benefits

Tangible Benefits

The Internet is the carrier for Cloud Communications, and connections are free, over and above the costs of providing Internet access to the MSP supporting the Cloud environment. Using the corporate network and the internet to carry voice and video data immediately reduces the line charges associated with dial-up networking. Other cost benefits can accrue with reductions in travel and subsistence costs since meetings can now be held over a video connection rather than in person.

Another tangible benefit is a commonality of communications throughout a multi-site organisation.

The downside is that a third party provides the connection. That means it is sometimes not available and is variable in quality. Unless a local backup is built into the system, lose the Internet connection, and all comms, local and remote is lost.

VoIP is the prime vehicle for delivering the cost benefits.  Implementing a SIP interface

Intangible Benefits

Intagible Benefits

Every business needs a unique selling proposition, a hook that differentiates them from their competitors and persuades potential consumers to buy from them.

It is particularly true in the new digital age. Organisations that present an integrated and cohesive image on all aspects of their communications have a better public profile and are viewed more positively by existing and actual customers.

An ICS, combining the tangible and intangible elements will bring cost benefits.

VoIP also brings intangble benefits:

  • Implementation of SIP interfaces on the VoIP telephone system and a smart device allows a VoIP Phone extension to be transferred to a mobile device, which then becomes a Cloud Phone. The extension owner can make and receive calls anywhere their mobile device can connect to the corporate network, and sometimes even to the internet using a VPN. This means no place to hide anymore.
  • Increased effectiveness of communications, particularly in multi-cultural and multi-language environments. Misunderstandings and miscommunications are fewer and less severe if you can see the other person in the call.
  • Business Image. Being able to route incoming calls from anywhere to the Cloud System, makes it possible to establish virtual support offices. When a customer calls the support office, the call is automatically routed over the Cloud to the real support office, making the company seem to have a local presence.

The Cloud

Cloud Data Centre

The essence of a cloud is a remote data centre, shared or private, accessed over the Internet. The data centre can be in a single location or distributed over multiple locations. It can be managed by a Managed Service Provider (“MSP”), the organisation itself, or jointly.  The rationale is that Cloud Solutions are more flexible, offer faster development and innovation times, all with economies of scale.

Cloud-Based Communications

Cloud VoIP

Simply put, cloud communications is where all communications applications and infrastructure are hosted outside the organisation by a third party, reached over the public internet.  Cloud communication is becoming increasingly popular, particularly in SMME organisations with less than 10 employees because of their low monthly cost per user. Traditional on-site hardware can be considerably more expensive.

Integrated Communications Strategy

Strategy

An Integrated Communications Strategy {“ICS”) is a mechanism for maintaining consistency in all aspects of internal and external communications, especially language, messaging and visual communications. The prime delivery components will include VoIP and Instant Messaging.
What companies expect from a Cloud Communications system, is a positive contribution to cost management, easy management of a uniform image presented to the world at large and inetrnal productivity improvements.

Is VoIP good for Small Business?

VoIP for Business has become commonplace in the business and personal marketplace.  Most businesses use it, bringing them many benefits.  The increases in Increased remote working and working from home following the restrictions imposed by the pandemic has meant many more small businesses using VoIP for Business.

Originally VoIP meant a level of expense that put out of the reach of the smaller business, but shelf-units and PC-based virtual PBX software have brought VoIP for Business well with the reach of even the smallest business and SoHo users.   The increasing availability of Internet access, especially the roll-out of fibre to the home, is also providing benefits to digital telephony. That has, in turn, driving a need for VoIP in smaller businesses.

Before VoIP, whenever an employee left the building they were by and large uncontactable, with the possible exception of catching them at a client, at home in the evening or in their overnight accommodation. This meant communications between staff, the office, and each other were difficult at best.  All that has changed with the advent of affordable Business VoIP. Simply put, with Business VoIP and its inbuilt video-conferencing capability, individuals and teams need never be uncontactable, inside or outside the office. It is now possible to be truly mobile.

The Benefits of Voip to Small Businesses

Cost Benefits

Cost Benefits

Cost savings are probably the leading reason for adopting VoIP.  A leading cost-saver in being able to call individuals or multiple attendees using VoIP is a great cost-benefit.  Because the transport is now the Internet, rather than the PSTN,  toll charges can be pretty much avoided.   This is particularly beneficial in calls and conferences involving long-distance and international connections.

