The use of cloud computing is surging in the business world. Against such a backdrop it only makes sense that companies would want to emulate this model with their phone services — that is, make themselves available no matter their location. While traditional phone services have been slow to respond to the requests, VoIP providers are jumping at the opportunity.

“Telecommunications is a 100-year-old technology,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “Things have changed, and now it’s more important than ever for customers to get through to businesses quickly and effectively.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about how innovation is reshaping the telecommunications landscape and why it’s so important to always be available to customers.

How is innovation changing the telecommunications landscape?

Businesses are looking for different characteristics associated with their phone system that will help set themselves apart from their competitors. This goes beyond just having a business phone system designed to answer calls or put people in voice mail. In terms of innovation, these can be simple changes or complex changes — it depends on what the business is looking for.

How are companies integrating their telecommunication features into their business model?

Cloud computing is becoming very popular. People are pushing their data away from their facility so it is available anywhere. However, they haven’t done this with their phone system because of traditional phone service capabilities. This is starting to change. Now, instead of being subject to the capabilities of a phone system, businesses are dictating how they want to communicate with their customers.

Why is it so important to be readily accessible to customers?

Customers have short attention spans, and they want to be served quickly. They don’t have the time to leave a voice mail message and wait for someone to respond a half-day later or the next business day.

Much like the traditional way of finding a business in the Yellow Pages, if the first company didn’t answer, you’d simply call another one. A lot of consumers are doing that now because time is money. If they can’t immediately reach the person that they want to talk to, they will move on. You don’t want that to happen to your business.

How is VoIP helping incubated businesses that are not as moveable as they might think?

Business incubators are starting to crop up all over the place. Such entities support the development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services. When the companies grow and need to move out of the incubator, they realize that they can’t easily take the phone number that they’ve been using to conduct their business transactions.

Now VoIP providers are working with incubators to provide VoIP services that can be moved quickly and easily with a business when it’s ready to graduate from an incubator and expand its footprint.

Why is reducing system duplication becoming such a big trend?

Reducing system duplication is particularly popular with businesses that have multiple locations. When such businesses start pushing data out to the cloud and they are remotely accessing the information, they realize that every facility they own doesn’t need a server or duplication of other resources like phone systems.

It makes sense for these businesses to have centralized communications. Everyone accessing the phone system can share centralized voice mail and four-digit dialing between locations. Not only does this make sense economically, but also from a unity standpoint in terms of a single telecommunications presence.

Alex Desberg is ales and marketing director at Ohio.net. Reach him at adesberg@ohio.net.

To find out more about Ohio.net’s VoIP solutions, visit www.ohio.net.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

Published in Cleveland

We’ve all been there before. A call that should take mere seconds extends 10 minutes or more because of an aggravating and antiquated phone system that fails to connect you to the proper party or does not notify the person who you are trying to reach.

There are ways to improve customer service simply by updating technology and making the switch to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Some businesses are using automated systems to improve screening, routing and transitions to the right professional, while others are using VoIP to ensure a more personal touch. Neither way is wrong. The important thing is that customers aren’t left on the phone fuming.

“With VoIP you can choose between the two extremes; you can make it very personable or leverage technology for maximum efficiency,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about how VoIP can enhance customer service, improvements on the horizon and the importance of customization.

How can VoIP services help enhance customer service?

Customer service takes so many different forms — it ranges from one extreme to another. Some companies, typically smaller businesses, believe that good customer service requires every incoming call be answered live, and they strive for one-call support. On the flip side, larger organizations want to make sure that technology is in place so the customer can reach the person or department that he or she wants to speak with. This can take the form of auto attendants or dial-by-name directories. VoIP allows large businesses to maximize efficiency and small businesses to add layers to their phone systems, both of which enhance the customer service experience.

What VoIP changes and improvements are on the horizon that will help companies connect with their customers?

First, it’s important to note that companies can keep the current technologies they have in place, such as an inbound dialing system, while moving into the VoIP realm. New technologies on the horizon include virtual PBX systems that will allow more hands-on control and management. Virtual PBX, a private branch exchange phone system offered as a hosted service, can be a very useful tool for marketing efforts. With this system, you can direct people to call the store they are most likely to shop at rather than a call center, where they will have to be redirected.

