In recent times, multimedia, voice and video conferencing have come together to create an entirely new form of communications. A key element of this new wave is Voice over IP, (“VoIP”), a protocol for digital transmission of voice and video.
Home and business VoIP telephony has grown to be a major segment in the VoIP market. It provides advantages in cost, mobility and increased functionality with a range of compatible devices.
Why should a business user consider moving to a VOIP for Business telephone system? There are justifiable concerns, mostly over call quality, but also that that they will lose their phone service if they lose power, and that it is a difficult and costly technology to implement.
However, improvements in technology and the use of standby power go a long way to alleviating these concerns. Simply put, the advantages to businesses from adopting a VoIP for Business solution far outweigh any potential drawbacks.
Here are 10 major reasons why
PTT charges are avoided by routing calls over the Internet rather than over the PTT network, thereby avoiding the call charges levied by the PTT. The cost of the call is 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.
Some organisations have a cost-recovery model in place. 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. It also assists in identifying miscreants who call unauthorised personal numbers.
For the mobile user, the integration of VoIP with WiFi provides the individual with an amazingly low-cost communications platform. Software apps on smart devices simulating desktop handsets provide the user with the means to be always in touch wherever they are.
This is accomplished with the implementation of SIP interfaces in the VoIP for Business configuration that allows a smart device to replace the desktop VoIP phone extension in a wireless-enabled environment. A mobile smart device user has full access to the corporate VoIP phone system from anywhere that they are in range of the corporate WiFi network, both centrally and at remote offices. In addition, most VoIP providers provide a facility via a secure network for users to connect to the corporate phone system over the Internet. This meets the Increasing need for remote access wherever they might be.
Voice mail and fax mail
Many VoIP service providers provide the facility to automatically forward voice mail and faxes to an email inbox.
A digital VoIP system provides many new features and communications applications. As examples:
The mobility described above allows employees to become productive immediately they arrive at a remote office and connect to the corporate network. Without waiting to be allocated a phone, they can use their main office credentials, any handset or their smart device to join the VoIP for Business phone network, using their main office phone extension number.
Employees can see if a colleague is present and able to receive calls. No more repeated redialling, or leaving voice messages.
Help Desk consultants can operate the phone system using a softphone application on the desktop giving a point and click interface.
Access to the full functionality of your VoIP for Business Phone System from anywhere if you are online.
A hosted solution needs no on-site equipment. That means there will be less space used in a small office. If a larger is installing a VoIP for Business solution they may need equipment installed on their premises.
It can be easy, though not always, to add features and functions. Often it can be done remotely and with no downtime.
All users log onto the phone system with personal credentials from any connected device. In essence, security moves from the device to the individual. No more sneaking into the manager’s office to make an unauthorised call. International or long-distance calls can be placed by only those employees with an appropriate security level.
The ability to set up group and individual security profiles can be very cost-effective, particularly if used to enable call management and cost recovery. Users can be grouped by cost centre and reports drawn up showing the overall cost of calls from a cost centre, and if required, who called where, when and for how long.
One point to bear in mind is that not all devices can be connected to a VoIP system. Older devices like some modems and fax machines don’t have a digital capability, while others might need software updates. Be especially careful of alarm systems that potentially could become inoperable if connected to a VoIP system.
The ability of VoIP for Business to host Conference calling and remote meetings is now an essential part of an organisation’s business tools. Unfortunately, there have been many reports of failures and poor performance using ZOOM and other collaboration tools.
While some poor conference calls may have been because of VoIP for Business technology failings, most are because participants are not familiar with the etiquette of conference calling and how to make them effective. Basically, using the same approach as for face-to-face meetings will provide quality meetings. Here are ten suggestions:
Just because it’s an online meeting, doesn’t mean that it can be less organized than a face-to-face one.
Send out calendar friendly meeting requests in good time and repeat
Most attendees won’t be IT experts and may need help and guidance to join the meeting. Have an IT support person to hand to assist. It’s getting easier, but many conference call services can be cumbersome to join. If the meeting request email provides an automatic link to an attendees calendar, all the better.
Zoom, for example, provides automatic links to a calendar and to the meeting itself, where the attendee only needs to click on a link to join. Send out a reminder, again with a joining link, just before the meeting time.
