Randy Wear

Tuesday, 21 December 2004 10:40

Errors and inefficiencies

An underlying theme in any business is keeping costs at a minimum in order to spur growth and increase the bottom line.

As companies attempt to streamline their costs, an area that frequently gets overlooked is telecommunications. This critical function of an organization is oftentimes plagued with errors and inefficiencies, especially if it has not been given the proper attention.

Problems include not knowing what services you have, who is providing the service, how much you're paying and whether you're paying too much. Recognizing whether or not you have a problem is a difficult task. However, there is a unique tool that companies can take advantage of to fully understand their current telecommunications environment.

Just as a retail store takes an inventory of what products are on their shelves, companies need to do an inventory of their telecommunication services. Conducting a telecom service inventory enables you to proactively manage your telecom environment so you know where every penny is going and the value you're receiving in return.

It's easy for unnecessary services -- which in most instances go unused or provide little value -- to creep into your telecommunications mix. A telecom service inventory gives you a 360 degree view so you can accurately gauge your situation, determine whether service changes need to be made and whether it's feasible to reduce costs.

A telecom service inventory is essentially an analysis of where a company's telecommunications infrastructure is today and what modifications can be made to improve the organization tomorrow. There are a number of items that should be covered in a telecom service inventory by a leading telecommunications provider to uncover errors or inefficiencies.

Below are a few key components.

* Location inventory. An analysis of voice, data, and video services by location

* Line inventory. A complete inventory of all voice lines

* Cost distribution by service Type. Cost breakdown by voice, wireless, and data services

* Vendor distribution. Cost breakdown by telecommunications vendor or carrier

* Rate plan report. Identification of each rate plan by usage per user

* Contract plan. An inventory of service pricing versus invoice pricing to determine accuracy

* Wireless report. A breakdown of wireless users by number

The end result of gathering this information is to help those individuals responsible for their company's telecom environment to make educated decisions about what they actually need. Additionally, the data enables them to more effectively manage adds, moves or changes to equipment and services as their company expands. It basically puts users in control of their services, which, properly managed, can reduce costs and save significant amounts of money.

Worry about whether you're being billed correctly or utilizing your system to full capacity will go away once you engage a telecommunications provider that can perform a telecom service inventory. Once completed, you will know what services you're paying for, their true costs and the value they're delivering to your organization.

In order to survive in today's business environment, you must find ways to increase profitability, improve productivity and obtain a competitive advantage A telecom service inventory provides you with some additional help to achieve this objective.

Randy Wear is president of Decision Systems Plus Inc., a member of the Technology Assurance Group (TAG). DSP provides computer and telephone technology infrastructure sales and support nationwide, to increase client's productivity and profitability. Reach him at rwear@dspi.com or (847) 544-5818.

Tuesday, 27 April 2004 14:09

Affordable investments

Have you wanted to make an investment in technology but not had the resources?

Well, now you can, thanks to a relatively new tax deduction that was signed into law last year. The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 is stimulating technology sales and encouraging companies of all sizes to make considerable investments that they've wanted to make for years.

If you haven't heard of this provision in the law, you're not alone. Section 179 of the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act was specifically designed to give businesses the ability to increase their spending on new equipment and generate growth in order to stimulate the economy. The amount of investment that may be immediately deducted by small to medium-sized businesses increased dramatically, from $25,000 to a whopping $100,000.

This means that a company can purchase new technology and expense $100,000 from the total cost in the year it is purchased. Deductions can be taken on new technology, machinery, equipment, telecommunications infrastructure, transportation equipment and furniture. Additionally, the definition of property for Section 179 now includes off-the-shelf computer software.

The amount of investment qualifying for the immediate deduction begins to phase out for investments of between $400,000 to $500,000, and will be indexed for inflation in 2004 and 2005. Companies need to take advantage of it now because the deduction is only good through Dec. 31, 2005, and could change any time after that.