How can companies identify the right size for their VoIP configuration?

This boils down to picking the right technologies for your mode of communications. I recently worked with a midsize company that has multiple locations in various communities. It’s extremely important for this business that when someone calls them they are connected to the correct office. They don’t want their customers to get shuffled around or transferred to the wrong extension. The system they now have in place allows their customers to call a local number that supports the local office, while from a grand-scheme perspective, they are able to manage their telecommunications under one large phone system so there is four-digit dialing and no long distance between offices.

How can companies customize their VoIP system to improve customer service?

Once you move out of the traditional analog phone world, you can start using a mix-and-match platform. For example, if you determine that you need specialized services for a regional or remote location, it’s possible to incorporate a virtual PBX system into your VoIP solution. This allows you to keep adding bits and pieces to the existing platform under the management of a single supplier. Internally, a person handling a VoIP call might notice a difference with the phone, but customers will have a seamless experience — they will simply reach the person who can serve them best.

Alex Desberg is sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. Reach him at adesberg@ohio.net.

Visit www.ohio.net for a list of educational seminars.

Insights telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net.

Published in Akron/Canton

As Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) matures, a growing number of businesses are making the switch from traditional phone services to Internet-based services.

When looking for a VoIP provider it is important to seek a company on the forefront of technology that can serve as a trusted adviser.

“Businesses are looking for flexibility, reporting functions and a provider that has its best interests at heart — someone who can help them recognize current trends and provide true consultative services,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about the latest VoIP trends, the importance of adaptability and the re-emergence of user-friendly phone systems.

What are the trends for new or growth companies?

Organizations are creating subgroups within themselves for different lines of business.

The best way to illustrate this is to think of a holding company with smaller companies underneath — they want a division within their organization and they are using a phone system to create this impression.

For example, a publishing company might have a traditional publishing arm and an electronic publishing arm. By setting up different VoIP phone routes within their organization, they are able to have different pods even though they are all just part of a greater whole.

With this model, if a customer needs to reach the electronic publishing division he or she doesn’t have to go through the traditional publishing arm’s receptionist and get re-routed, he or she is directly reaching the people that he or she wants to talk to.

Why is VoIP a good fit for companies that are start-up, virtual, experiencing growth or changing their structure?

There has been an insurgence in the number of businesses turning to VoIP solutions that are either start-ups or changing their structure away from the brick and mortar model to a virtual model.

Some change so they can gain the advantage of having a new phone system with new capabilities. Others make the change so they can segment various parts of their business operations.

Either way, they are able to present a new look, sound and feel when they are communicating with their customers.

How important is a phone system’s adaptability for a company in transition?

A good VoIP system can almost serve as a marketing tool for a business. Companies want to know how their phone system can adapt to changes in their customers’ desires to communicate.

For example, VoIP offers custom reporting tools so management can track how customers react to different messages.

If needed, the system that drives communication can be adjusted in order to ensure optimal customer satisfaction.

What features are businesses looking for today?

There has been a huge shift back toward the importance of talking to a live person.

Bringing the customer closer to the person that they really want to talk to is paramount in the business world today.

Businesses want to make sure that their customers aren’t on hold for extended periods of time and that they don’t have to go through voice mail hell.

Advances in telecom technology should not be used to create barriers between a business and its customers — they should bring them closer together.

Alex Desberg is sales and marketing director for Ohio.net. Reach him at adesberg@ohio.net

For a list of educational seminars, follow this link.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

Published in Cleveland

As Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has entered the mainstream, most businesses are aware of its primary benefits: cost savings, ease of use and flexibility. There are also many customizable features that can pay dividends quickly.

When looking for a VoIP provider, it’s important to ask how services have been upgraded over the past year or so. You want to work with a provider that is adapting to the current business landscape and can tailor services to meet your needs.

“If they are selling a standard, proprietary system that hasn’t improved, they are using off-the-shelf technology and you won’t be able to receive tweaks or necessary upgrades when you need them,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about using VoIP for integrated marketing efforts, the importance of portability and the move toward virtualization.

What are some of the things that make VoIP an attractive option?