Send out Etiquette Guidelines
It might seem presumptuous to instruct attendees to behave during a meeting, but hopefully, you only need to do this once as a full document. Perhaps a short summary as part of the meeting request?
Have an Agenda
Meetings need to stick to the point. With no agenda or clear objective, a meeting will not be successful and to put it bluntly, waste everyone’s time.
Have IT check the connection and setup
Nothing is more frustrating than sitting waiting to join a meeting and not being able to connect because of a technical fault.
Start on Time
Starting on time is vital, especially if the meeting straddles several time zones. Don’t wait for stragglers, because if you do, you are signalling that it’s ok to join whenever you feel like it.
Have the Chair open the meeting
This is no different from a face to face meeting. The chair must open the meeting by thanking everyone for attending, explain the agenda, and nowadays, ask everyone to switch off cellphones. Thye host must also set expectations. Request that everyone announce themselves. Some attendees may be in sound only.
Try to finish the meeting early. That will be much appreciated by all attendees.
Microphones to be muted unless you are speaking
Because this is a remote meeting, people may be attending from all sorts of strange locations, coffee shops, home, cars for example. That can produce a lot of distracting noises and communications problems. If you aren’t speaking mute your microphone to cut down on outside noises.
No interrupting or talking over
It’s just common etiquette, don’t talk while someone else is interrupting. During a person to person meeting, we can observe non-verbal cues in other attendees. In meetings where this is not possible, perhaps because some attendees are attending on voice only, it is easy for a meeting to descend into chaos.
The host must maintain control, and attendees must observe the rule of only speaking when invited to.
Ask for feedback
Some attendees will speak a lot, some not at all unless asked to. It is easy to assume that just because someone has not expressed an opinion that they agree. Ask them directly.
People can also zone out and decide not to participate. Meetings can speed up and be more productive if you ask each participant to contribute verbally.
Have a closing review and repeat conclusions
As already pointed out, visual cues are absent in conference calls, even if a video feed is available. Even if they promise not to, people can become distracted from the meeting and start other activities. It’s easier with remote meetings because they can easily hide what they are doing from the meeting.
It is essential, to have a recap periodically during the meeting and at the end, have a full summary.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
One effect of the pandemic has been a quantum increase in remote working. In some cases, lockdown and travel restrictions have forced a move to work from home. Adopting e-commerce as a business platform has meant interacting digitally with customers and suppliers.
In remote working the need to communicate remains, and is even more important to maintain team morale. Virtual meetings using applications like Zoom, NetMeeting, and Skype have become the norm.
For many, remote working and remote meetings are very new and they are wary of the technology and unsure of how they should interact with other meeting attendees. Sometimes the first few meetings are less productive than the face-to-face equivalent as people find their feet and create a new working culture.
Here are five tips to help you make your Virtual Meetings more productive.
Have a clear understanding of how the meeting is to proceed
Meeting basics do not change with remote meetings. Invitations need to have a clear statement of the subject and objectives of the meeting. Supporting material can be sent with the invitations and attendees asked to familiarize themselves with it.
Have an agenda, and defined comfort and refreshment breaks. Because they are not in a communal meeting and perhaps at home, attendees may tend to just wander off when they feel like it if no breaks are scheduled.
One point that is a subject of much discussion in business media is that long presentations are not practical in a virtual meeting. If they are required, then they must be short and designed to promote discussion. Use screen sharing to keep everyone at the same point.
Don’t let a few individuals dominate the meeting
It sometimes happens, in both virtual and face-to-face meetings that one or two individuals try to dominate a meeting. If that happens, other attendees will tune out, sit back and go off to check their e-mail.
In the first few meetings, a facilitator will help to manage proceedings and make sure that the meeting stays on track and that all voices are heard.
No Multitasking during a meeting
Attendees can use their smart devices to do other things while at a meeting. They check email, read and write on social media and even play games. They are, to all intents and purposes, not there.
It is a lot easier to do that at a virtual meeting. Attendees can appear to be present but are really doing something else, and no-one will notice.
The facilitator must explain that multi-tasking during a meeting is not allowed. If the meeting software allows it, perhaps the facilitator can be notified when someone changes focus from the meeting to another software application.