There are other benefits designed to encourage new spending. Section 179 also increased the first-year bonus depreciation deduction from 30 percent to 50 percent for investments acquired and placed in service after May 5, 2003, and before Jan. 1, 2005. This is a one-time deduction of 50 percent of the cost of the investment in the year of the purchase. There is no limit on this deduction.

Businesses are getting a tremendous push with these changes. The law is quadrupling expensing deductions and almost doubling first-year bonus depreciation. Companies that are aware of the deductions are scrambling to ensure they are taking the appropriate steps because it means hard dollars going directly to their bottom line. Surprisingly, many business owners have either never heard of the law or don't know how to take advantage of it. Educating business owners on this powerful act is a slow process, but one that can truly benefit their companies.

There has never been a better time to make an investment in your business. For example, most organizations haven't made any changes to their telecommunications systems during the last five or six years. Much has changed in technology over that time, such as the development of Voice over IP (VoIP), speech-enabled technology, call accounting and Web data conferencing. These are examples of new technology that could make your company the dominant player in your marketplace.

Consult with your tax adviser to see how the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act's tax savings opportunities apply in your situation. Making a new investment will give you a competitive edge and increase your profitability.

Randy Wear (rwear@dspi.com) is president of Decision Systems Plus Inc., a member of the Technology Assurance Group (TAG). It provides voice, data,and convergence solutions that are based on integrated, open systems that work with a variety of organizational and technology environments and structures. Reach him at (847) 699-9960.

Thursday, 18 December 2003 05:19

CTI is changing business

The setting is a company's order department. The phone rings, and as the call is routed to a customer service agent, the incoming telephone number is computer-matched with its customer database.

The caller's personal data and buying history are matched onto the agent's screen, along with a sales script and an order entry form. When the agent answers, the customer is greeted by name and account data is at the ready, all within the few seconds it took to answer the call.

Welcome to the world of CTI -- Computer Telephony Integration. CTI represents one of the most far-reaching technology trends in today's sophisticated world of communications. Described as the dynamic interaction (a "tie-in") of computers and telephone systems, CTI is changing how businesses use their telephones and computers.

CTI extends beyond the functional integration of computing and telephony. It incorporates a seamless convergence of computing and telecommunications at all levels -- the desktop, the work group, the enterprise and beyond. And while it represents the primary communications medium in people-to-people interaction, it can enhance the the way people naturally communicate with the addition of text, video and graphic elements.

CTI allows the transaction processing and the business support processes associated with computers to be connected with the voice communication services needed for personal interaction. The result is the interaction of the "people" aspects of the business with the process support technology infrastructure.

The potential benefits of CTI go beyond call center applications. Sales departments can optimize selling time by using automatic dialing from a prospect database. A sales representative is connected only when a prospect picks up the telephone.

While making the sales presentation, the rep builds a customer profile. The newly-created database entry can be forwarded to a retailer or used to mail literature or create a call-back directory for follow-up.

The telephone conference call can be dramatically enhanced with the ability to deliver text, graphics and video with voice communication. Team members can share information from various databases, exchange ideas and collaborate effectively from a variety of locations, all in real time.

Additionally, for corporate road warriors, being out of the office no longer means being out of touch with customer contact information and resources. With a simple phone call at any time, business travelers can access messages, customer databases and time-critical information.

One of the ideal opportunities for CTI is when people can be given (or get) information over the phone, the information is stored in a computer, the task is repetitive and a human is involved in getting the information and relaying it. CTI can perform this task 24 hours a day without any personnel required. Examples are the way you can interact with a credit card company or an airline -- to get/make payments, check schedules and make changes, all without requiring an employee to handle the call.

Here is a checklist for companies considering the implementation of today's sophisticated CTI systems. Companies should complete the checklist using input from their user groups or departments being considered for CTI. n ideal candidate will score hits on several factors in each of the three categories.