When we demonstrate what our services can do during the demo stage, clients often have an ‘aha’ moment when they see a characteristic that enables them to do their job better. One of the major attributes is timely reporting of how phone systems are being used. Businesses can take a look at an entire day’s worth of calling and examine how employees and customers are using the phone system.

Retail customers can incorporate this knowledge to integrate marketing into their phone service. For example, car dealerships want to know where their customers heard about them, what they’re inquiring about and when activity is the highest. Traditionally, the dealership would have to wait until the end of the month to get a full, detailed report of the calling patterns.

Many car dealerships use custom phone numbers based on the marketing outlet — a newspaper ad is assigned one phone number and a radio ad is assigned another. With VoIP, they can see who called what phone number and what time they called almost instantaneously. Let’s say the dealership ran a morning drive commercial on radio and it received calls from 9 a.m. to noon on Monday. This is a pretty strong indicator that people are responding to the radio ad rather than the print ad, which doesn’t appear until Wednesday. The business is able to see a payoff in its advertising, which makes for good marketing decisions.

What are some of the overlooked capabilities that VoIP has to offer?

One of the most overlooked aspects is having the freedom of not being tied to a specific geographic location. Sometimes we forget that VoIP-hosted phones can be unplugged and transported to any area with power and Internet access.

Recently, we worked with a customer that wanted to reduce overhead costs by moving into a smaller office space. The business was concerned because it had a number of employees who performed vital functions, but couldn’t be accommodated with the new layout. We helped the company realize that their customer service people could work from home as flexible telecommuters because they didn’t need traditional office infrastructure to do their job. The client was able to reduce its office size, which reduced its overhead. Its employees love the freedom to work out of their home offices and they still do their jobs well.

What impact have customer requests had on the services you offer?

Customers constantly ask about smartphone integration. A new service allows a cellphone and a desk phone to work together as a single extension. In the past, VoIP users had the ability to have calls directed to their desk phones forwarded to their cellphones. Now, a third-party application has been incorporated that allows customers to receive calls simultaneously on their desk phones and cellphones.

What’s next with VoIP?

So many customers are going virtual with their phone and computer systems. With virtualization, no one will have a static desk anymore. Everything will be travelling with you, whether it’s an iPad and a cellphone, or hoteling, where you sit down at anybody’s desk, log in as yourself and all of your services come to that desk. This releases you from a single piece of equipment and enables you to access what you need wherever you are.

Alex Desberg is the sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. Reach him at adesberg@ohio.net.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

 

Published in Akron/Canton

Over the past decade, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has become increasingly popular. While the digital revolution has allowed businesses of all sizes to become more efficient, there can be unanticipated problems.

For example, fax machines were originally designed for use over analog-based telephone lines. Attempting to use an older fax machine with an all-digital phone system can be problematic.

The key, says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net, is to embrace change.

“You have to evaluate how change affects your business,” he says. “Change comes with a little pain, and with pain comes new solutions.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about converting to VoIP, questions to ask when making the switch and the importance of conducting a tabletop scenario.

What are some of the biggest struggles for a business when converting to VoIP?

We find that businesses are very happy to convert their traditional phone systems to a hosted VoIP product. What they often don’t realize, however, is how many things within their organization depend on traditional phone line communications. First and foremost are fax machines; fax technology and VoIP don’t normally mix very well. There are a couple of solutions, however. We can help a business completely transition to a paperless technology where they are able to receive faxes through email or desktops and get rid of their old fax machines. Or, we can implement a technology that integrates the traditional fax machine in a device that ‘pretends’ it is a phone line designed for a fax. This fakes out the traditional fax machine into thinking it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing, when it’s actually being converted into a digital format.

What questions should a business ask its service provider when making the switch to VoIP?

During the discovery process we ask our clients what might not function if we took all of their phone lines away. The common responses are that the fax machine and credit card processing machines would not work. Sometimes, there are other systems aligned with the phone lines that aren’t closely associated with the network. For example, we recently came up with a solution for one of our clients for their postage meter. Other things we’ve encountered are fire alarms and security systems running on phone lines. These are the important things we need to be discussing to make sure that when the conversion happens, organizations don’t lose technologies that are important to the function or safety of their business.