One problem in working from home is that of the unexpected visitor distracting an attendee. Pets, children and spouses have been known to gate-crash meetings. That must be discouraged.
Insist on Video
A lot of communication is non-verbal, and the effectiveness and productivity of a meeting are significantly reduced if attendees are available in voice only. If attendees can see each other’s facial expressions and body language, it goes a long way to making a better meeting.
Have an audio dial-in backup though. Some places might not have a sufficiently strong Internet connection capable of supporting video.
Finally, sit close to the webcam. This helps to avoid distractions in the background.
Make sure the Technology works
There is nothing more frustrating than a delay to the start of a meeting because of technical problems. It’s a real momentum killer.
Problems can arise because some doesn’t have the correct technology, or because their video isn’t working, or simply because they are not familiar with the meeting software.
For all attendees, particularly first-timers, it is essential to have a one-on-one with the facilitator to make sure all problems are resolved.
An organization should set a standard for the software to be used for virtual meetings. Remember though, that customers and suppliers may be using different software, so some pre-testing will be needed if it is a multi-application environment.
The usual mantra is that an ounce of preparation saves a pound of trouble. Be flexible and realise that procedures will need to change. Virtual meetings can be productive.
VoIP for business is now the defacto standard for business communications. Having established itself during the pandemic as essential to communicate with remote workers, customers, and suppliers, the push is to find new and innovative ways to leverage VoIP for business to provide more cost benefits and deliver new cost-effective services.
VoIP is usually viewed as the basis of a Unified Communications Strategy. All internal and external communications are moved onto a digital platform, and users can move seamlessly between different communication modes. They share global address books and can communicate directly with a customer or colleague from the address book, or even an email address.
Several suppliers, including Microsoft, provide hooks into their core Office systems to allow other applications to share contact information. It has the undoubted benefit of keeping contact lists up to date.Continue reading
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
Most, if not all IT Departments are under cost pressure. They are being asked to continue with business as usual and provide support for remote working and work from home imposed by COVID-19. Some are also managing the transition to full online e-commerce. With no increase in budget or staff.
One solution that is becoming increasingly popular is outsourcing VoIP systems to a Managed Service Provider (“MSP”) that provides both software support -and VoIP Phone maintenance. That fixes some budget costs and frees staff to carry out more urgent tasks.
Managed Outsourcing, in this case, only part of the VoIP environment is outsourced. A typical case is the maintenance and installation of VoIP Phones. This will involve having MSP staff on site. Full outsourcing, on the other hand, the MSP takes responsibility for the operation and management of the full VoIP environment. This can be accomplished either inhouse or on an MSP’s premises. In-House, the MSP manages your existing environment. They can also duplicate your environment on their site. Typically users outsource management to the MSP and hand full control over to them.
If you intend to use an MSP, you are embarking on a long-lasting business relationship and one in which the MSP will have access to most, if not all, of your business secrets.Continue reading
Most businesses, small and large, now use VoIP technologies as the core of their Unified Communications strategy. The benefits, financial, operational and to their business profile are undeniable, making VoIP a no brainer.
Within VoIP, there are several options that an organisation can choose to improve the quality of service. Among these are SIP Trunks.
SIP Trunks replace the physical connections provided by traditional communications suppliers. Simply put, a SIP Trunk is the digital equivalent of the conventional physical link. It is usually called a data circuit. It supports voice, data, streaming media and video services, the basis of a business Unified Communications environment.Continue reading
Calling a business is the first point of contact between the business and the outside world. This first impression must be a good one. Most callers nowadays expect a response, and a failed call is not an acceptable outcome. Additionally, most callers expect to be able to use a variety of communications methods, traditional PSTN calls, internet access to a call centre and digital interfaces over specialised applications and social media.
The advent of digital PBX solutions has allowed all businesses to move to digital telephony as part of a unified communications strategy meeting these requirements. Cost savings, improvements in business profile and increased customer service levels are some of the major benefits of a digital PBX environment.
Switching to a Cloud PBX is a programme that involves both technology and people. Doing it efficiently and effectively requires careful consideration of both elements.Continue reading
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