Are VoIP Solutions beneficial to Schools and Universities?

VoIP Solutions have been enthusiastically embraced by individuals and businesses. For some, it is no other reason than the substantial cost savings in moving from the tolled PSTN network to toll-free internet connections. There are, of course,  other benefits in improvements in operational processes and customer service levels.

One of the strategic moves forced on IT by the events of 2020 has been the move to remote working. Resources have been diverted from planned projects to emergency projects to enable the transition. VoIP Solutions have been a significant growth element, either as new implementations or developing an existing Unified Communications Strategy.

One question that is often asked, particularly in the education environment, is whether VoIP Solutions make a positive contribution. The answer is a resounding YES, and not just for Education. Any campus style, multi-building, or multi-site environment will benefit.

Looking specifically at Education, 2020 has seen a significant move to an e-learning environment. Initially, E-Learning has been delivered remotely using collaborative software tools.  As staff and pupils have been able to return to campus, traditional methods have been revived, but in many cases with a distinct E-Learning flavor. This has, of necessity, meant change in the way in which learning is administered and delivered.

One thing that has emerged is the importance of stable and cost-effective communications as the bedrock for educational delivery. That is where VoIP Solutions can make a substantial contribution.

VoIP on Campus

VoIP on Campus

As with any enterprise, Schools and Universities have a management component. They need HR, Finance, Procurement, and all the other essential business functions.  They are then supplemented by education-specific features like curriculum and student management.  Additional services like postgraduate support, residence management, and meal bookings complete the range of services.

VoIP can give benefits in all areas, and if the institution is multi-site, then VoIP improves inter-site communications and reduces overall business costs:

Education benefits from many VoIP functions:

Call Management

Call Management

The core business of an educational establishment is dependent on students. At the start of each academic year, there is a period of frantic activity as existing and new students are registered, assigned to courses. VoIP can provide benefits in several ways:

  • Incoming calls can be assigned to calling/hunting groups so that they can be dealt with promptly. Pickup also allows staff to take calls at unattended desks when the staff member is absent.

  • The familiar keypad and IVR systems can direct callers to the appropriate department or staff members rather than via a switchboard.

  • IVR can also deal with simple requests to send forms and brochures to an email address.

  • Mobile extensions. Most VoIP implementation support SIP technology. Allied to a smart device app, SIP can turn a smart device into a phone extension.  If they are in the campus WiFi network range, a member of staff need never be uncontactable.

  • Sometimes, an event needs to be broadcast in more than one location. A typical example is a graduation ceremony in one building on one campus displayed on all campuses. This is becoming more important for graduations carried out remotely.

Travel

Travel

Campuses tend to be geographically quite large and sometimes quite widespread. Staff can spend a lot of time moving between campuses and campus buildings, which is not generally productive. If they use desktop video conferencing over the VoIP link, that can lessen the need to physically meet.

Collaboration

voip collaboration

  • E-learning is becoming more-and-more integrated with Social Media. Students generally have a smart device and feel like their life is ended if they cannot access social media.

  • Lecturers are interacting with classes using WhatsApp and other communications platforms. Students are submitting assignments electronically and using social media to collaborate on tasks.

  • In many countries, there are Education networks linking schools, colleges, and Universities. Academic and non-academic staff can communicate easily with each other individually and in groups using VoIP and video-conferencing over that network

    Students and student groups can also use it to communicate with their peers in other institutions.

Safety and Security

Safety and Security

Safety and security is an increasing concern in many institutions. If SIP and VoIP are linked with a WiFi network, it allows students and staff to use an emergency number on their smart device. If they feel they need assistance, then this number is readily available to summon help.

To summarise, the use of VoIP Solutions in a multi-campus, especially educational environments, is a no-brainer. It brings many benefits in addition to the obvious ones of cost reduction. Internal and external communications are improved. It integrates the institution more deeply into the wider educational structures.

Many tertiary institutions have courses that require travel to a specialized campus to attend lectures. Using VoIP to broadcast the lecture material to the remote campus removs the need for students to travel

5 Things to Consider Before Signing a Contract with a VoIP Provider

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.

  1. Business Fit

    Business Fit

    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? 

  2. Stability

    Stability

    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.

  3. Communications

    Communications

    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.
  4. Operations

    Operations

    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.

  5. Security

    Security

    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.

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

How can SIP Trunking Benefit Your Business

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

Fixed VoIP and Non-Fixed VoIP: Know the difference

VoIP has become commonplace in the commercial and personal world in recent times.   Businesses, large and small, have taken to VoIP because of the cost and business benefits it brings.   Simply put, it avoids the costs associated with PSTN connections by routing communications over the Internet.  This allows VoIP service providers to bundle in other features such as free or low-cost long-distance and international calls.

In addition to providing on-premises VoIP calls, the digital format of VoIP provides connectivity for WiFi-enabled smart devices such as smartphones and tablets.  Remote and home working have increased significantly because of the Covid epidemic, and VoIP over public and private WiFi networks and VPN connections are rapidly becoming the norm.Continue reading

How to Switch to Cloud PBX Efficiently and Effectively

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

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

How Does Eavesdropping Exploit Affect Your VoIP Phone

How Does Eavesdropping Exploit Affect Your VoIP Phone

Business and home users have taken to VoIP like ducks to water. To both, it offers cost savings and convenience. To businesses, it provides the opportunity to use advanced communications features over and above the traditional land-line POTS solution. Rolling out toll-free International calling and video-conferencing, providing advanced call management to customer support centres and improving their overall business profile is now achievable and a modest and controllable cost.

Originally needing big iron, small businesses can run a virtual PBX on a dedicated desktop PC and take advantage of those new offerings.

However, as with all digital advances, security comes into play and VoIP Security is no exception.Continue reading

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. 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