What should a business consider when replacing an aging system?

Aging systems tend to have Band-Aid products in place. When you get rid of a legacy phone system, the Band-Aids are exposed. For example, there are still businesses that require remote access to equipment such as dial-up modems. When you take away the phone system there will be hiccups. Another example is door access systems. Traditionally, an access control system works in conjunction with a phone system — you dial an intercom number and somebody on the other end picks up their desk phone and talks to you. When the phone system is being replaced, how do you get the door access system to work? You may either need a VoIP solution or new Band-Aid product in place.

Why is it important to do a tabletop scenario that covers all forms of technology when replacing phone lines and systems?

In addition to talking about phone lines, it’s also important to talk about disaster recovery. How is a business impacted by a loss of power, loss of Internet communication or a situation where they can’t even get into their building? Tabletop scenarios are a part of risk analysis, but unfortunately most businesses don’t conduct them often enough. When conducting a tabletop scenario it’s important to have a risk analysis professional or a technology professional to walk you through the different scenarios.

Alex Desberg is the sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. Reach him at adesberg@ohio.net.

 

Event: Join Ohio.net for a free technology seminar on March 28, 2013 at TechColumbus. Visit www.ohio.net/events for more information.

 

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

 

Published in Cleveland

Traditional desktop phones are on the way out, as companies discover that unified communications software now provides additional and more convenient ways to communicate and share messages with employees and clients.

“When Voice over Internal Protocol (VoIP) was introduced, many capabilities were promised. With the recent uptick in real-time communication services — instant messaging (IM), presence information, video conferencing, speech recognition, etc. — being used in conjunction with non-real-time communication — voicemail, email and fax, we’re finally seeing some of those capabilities being implemented and the promises of VoIP finally being delivered,” says Jeff Beller, IT and telecom consultant with Skoda Minotti Technology Partners.

Smart Business spoke with Beller about unified communications and how it enables companies to be more efficient.

What is meant by unified communications?

Unified communications has evolved to now deliver more fully on the promises of VoIP — to streamline communications so as to accelerate it, extend its reach and afford efficient means of collaboration. Recent advances in presence and mobility technologies have made it more useful.

Unified communications is software that brings different communication into a single user interface. The software provides presence, voice, IM, ad hoc collaboration — audio or video, and online meeting capabilities — all viewed, monitored, initiated and controlled via a single unifying application. All communication modes are connected so that workers and clients are able to get help at that moment in time.

As a comparison, only 20 to 30 percent of calls are answered when using more traditional services, with most calls going to voicemail. The phone tag scenario and, ‘I’m not available, please leave a message,’ won’t differentiate you from the competition.

What equipment is needed?

You need a VoIP-enabled phone system. The software application can run on your desktop, smartphone or tablet so it’s not only unifying communications, but also the various devices. Your smartphone turns into an office desk phone, and when you leave the office, a caller automatically reaches you. It’s not call forwarding; it behaves like your office desk phone with the same number and controls like transferring or conferencing.

Manufacturers that offer VoIP also have unified communications applications (chat, presence information, etc.), or you can use a third-party application, like Microsoft Lync, with those VoIP systems. Have a needs and readiness assessment performed to learn what your needs are, understand what is out there and then decide what works best. It’s best to work with a consultant who can demonstrate different manufacturers and technologies, rather than just one offering.

How does ‘presence’ work?

Presence makes communications more efficient by mining data in your Outlook calendar and, when you’re unavailable, switching availability off for your instant messenger or phone system. It can tell how you’d prefer to be reached or who to contact in your absence. Also, if there’s no keyboard activity for 15 minutes, others can see you’re likely not at your desk. This information populates a dashboard in the unified communications interface that also controls calling, instant messaging and conferencing.

The real-time display of intelligent presence information, combined with mobility, really benefits a receptionist, who can direct the caller to the right person almost instantly. Fewer calls go to voicemail, so clients are served better. Similarly, field service staff can communicate with co-workers more efficiently to solve problems faster and provide better customer service.

What’s the future of unified communications?

