When a company finally comes to terms that its voice and data convergence is severely lacking, it becomes essential to establish criteria to launch a consistent, yet potentially tricky, foundation. Because businesses large and small rely on phone and data systems as a lifeline to communicate with customers, suppliers and staff members, practical decisions need to be made and failure is a real possibility.

The key to a successful transition to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) without disruption of company operations lies in the merging of familiar platforms that are currently in use, thus optimizing the existing infrastructure, says Jose Zamora, senior IT technician at ATW Management Inc.

Since VoIP can share the same CAT5e data cabling by prioritizing voice over data to protect quality, phone calls can be made without affecting data speeds. Wiring installation and maintenance costs can be controlled if not eliminated. The new architecture consists of a VoIP phone system merged with the existing data infrastructure to create a unified communications framework.

Smart Business spoke to Zamora about how accomplishing this means taking advantage of how VoIP phone systems and their features have evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of today’s businesses.

What VoIP technology is available to businesses today?

Today’s telecom manufacturers offer VoIP equipment that ranges from easy-to use ’plug and play‘ systems with limited capabilities to feature rich systems that encompass video, voice and data along with all the bells and whistles. The common thread is associated with licenses, which are necessary for connectivity and operational utility. Fortunately, basic functions are sold in bundles. Most VoIP products embrace Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), which allow interoperation within a variety of network hardware implementations and phone sets from different manufacturers that also support SIP. This gives maximum flexibility with a real potential for cost effectiveness and creativity. However, the advanced function licenses can be difficult to understand and implement. But this is also where the real creativity lies.

How can features be used within a business?

VoIP deployments used to be only associated with multiple locations and global entities, but new and expanding features provide compelling reasons to evaluate and consider VoIP technologies for businesses of all capacities. Call centers as well as service centers utilize customizable software license packages that enable multiple auto attendants, with multi-language abilities, to route calls to multiple call groups. The VoIP system will indicate the position of a call in the call queue and relay expected wait time to both the user and caller. Overflow routing can queue a call, place in a holding pattern, and forward it to a less active user or a prominent sales associate, reducing the chance of a missed call or lost sale. Call attached data components can track vital notes and caller identification information and allow data to be exported in various forms. Utilizing a PC in place of, or as an accessory to the phone set, will enable a screen ‘pop-up’ to display a customer’s information prior to taking the call. This allows the user, whether in the accounting, sales, or inventory departments to simultaneously view data as well as use all of the features of their desk phone from their PC screen utilizing IP Softphones. The IP Softphone is an incredible tool that gives the user complete phone system features from the laptop or even a PDA device utilizing Bluetooth technology.

How does this technology benefit today’s remote and telecommuting work force?

Previously only available to receptionists, call appearance and busy extension details are now available to every user. Current VoIP applications can grant access to extension status and incoming call handling and allow anyone to transfer calls to the proper user while informing the user if the transfer will result in a voicemail or land in another queue. Additionally, users can activate a ’find-me, follow-me’ feature that forwards to multiple numbers or extensions until the desired recipient is contacted. To give a 24/7 presence, home phones and computers as well as cell phones can be a part of the network. Telecommuters and sales departments may assign a supervisor to silently monitor calls and provide a ’barge-in’ feature to allow a more experienced representative to handle sensitive situations. Utilizing Exchange servers and Outlook email clients provides system-wide communication options as well. Voicemail messages taken by the VoIP phone system can be converted to text or wave files to be forwarded to a cell or smart phone, email, or voicemail on a different phone. Internal callers can access cellular networks for emergency redundancy or utilize an independent software gateway.

What about businesses with more than one location?

The most notable environment for VoIP deployments remains with the connection of multiple offices through data connections creating a transparent environment between the users. The use of a single receptionist to handle all calls in a multiple location environment reduces overall operation costs. The common challenge that a VoIP phone system can resolve is the effective management of remote users by giving access to all of the management tools available internally. The elimination of toll charges between locations is another benefit when deploying a VoIP phone system.

When effectively deployed with an existing data infrastructure, a VoIP phone system is the most practical foundation for businesses looking to converge their voice and data applications. Clearly, VoIP is quickly becoming the standard for cutting edge businesses and, when coupled with a technology that can save and make money, the implementation justifies the means.

Jose Zamora is a senior IT technician at ATW Management Inc. Reach him at sales@atwonline.net or (281) 931-8400.

Published in Houston
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