Improvements in the Mobility and Accessibility of Staff

Mobility Improvements

The ability of smart devices like tablets and smartphones to support VoIP calling over WiFi brings great benefits in accessibility and mobility.

Staff can make and receive voice and video calls and join the group and individual video conferences on their smart device anytime and anywhere.  Other VoIP features such as call forwarding and pick-up, voicemail placing and retrieval are available, though depending on the specific handset.

For remote workers, what is has changed is WiFi availability at both clients’ premises and in public spaces.  WiFi is common in business, and many public spaces provide free WiFi, either themselves or through their tenants.  Most hotels now have free WiFi for guests, and some municipalities provide it as a public free service.

Remote and mobile workers can now connect using a VPN to the Internet and the corporate network from anywhere that has WiFi coverage.

Remote and mobile workers can now be full members of the workforce.

Business Profile

Business Profile

Using VoIP can significantly improve the business profile of a small business.  Automatic call forwarding from a remote office to a central depot or call centre can give the impression that the business is local.  A business can give the impression of being a national or even international business. Other image enhancement techniques are to create departmental numbers, for example, calls to “Sales” are directed to a single extension.  This gives the impression that the organisation is larger than it is.   Using a SIP profile on a smart device that allows it to act as a network extension means that individuals are in touch with the phone network wherever they happen to be in the office or on-site, again enhancing the image of the organisation.

Improvements in Workplace Efficiency

Improvements in Workplace Efficiency

As an example of improved efficiency, staff no longer need to always organise formal meeting locations and facilities for video conferences.  All participants can participate from where they are.

Workplace efficiency and effectiveness can be greatly enhanced by having staff available anywhere and any time. This will bring significant improvements to the company’s business profile.

Looking at VoIP for small businesses, the business accrues significant benefits from adopting it throughout the organisation.  It reduces communications costs and improves communications among the staff. Finance is delighted with the reductions in comms costs. Management look at the improvements in intangibles like customer relations and teamwork and staff morale.

VoIP in Small Business is a no-brainer.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of VoIP?

Most businesses have installed a VoIp for Business system. The digital revolution has enabled most to replace their existing PSTN based systems with VoIP because of the benefits in cost management and customer service.

They might have justifiable concerns over call quality, and that they will need disaster planning measures so they don’t lose their phone service if they lose power. Recent advances in technology and the use of standby power can dispel these concerns. Bottom line, the advantages of VoIP for Business to the business far outweigh any potential drawbacks.

Integrating VoIP for Business in an integrated communications environment including video conferencing, instant messaging and Social Media integration brings the business firmly into the 21st century and at the leading edge of communications.

Here are some advantages and disadvantages:

  • Reduced Call Costs

    Reduced Call Costs

    This is often the first benefit that brings VoIP into consideration

    Calls are routed over the Internet rather than over the local PTT. That means that the call charges levied by the PTT fall away, and the call becomes essentially free, any infrastructure costs absorbed in the overall cost of providing the Internet connection.  The cost saving can be significant if there are frequent long-distance and international calls.

  • Cost Control

    Cost Control

    Some organisations manage call costs by using a budgetary cost recovery model. Being able to use call logs to see who made a call, to whom, when, for how long and the actual cost allows users and departments to manage phone call budgets easily.

  • Security

    Security

    In the past security was based on the physical handset. If someone wanted to make an unauthorised long-distance call, they would need to sneak into the manager’s office and use their handset. In the VoIP world, security is based on the user.  A user has a log-on id and pin code that defines their authorisation level.  With their credentials, they can use any handset and have the same security profile.

  • Mobility

    Mobility

    Implementation of SIP interfaces in the VoIP for Business configuration allows a user to replace their desktop VoIP phone extension with a smart device. The user has full access to the corporate VoIP phone system from anywhere in range of the corporate network, usually over WiFi, both centrally and at remote offices. A facility via a secure network for users to connect to the corporate phone system over the Internet allows them to use the corporate phone system from anywhere.

  • Productivity

    Productivity

    A business VoIP system provides new features and communications applications. As examples:

    • Employees become productive immediately they arrive at a remote office and connect to the corporate network. No waiting to be allocated a phone, they use their main office credentials and any handset to continue with their main office phone extension number.
    • Hunting and call-forward groups. Employees can see if a colleague is present and if not, pick up their calls. Call-forward groups forward a call automatically after a preset number of rings.
    • Help Desk consultants can operate the phone system using a softphone application on the desktop giving a point and click interface.

