How to integrate voice, data and network to obtain a competitive edge

Matt Ziebro, executive vice president of sales, PowerNet Global

Although the Internet has made everything move faster, voice communication is still a vital part of doing business.

Today’s Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology enables companies to make changes to their calling systems much faster and more economically than they were able to in the past. In addition, early problems with quality have been addressed, says Matt Ziebro, executive vice president of sales at PowerNet Global.

“Companies may need to scale up or down depending on client requirements, seasonal factors, campaigns, election cycles and economics,” says Ziebro. “Today’s VoIP solutions enable them to be nimble.”

A triple whammy of sorts has made the time ripe for companies to pursue VoIP solutions. The economic downturn, which began in 2007, hit the telecom industry hard, and carriers began raising rates. In addition, there were no new technologies being introduced to lower costs.

At the same time, companies became very margin conscious.

“Infrastructure costs to support networks became an issue,” says Ziebro. “General contraction and a need to stay profitable to shareholders started forcing change. If a carrier sent you a rate increase, you had to increase your costs, suffer lower margins, or go out of business. So costs have been a big driver in the move to VoIP.”

Smart Business spoke with Ziebro about how company call centers can integrate voice, data and network to reduce their costs and obtain a competitive advantage.

What trends are happening today with call center operations?

A call center may need to deploy rather quickly. There may be seasonal issues or an organization may need to rev up for a campaign. The operations need to be flexible, insulated against price increases and capable of weathering the ups and downs of a turbulent economy.

Why should a company integrate voice, data and network?

You have to be able to plan for things that you don’t know are going to happen. An event could occur that requires you to mobilize and talk to customers, prospects, or supporters, increasing your voice usage in a given month or months. Companies can use and leverage VoIP technologies very quickly, and if the business expands, you can simply increase bandwidth.

The flexibility of VoIP affords you the ability to make additions and cutbacks as needed. All you have to do is add a data circuit to your network that enables you to send and receive calls. You can also purchase integrated services over the cloud and the  technology enables you to establish a call center wherever you choose.

Does a company have to change over from its old system all at once?

Companies that have invested in traditional copper voice lines may be opposed to ripping it all out and bringing in something new, but you don’t have to invest in all new technology right off the bat. If you don’t want to do a full conversion, you can go halfway. There are inexpensive routers and gateways available that enable the conversion of voice lines to VoIP. This inexpensive solution lets you try the technology before going all in. It gives you the pseudo benefit of integrated voice, data and network, and serves as a nice entry into a full conversion over time.

How quickly can a company be up and running with VoIP?

If a company’s technology is already Internet Protocol-enabled, it can be up and running with an integrated VoIP system in less than 24 hours. If it is not yet IP-enabled, the vendor can supply a router, configure it and ship it to the company for plug-and-play installation. In that scenario, the company would be up and running in about one week, versus the 30 business days required in the past for traditional copper wire voice connections.

Are there any drawbacks to VoIP?

There were many early issues with quality, but these have been addressed. Early adopters had issues with the network itself. The technology that enabled turning voice into digital packets was fine; it was more of an issue with early equipment.

Equipment needs to be able to distinguish between voice and data packets. You can’t slow voice, so voice trumped data. Today, the voice packet processing is much improved, as is the data transmission. Carriers have invested heavily in fiber optic networks that are far better than the old copper wire systems. In addition, the Internet is more streamlined now.

What should a company look for in a solutions provider?

Reputation is critical. In this business, realistically, any company with three people can flip a switch and be in business tomorrow. Look for longevity, for a company that has found and fixed the bugs. Identifying a company that knows how to fix problems is important because challenges will arise.

Look at the platform you’ll be utilizing. Does the vendor have the capacity to handle the traffic? Does it have relationships with carriers? Does it have a billing platform that enables you to see your usage reports and metrics quickly?

In addition, look at its references, what the industry says about it and how much time and effort it has invested in the company.

MATT ZIEBRO is executive vice president of sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 813-9455.