The need for a desk phone will become less as workers acclimate to using unified communications software on their desktops. Presence technology also will improve with multiple datapoint mining for instant assessment of communication states. As this state becomes more granular and meaningful, it drives ‘smart’ communication routing. And, as ‘always-on-and-always-connected’ mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) are integrated into the corporate network infrastructure, the use and significance of desk phones will dissipate.

Jeff Beller is an IT and telecom consultant with Skoda Minotti Technology Partners. Reach him at (440) 449-6800 or jbeller@skodaminotti.com.

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by Skoda Minotti

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 31 December 2012 20:48

How to effectively implement VoIP solutions

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is changing the way businesses communicate. By converging traditional voice and data services on a single platform, VoIP lowers operating costs and provides greater efficiencies than traditional phone systems.

A good VoIP provider can build a customized system to meet your needs and is willing to let you test new features to see if it makes sense for your business.

“In the world of VoIP it is easy to try something on a trial basis to see if it will work for your organization,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “If your provider is unwilling to let you kick the tires without a long-term contract you might want to look at finding a new provider.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about VoIP, the importance of gathering employee feedback and the dangers of choosing flash over function.

How are companies wasting time and money using traditional phone systems?

We often hear clients utter the phrase, ‘We would like one throat to choke,’ meaning it would be nice to have one service provider handle everything. When you have multiple providers for services that work together like the Internet and phone, a lot of time can be wasted trying to track down the right person if a problem arises. We’ve also found that many organizations have taken on the responsibility of managing their phone system themselves. Because they are not experts in the field they tend to Band-Aid problems rather than having a telephone professional properly address options for improved customer service and long-term efficiencies.

How should a phone system serve a company and its customers?

A phone system must be a conduit of communication. It should be designed to deliver the customer to the solution they need. Any complication, ranging from difficulty dialing the number to being unable to speak to the person they are seeking, adversely impacts a customer’s experience. Whether it is a retail customer, a professional services company or a manufacturer, the idea is there should be one-call closure. Hosted phone systems have the ability to deliver the customer to directly what they need, if engineered properly.

Why should the correct personnel make decisions about hosted phone systems?

The role of managing phone systems is falling on two people these days: the office manager and the IT professional. The office manager doesn’t necessarily know much about technology, but they know how the business operates. IT professionals know how data works and what type of technologies work for a business, but they might not know how to apply phone technologies. By interfacing with office managers and IT personnel, we can quickly learn what works best for the organization and which features should be added to a new phone system.

If your customers are not reaching the right people on a regular basis it’s important to investigate. For example, I was with a prospective customer the other day and we talked for an hour about the advantages of changing their phone system. After the meeting I asked the receptionist about her thoughts. I discovered that if a customer called on the company’s second line, all of the lines rang busy. Nobody at the top level realized this because they never solicited information from their employees. Often businesses have meetings about cash flow and other financial principles, but they forget about discussing operations.

How important a role does technology play in communications?

It’s not necessarily the technology that’s important, it’s the function. You could have the most feature-rich, complicated phone system on the face of the earth, but if it doesn’t serve the needs of your customer then it has no value. There are a lot of bells and whistles and whiz-bang technologies out there that might not help your business. When choosing the right technology, start with what the company needs. It’s important that your provider uses a consumer-centric approach. After all, it’s impossible to tell a business what they should buy without knowing what they need.

Alex Desberg is sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

Published in Columbus
Friday, 30 November 2012 21:09

How VoIP has progressed since its infancy

In today’s business climate, people want the convenience of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), in which employees use their personal mobile devices to access company resources such as email, file servers and databases. VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is also a part of the BYOD movement.

“People want their voice to follow their devices,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “To meet this demand, VoIP providers are looking at assimilating voice and video, integrating tablets with phone systems and running different types of voice applications.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about how technology has improved VoIP capabilities, how it can help keep a business up and running in the event of a disaster, and the cost savings associated with this phone service.

How has VoIP availability expanded in recent years?

In the early days of VoIP, providers installed their own networks and used their own facilities to port numbers and bring services to new areas. In essence, providers shouldered the responsibility for creating an infrastructure.

As the product has matured and more services have become available, carriers and other telephone companies now port numbers for providers into remote service areas. It has become far easier for providers to deploy services in places where, previously, there was no availability.