As we are too well aware, nothing is for free. VoIP systems do have disadvantages:

  • Connection Quality

    Connection Quality

    The quality and speed of the connection between here and there is out of the businesses control. It is dependent on other parties and will always have the quality and speed of the poorest intermediate link.

  • Setup

    Setup

    Setting up a VoIP environment can be a time-consuming and labour-intensive affair: 

    • A network audit is needed to make sure that all the network equipment supports VoIP and  that everywhere a handset is located has network and power connections;
    • All network switches are correctly configured;
    • The data centre is capable of hosting the VoIP servers and other equipment
  • Legacy Equipment

    Legacy Equipment

    Not all devices are capable of operating in a VoIP environment. These are usually fax machines, modems and alarm systems. Sometimes a driver or firmware update will make them digitally capable.

    Overall, replacing a PSTN system with VoIP for Business is a no-brainer. The cost, operational and reputational advantages far outweigh any downsides.

How VoIP Can Help in Remote Working

Working from home is rapidly becoming the new normal worldwide.  Businesses are quickly modifying their strategies and operations to accommodate it.    Ome area of particular interest is that of integrating VoIP for Business into the remote working scenario.

There has, admittedly, been a slow move towards remote working as the digital infrastructure spreads and improves in recent years.  Internet access through WiFi has become common in public spaces like hotels and malls and through fiber connections to homes.

The pandemic has accelerated this process, mainly through companies forced to have locked-down workers working from home.  A second driver has been the effect on bricks and mortar retail outlets.  Foot traffic has plummeted, retail shops are closing, and the malls they operate in are closing,  some never to reopen.   Retailers are forced into an e-commerce environment.   It’s no longer developmental but survival strategies.Continue reading

Everything You Need to Know about VoIP Jitters and How to Prevent It

Now that VoIP is commonplace in business, the focus has moved from implementation to management, particularly the management of VoIP Quality.  

The concept is simple. VoIP traffic is a series of ethernet packets. The packets must arrive in the same order as they left and not be damaged or lost in transit to ensure that both parties can talk comfortably. One of the primary measurements of VoIP Quality is that of VoIP Jitter, something that can seriously affect VoIP traffic quality.Continue reading

VoIP Hard Phones vs Softphones: What’s the difference and Which is Better?

VoIP has become commonplace in recent times, both in business and as a personal communications tool. The benefits are such that it becomes a no-brainer for both individuals and businesses to move to VoIP, principally because of the reductions in long-distance comms costs.

Cordless home systems based on DECT technology, with a core unit attached to the PSTN, and satellite units communicating over wireless had been around for some time before VoIP.  They were similar to VoIP systems but lacked versatility and features in comparison with the later true IP based systems.

Recently, the use of WiFi as a primary network topology, coupled with mobile technology, has become more and more common.

As a result, one of the considerations when planning a VoIP environment is the type of handsets needed. The handset type will depend to a large extent on the network environment and the type of anticipated usage.

Continue reading

7 Reasons Why Many Businesses are Choosing Cloud PBX

One of the major benefits of the digital revolution for business has been the emergence of computer-based PBX systems offering advanced features. in the past, these were limited to larger companies but the emergence of cloud-based technologies has seen the emergence of the Cloud PBX which allows small companies the benefits of voice over IP but at a vastly reduced cost.

Here are 7 benefits which will come to a business if they implement a Cloud PBX solution:Continue reading

Can You Keep Your Voip Working During a Power Failure

Can You Keep Your VoIP Working During a Power Failure

The impact of digital convergence and improvements in technology have generated widespread adoption of VoIP phone systems by businesses and individuals.   Businesses use them to substantially improve their business profile and improve communications efficiencies.  All users use VoIP to substantially reduce their communications costs, particularly for long-distance and international calls.

There is one major difference between the traditional PSTN phone systems and digitally hosted VoIP phone systems. That relates to performance during a power outage.  Power to PSTN systems is provided by the PSTN supplier and PSTN phone systems, therefore, they continue to work during a power outage.Continue reading

5 Ideas to Monitor the Quality of Your VoIP Network

5 Ideas to Monitor the Quality of Your VoIP Network

The increasing effect of digital convergence and the undoubted cost and other benefits of VoIP networks has led to their widespread adoption in all sizes and types of business.   However, as with all things, there are two sides to the coin, and maintenance of an acceptable level of service for your VoIP system is of paramount importance. 

