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.
It’s essential that you are comfortable with the MSP and satisfied that it can meet your requirements, now and in the future. Draw up a list of considerations and make sure that any potential MSP meets them. They will form the basis of future discussions and the SLA between yourselves and the MSP.
Here are five considerations to be borne in mind when looking at an MSP.
You will be entering a business relationship with the MSP lasting, probably, several years. It is essential to feel comfortable with them. You need to ask questions like, do our cultures mesh, will we work well together, are we on the same page with essential issues like growth, security, and so-on.
A good indicator is business reputation. Do they have a good reputation in the industry? Check with their existing and former customers. Are they licensed partners with industry VoIP majors such as HP or Avaya?
A second area is that of business stability. If you are to be associated with the MSP for some time, you need to know that they will be around for that time.
You must have a look at their background, both customer base and finances. For example, if they rely on one customer for most of their income, will losing that customer put them out of business? Credit Checking agencies will be able to provide a good overview of their financial health.
You also need to enforce escrow provisions. If the MSP fails, you want immediate access to your equipment, software systems and data so they can be transferred elsewhere.
Will they commit to regular progress meetings and examination of the performance metrics you have collected. Unless there is a regular and formal follow-up on the outsource agreement’s performance, complacency will set in.
There needs to be a statement in the SLA of:
- When progress meetings will take place and who is to attend them.
- The penalties and benefits for not meeting or exceeding performance metrics.
This a critical area of definition and measurement in any agreement.
The first is the regularity of meetings with the MSP in fora such as Progress, Change Control, and Performance Measurement. These tend to start well and then fall away if not part of the formal outsourcing agreement.
The second area is that of performance metrics.
Any agreement must include service level metrics such as application systems response times and complaint clearance rates. They are built into formal service level agreements.
The third area is the necessary Business Continuity provisions. Specifications are needed for the regular backup of the entire system and partial backups. It must be possible to rebuild the operating environment in the shortest time with a minimum of data loss. Testing of the backups needs to happen regularly as well.
It must also include a definition of responsibilities, who does what, for example, the supply of VoIP Phones.
The last is security itself in two areas, the security of the entire outsourced environment itself and the security of your applications and data.
The FBI says that the only secure system is one that hasn’t been hacked yet. Hackers sometimes view that hosted systems are more vulnerable than in-house systems because the MSP does not provide sufficient resources to enforce proper security practices.
There may be an element of truth in that, but an MSPs business reputation is at stake here. They have various different hosted environments and security requirements to support, so mistakes inevitably happen from time to time.
You should ensure, and have it written into the outsourcing agreement, the security that your environment needs. Security should also be discussed at the regular meetings between the MSP and the client.
VoIP outsourcing is a viable option for most organisations to consider. They however need to take care when entering into an agreement with an MSP. The five areas outlined above are some.
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
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. Continue reading
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
The universal adoption of the Internet has led to the use of digital communications as a standard part of the business environment. Most companies are creating and implementing digitally based unified communications strategies incorporating VoIP communications built around VoIP phones, video conferencing and perhaps CCTV as integral parts.
They are doing this to take advantage of the business benefits to be gained from moving from the unlinked analogue systems to an integrated digital platform. The simplest example is the use of VoIP phones to transfer from tolled calls over the PSTN to essentially free voice communications over the Internet.
There are many other reasons to make the switch from a legacy analogue phone system to a digital VoIP system, both financial and operational.Continue reading
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.
Cost reductions through Call Security
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.
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.
Customer Relationship Management (“CRM”)
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.
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.
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.
Most will agree that the Internet has given rise to a major upheaval in Unified Communications, including Voice over IP (“VoIP”). Business worldwide is embracing VoIP solutions as a tool to reduce communications costs, increase communications effectiveness and increase company profile.
It’s not just in the ability to make toll-free or low-cost calls that VoIP Solutions are having an effect. Company culture is changing too.
If we take the cost benefits of VoIP Solutions as read, there are many other ways in which they can impact a company.Continue reading
In recent times there has been a quantum increase in the use of digital communications, both in the business and domestic sectors. Businesses use IP Telephony to reduce their communications costs, improve interactions and service levels with staff and customers and present a better business image to the world at large.
Domestic users can now use VoIP to talk with and see far-flung friends and relatives easily and cheaply over long distances from their smart devices using VoIP capable apps like Skype and WhatsApp. No more expensive long-distance calls.
The terms VoIP and IP Telephony are often used interchangeably to describe digitally based communications. Are they, in fact, the same thing, or are there technical and non-technical differences?Continue reading