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.
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