How has technology improved VoIP capabilities?

VoIP came on to the scene about seven years ago. As it has become more accepted and heavily used, the software programming has become much more refined. The code has been tightened, which allows for better networking and compatibility with different devices. As with any technology, the more it is used and the more it becomes accepted, the less expensive it becomes to maintain and operate, and the easier it is to deploy.

Why is VoIP ideal for disaster recovery?

With Hurricane Sandy dominating the news, disaster recovery is a hot topic. Businesses are making sure that they back up their data and have alternative points of access so they can keep their companies up and running if there is a catastrophe. Unfortunately, many businesses fail to include a plan for their phone system when preparing for a disaster.

A common misconception is that an organization can simply rely on cell phones if its phone system is down. In reality, a business cannot operate at full strength when its communications system is down for an extended period of time.

With VoIP, businesses can be prepared for a disaster by having their provider host their phone system. This enables organizations to run seamlessly in the event of a calamity and carry on business as normal.

Customers and suppliers won’t even realize that your business model has changed and that you have switched to disaster recovery mode.

How can telecom costs be contained with VoIP?

Usually, as new technologies emerge, a service becomes cheaper and easier to deploy. However, when it comes to traditional telephone services, this has not been the case. People have requested new features for their phones and those have been accompanied by exponential increases in cost. The biggest costs associated with traditional phone systems are adding new features and the monthly service fees that accompany those.

VoIP has taken a different approach. Providers have simplified the process of delivering a dial tone to phone systems and driven down the cost of monthly service. Also, VoIP serves as a fixed-cost model, and additions and changes are usually included as part of the package. You are not making another investment every time you need an upgrade to meet the demands of your business.

Finally, VoIP is a nonregulated product, so tariffs are not set by the FCC. This enables providers to be able to offer new services at whatever rate they choose.

How does VoIP compare to traditional phone service in terms of ease of management?

Oftentimes, management of a phone system falls to IT personnel. In other cases, there is a dedicated telecom professional whose sole responsibility is the upkeep of the phone system.

VoIP providers offer two options. First, they can take all of the management responsibilities away from an organization by adding a hosted provider and serving as a service provider, which includes adding and changing features, troubleshooting and training.

Second, they can change the level of management to provide a single point of contact. A business can take as much or as little responsibility for managing its phone system as it would like.

In what ways has the track record of VoIP improved over the years?

Customers have demanded improvement. If VoIP providers are going to offer cloud-based phone services, the quality has to be as good, if not better, than that of traditional phone companies. Good means dependable and reliable. Better means that VoIP providers need to offer features and services well beyond those of any regulated telephone company, and they must be ahead of the curve in terms of developing and deploying new offerings.

Alex Desberg is a 20-year veteran of launching and marketing Internet technology. Most of his technology tenure has been with regional and national providers. At Ohio.net, a wholly owned subsidiary of Doylestown Communications, Desberg has been the development spearhead of a mature VoIP product line designed for business application and brings his support and knowledge to the B2B environment.

Published in Columbus

If your business is looking for a better way to communicate, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) may be the answer. SIP, a signaling protocol, can improve voice and video over Internet Protocol, video conferencing and file transfers. And best of all, it can spell substantial savings for a business compared to traditional phone lines, says Anton Loon, director of enterprise sales at PowerNet Global.

“When a company uses SIP technology instead of traditional phone lines, it can move much more quickly and at a lower cost,” Loon says. “SIP solutions are available for businesses of all sizes, from a small company that needs only one line with local and long distance for about $20 per month, all the way to corporations that have large call centers that operate 24/7.”

Smart Business spoke with Loon about how companies might benefit from implementing a SIP solution.

What is the primary difference between a SIP solution and traditional call routing?

A traditional time-division multiplexing (TDM) system uses physical switches to route calls. SIP uses IP routing, which provides a company’s employees with a much easier way to connect with each other, as well as the outside world.

SIP is not a new technology, so why have companies only recently begun to adopt it? 

In 1994, IT managers knew that ‘AT&T worked’ in the telecom industry. If a business switched to another company and there were mistakes as a result, that IT manager’s head was on the line.