Organizational Needs:

* Increasing customer service

* Reducing response time

* Greater support for off-site and mobile staff

* Increasing customer retention

* Reducing human error

* Increasing telemarketing effectiveness

* Improving overall productivity

Workplace Characteristics:

* Staff directly dedicated to customer process

* Staff grouped by departments, work group or project teams

* Telephone on desk

* File, print and other servers are on your network

* Information is accessible by computer

* Toll-free number or other phone company/network services

* Company phone numbers published in advertising and literature

* Single or multiple locations

* Voice mail

CTI Expectations and Corporate Fit:

* CTI will be treated as a strategic resource, not a cost-savings tool

* CTI will become an important management process

* CTI data will be used to improve or influence products and processes

* CTI will not be viewed as a personnel replacement tool, but as a productivity enhancement.

Where the criteria are met, the results are usually dramatic. Paybacks have been as little as a few months.

Randy Wear (rwear@dspi.com) is president of Decision Systems Plus Inc., a member of the Technology Assurance Group (TAG). It provides voice, data, and convergence solutions that are based on integrated, open systems that work with a variety of organizational and technology environments and structures. Reach Randy at (847) 699-9960.

Friday, 31 October 2003 07:26

Getting the buzz

Making decisions about adopting the latest technology and acquiring tools that will enable an easy transition to future enhancements are critical to the survival of any business.

VOIP, Voice Over Internet Protocol, has the potential to revolutionize the way we communicate. VOIP is the process of converting voice signals into data packets, using Internet Protocol (IP) to transmit voice over a data network, which could be a private network or the Internet.

To successfully implement VOIP and reap its benefits, you must take appropriate steps. The move into VOIP is driven by the desire to get enhanced business communications and reduce the total cost of network operations.

The benefits of utilizing IP telephony include cost savings on long distance charges and a seamless phone system among multiple offices and remote workers. Businesses that have a data connection between offices can utilize VOIP technology to bypass long distance networks and provide more efficient communications.

In a traditional setting, someone dialed the phone number to a branch office, possibly paying a long distance charge for the call, waited for a receptionist or automated system to answer, then was connected to the party they were trying to reach. Using VOIP, a person can simply dial an extension number and be connected immediately to a party in another office -- across town or around the world -- saving money and increasing productivity.

Another benefit is in the design of many IP-based telephone systems. Rather than traditional phone systems with their own wiring infrastructure, IP-based systems use a data network infrastructure. This convergence of voice and data into a single platform simplifies the administration of the communications network.

A third benefit is the ability to have remote phones with a single telephone number. For example, an employee could work out of his or her home in New York, utilizing a phone number with a California area code. This enables corporations to take advantage of having a virtual office or remote agents working out of a variety of locations.

Here are some steps to get started.

* Ask, "What am I trying to accomplish?" Tie your business objectives to the benefits of VOIP. Will this technology help you achieve your goals?

* Adopt this mission statement: "Technology should help my business become more profitable and gain a competitive edge." Determine whether VOIP will do this for your company. If it does, it probably justifies your investment.

* Understand all the implications of utilizing the technology in your company. Will you have to upgrade your connection between sites or teleworkers? Will you have to enhance your cabling, network, server or ethernet switches to handle the demands of the system? How will support and maintenance be handled?

* Find a solution that is sized for your company. A system that is meant for companies much larger or smaller than yours should not be considered.

* Determine whether to implement a system that will give you full VOIP capability today or one that has can be upgraded. Your company may not be ready to take advantage of IP telephony, but it may make sense to install a system that will give you VOIP when you're ready.

Adopting new technology can be both exciting and challenging. Whether you're ready to make a full transition to VOIP or just want the capability for the future, this technology has the potential of reducing your costs, increasing profitability and giving you a competitive advantage in your marketplace.

By taking the appropriate steps and selecting the right telecommunications provider to help you, your company has a good chance of experiencing immediate returns. If you don't take these steps or choose the right provider, you could be wasting valuable time and money. Randy Wear (rwear@dspi.com) is president of Decision Systems Plus Inc., a member of the Technology Assurance Group (TAG). It provides voice, data and convergence solutions based on integrated, open systems that work with a variety of organizational and technology environments and structures. Reach him at (847) 699-9960.

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