Microsoft 365 Business Voice: What is it and How it can help you

Microsoft 365 Business Voice: What is it and How it can help you

Most, if not all businesses use some form of Business VoIP.  

Simply put, it is the transfer of the business internal and external voice communications to a digital platform.  Business VoIP can be part of a larger digital Unified Communications environment comprising VoIP, video-conferencing and Social Media.

A Unified Communications implementation ranges from full-blown onsite hardware and software implementations to outsourced managed solutions to virtual software running on a single PC server. 

Business VoIP, if only from a financial perspective is a no-brainer. Long-distance and international calls are moved to a toll-free basis. The business image can be substantially improved, and other efficiencies can be gathered.

For Microsoft customers, Business VoIP in the form of 365 Business Voice (“BV”) has been introduced as part of the Office 365 Suite to provide a unified phone environment for Microsoft Teams. It integrates contact data into a single database accessible from calls, chat and meeting support. As an example, callers have immediate access to an up to date single contact list for colleagues, customers, and others because of the integration with Office 365.

While 365 Business Voice is only currently available in Canada and Great Britain, it is currently going through a global rollout and will become available in most countries in 2020.

To look at it in some more detail:

365 Business Voice – Summary

365 Business Voice - Summary

In essence, 356 Business Voice wraps up the 365 Phone Systems features as a single unified application.  It has been designed for small to medium-sized organisations of a maximum of 300 users and requires Office 365 Business to be installed and running as a prerequisite. Enterprise Voice is available for larger organisations.

It is fully integrated with Microsoft Teams and becomes part of the Teams environment turning any desktop, Windows or Mac, and smart device into a phone handset that is a phone using your Business Voice Phone number.

365 Business Voice – What you get

What you get

There are three basic elements:

  • A Phone system supporting common phone features, including voice mail, caller ID, search and hunting groups and emergency calls.

    It allows the replacement of the existing analogue PBX with cloud-based call control and PBX capabilities using Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.

    Common services are provided. Call attendants provide the familiar menu based call routing. Call queues can be used to manage response centres with automatic messages, hunting groups, and music on hold.  You also get voicemail.

  • Calling plans supporting toll-free, local national and international calls.

    Call plans allow toll-free calling between users at different sites, potentially removing long-distance call costs.  Call Plans can be extended to include landline and mobile phones worldwide. Be aware that add-on call plans only work with BV and Office 365.

  • Audio Conferencing. This allows you to attend conference calls, including hosting, with callers who don’t have Teams or are not available over the Internet.

    Audio Conferencing is a useful facility for times when a caller needs to be part of a meeting but can’t use a PC, Laptop or Tablet to join using Skype for Business or Teams.

    For example, the user can attend the meeting over a hands-free audio connection when driving. Dedicated toll-free (and tolled) numbers are used as shared numbers to support a meeting.

365 Business Voice – Considerations

Considerations

  • Hardware and software. Because this is a cloud-based deployment you don’t need on-premises equipment or software, only a connection to the Microsoft Cloud.
  • Use of existing phone numbers. Microsoft becomes your voice service provider. You can transfer your phone numbers, but be aware that this is not always possible.
  • Costs. To be able to make and receive calls from external numbers needs a BV licence. The licence covers the full use of the BV system. Note that users who make internal calls only do not need a BV licence, only a Teams license.

Costing seems to be based on the cellular model.

BV Includes a domestic Calling Plan, entitling you to a quota of minutes per month locally, and regionally. If you need to call internationally, you will need to buy an International Calling Plan. You can top-up your plan by buying additional time. Communications Credits have been introduced to help you manage costs.

Overall, Business Voice is a good addition to the communications offerings available to the small business.

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.

Because a VoIP phone system is hosted on ICT infrastructure, either internally or on a hosted site, it is the responsibility of the infrastructure provider to provide backup power.

This brings several considerations into play.

Personal and Home Office VoIP

Personal and Home Office VoIP

Most domestic VoIP systems are hosted through voice-enabled apps like Skype, Telegram, and WhatsApp.  The user can either use a desktop app or a smart device connected to their internet connection by WiFi.   Some larger home offices have a software PBX supporting a WiFi-based internal phone system and the specialised functions offered by VoIP.   The handsets are usually softphone apps hosted on desktops or smart devices.

The key here is to keep the desktop, the WiFi and the Internet connection active.  An obvious need is for a UPS which will continue to supply power for some time during the outage.  The desktop and the WiFi and Internet interface equipment must be connected to the UPS.  In some domestic configurations, particularly Fibre To The Home it may not be necessary to keep the desktop running.

The size of the UPS will depend on the power draw of the equipment and for how long you want to keep it running.  A home office environment will need much longer uptime than a simple domestic configuration used for communicating with family and friends.  

If you run multiple PCs in a larger home office network, try to limit usage to the one device supporting the software PBX.   If the individual phone extensions are to remain active, they will need individual power support, either to the handset or to the desktop supporting the softphone app.  

In some cases, the extensions are hosted using SIP on smart devices.  Extension services will, therefore, last as long as the devices remain charged.

A fairly beefy UPS will not take up too much space and should keep the configuration running for a few hours.  One thing – printers use a lot of power, so try not to use them during a power outage, 

Another way, particularly in areas with regular power losses or poor power supply is to get off the grid and use solar power or an inverter and generator to supply domestic power.

Business VoIP

Business VoIP

Businesses are more than their VoIP systems, even though VoIP is very important as it is often the first point of customer contact with the organisation.  It is essential therefore to include VoIP in the overall backup and power management strategy adopted by the organisation.

The first step is to decide what needs to continue if an when a power outage occurs.  Is it just VoIP, or does the entire ICT infrastructure need to keep running?  Remember if VoIP is to continue, you will need to decide which extensions are to keep running.  If you are using Power over Ethernet (“PoE”), then keeping the appropriate switches up and running may be sufficient.

The steps to keeping VoIP running during a power outage will therefore include:

  1. Creating a power management strategy.  This will entail analysing business requirements and working out what is needed to be available during a power outage.  Most businesses will have a disaster management plan prepared by ICT setting out what will keep running and for how long.

    A good example is a specification for a Tier III data centre which comprehensively sets out the requirements to keep the show running, both in terms of power conditioning and power supply during outages. Keeping the Internet connection to your ISP running is essential.

    What must be borne in mind is that if other elements of the corporate VoIP network are to remain operational, then power backup will be needed in distribution layer network rooms, and for access layer switches that provide PoE power to desktop handsets.

  2. Implementing the strategy.  It might look a good strategy on paper, but it needs the financial CAPEX budget to buy UPS equipment, generators and any other electrical equipment needed. There is also an OPEX budget component for installation and maintenance costs and ongoing running costs, for example, fuel for generators.  Solar panels and oodles of batteries are a greener option than generators.

It is entirely possible to keep VoIP running during a power outage, but it requires planning, preparation, and some expense.

 
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.

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Why SIP trunk providers can save your business money?

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