Before looking at monitoring techniques it is important to see what we are looking for.

Typical complaints and their cause  include:Continue reading

Five ways to tailor your telephone system to match your business needs

Five Ways To Tailor Your Telephone System To Match Your Business Needs

One of the more significant developments in computing in recent years has been the wholesale adoption of VoIP systems by businesses and increasingly by home and mobile users.   Simply put, VoIP systems remove the costs and restrictions imposed by the traditional PSTN service providers.

Because of digital convergence among other things, the initial objective, to replace PSTN connections with digital connections has grown by leaps and bounds into fully-fledged integrated communications environments supporting media connections, not just voice.

Businesses are now presented with options among others to improve their presence and reduce their costs.  Here are five such.

  1. Cost reductions through Call Security

    Cost reductions

    In the past, PBX systems were location based.  Extension numbers were tied to a physical location such as a desktop.  The ability to restrict calls was linked to the physical device. Anyone using the handset could only make the calls that were allowed for that extension number, for example, local calls only, no national or international calls.

    VoIP systems are by contrast person based in that an individual uses a PIN number to log-on to the VoIP system wherever they might be.  They can log-on from the traditional desktop handset or by using SIP technologies from a smart device.   Call security, therefore, becomes person based rather than location based.  The ability to make calls resides in the individual profile. Applying call security according to individual needs becomes that much easier.

  2. Business presence

    Business presence

    Using VoIP can make a business seem much larger than it actually is. Two examples are automated call forwarding and departmental assignment.

    With automated call forwarding, calls made to a local number are automatically forwarded to a central number.  In this way, a company can seem to have a local presence, but in actuality operate a central support organisation.  Many companies have done this with their call-centre operation.  For example, British Airways operated a centralised call centre in India.  All calls to a local or national call centre were automatically forwarded there.

    With a departmental assignment, different extension numbers can be published for sales, finance, procurement, and so-on.  However, they can be automatically forwarded to a single extension number.  The company looks like it has different operational departments when in reality it does not.

  3. Customer Relationship Management (“CRM”)

    Customer Relationship  Management

    An organisation that operates a call-centre to provide customer support can tailor its VoIP system to support a CRM environment.  The VoIP system can be linked to a database application.  In this environment, the call-centre operative will have customer information displayed on a local computer screen when that customer calls in.  The data is retrieved using the incoming telephone number.  The operator can then answer the call with “Good day <customer name> “ giving a much more personal and warm aspect to the interaction.

    Often details of previous and current interactions with that customer are shown giving the ability to deal more effectively with the customer.  VoIP provides that capability.

  4. Automated Documentation Support

    Automated Documentation Support

    A large part of customer support is providing documentation, usually product related.  This obviously can be accomplished via a website application, but most VoIP systems can also provide this facility.

    The requestor dials a number, taken for example from a media advertisement and is presented with the option to email a document to a specified address.   In this way, the requestor receives the information they want, and the company has an email address for future marketing activity.   All without any manual intervention thanks to VoIP.

  5. Automated Call Handling

    Automated Call Handling

    There is nothing more frustrating than calling an organisation and being forwarded from extension to extension as your call is not answered. The use of calling, hunting and auto-forwarding groups maintained by the VoIP system can significantly ease that pain.

    While they are similar there are differences between calling and hunting groups.  Calling groups allow anyone in that group to pick up a call for anyone else in the group.   For example, a call to an extension where the normal answerer is unavailable can be picked up by someone else nearby.  This is especially useful after hours where desks are unattended.

    Hunting groups automate this process.  If a call is not answered after a certain time interval it is automatically forwarded to another extension number.   Calling and Hunting groups often work together to improve customer service.

    Auto-forwarding is particularly useful for support and alarm calls.  The VoIP system can be programmed to auto-forward calls to a particular number to another number, for example, the duty engineer. The forwarding can be done manually by manually programming the number into the extension profile itself, or in some cases can be accomplished via a calendar. In this way, incoming calls should be answered, not just ring out.

    The increasing sophistication of VoIP systems now enables small businesses to punch above their weight and bring improved customer service levels at little or no cost.