It’s been the same with SIP over the last few years. IT directors and managers have been leery about making the switch to this technology because, as with most things in life, change is scary. However, the technology has now progressed to the point that the cost savings are just too good for a business to pass up.

How can SIP improve a corporation’s flexibility and efficiency?

In terms of flexibility, a business can have the service up and running within 24 hours of requesting it. For example, a construction company can add trailers to various job sites and have phone service at those sites within a day.

The same holds true if a business moves to a new location. With a traditional system, you would typically have to wait 30 to 45 days for the new phone lines to be operational.

With a SIP solution, you can move around and operate anywhere in the world. SIP also provides flexibility for call center operations, because you can launch a new operation within days. For businesses like telemarketing centers, this means you can start selling more quickly.

In terms of efficiency, choosing a SIP solution will eliminate the 30- to 45-day waiting period required to implement a TDM system, as well as all the time that is required to coordinate the effort between all parties.

What are the three most important things that companies need to know about SIP technology?

First, that it works. There is no reason to fear this technology.

Second, it’s scalable. This is important because it allows you to start small to test the waters in order to get comfortable with the technology. It also allows you to ramp up for a larger call volume at any given time without having to add equipment to handle the increase. For example, if you want to launch a new outbound calling campaign tomorrow, you can do that. It also goes the other way, in that you can cut back on the number of phone lines servicing your company if business slows down. There’s a misperception that SIP is fraught with quality issues, but that is not the case. In our experience, there are no more service tickets with SIP than there are with traditional TDM systems.

Finally, the technology is here to stay, and it will only get better and more robust as time goes on. Another common misconception about SIP is that it’s the future, but it’s not. It’s here now, and it’s not going anywhere.

How is SIP being used practically in businesses?

A good example is a company in the health care industry. Their patients have to call in to confirm appointments and get verification of their medications. Obviously, this is a critical operation. One company had a TDM system and was dealing with high costs and quality issues. Then it switched to a more cost-effective SIP solution with a redundant platform. Now if it has problems with one of its carriers, it can signal to another platform. In total, it can toggle back and forth among three platforms to avoid outages.

How can a SIP solution help companies better manage remote employees?

Remote employees have become more commonplace today — not just salespeople, but call center employees, as well. SIP solutions improve productivity by enabling remote workers to quickly and easily access the company network.

In addition, sophisticated reporting tools such as hosted PBX solutions are available that can help managers monitor the number of sales calls being made, to whom they are being made, when and at what cost per call.

Anton Loon is director of enterprise sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 764-7329.

Insights Technology is brought to you by PowerNet Global

Published in Cincinnati

Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, involves delivering voice telecommunication services across a network. Companies that utilize VoIP can realize significant telecom savings. Let’s say your business has offices in multiple geographic locations. With VoIP, you don’t need to duplicate efforts by having different carriers that charge different rates.

“VoIP is a great leveler because it’s geographically independent — the price doesn’t change based on where you’re employing it,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director for Ohio.net.

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about the cost savings that can be realized by utilizing VoIP, how to make a seamless transition, and what to look for in a provider.

How can you stretch your telecom dollars by utilizing VoIP?

Normally, when you have a traditional phone system, there is a maintenance agreement. Every time you need to do an add/move/change with the system, you are paying someone to do it, or someone on your staff is investing their time. In the world of VoIP, because it is a service model, adds/moves/changes are usually included as part of the package. With VoIP, maintenance of the system is removed from the equation, which can lead to significant cost and time savings.

Often, when people are looking to change their technology from traditional to VoIP, it’s because the nature of their business has changed and they need to get a new phone system that isn’t antiquated. With VoIP, there is far less equipment needed than there would be in replacing a traditional phone system. In the past, if you needed to replace or upgrade a phone system, you were looking at software, someone to come out and do the installation, and possible hardware to update the system. With VoIP, all you’re buying is a VoIP phone so the costs are much less.

Also, VoIP services can be cyclical: there are plenty of businesses that have busy and slow seasons. For example, we work with car dealerships who sell more cars during spring, summer and fall than they do in the middle of winter. Car dealerships call us on a regular basis during the winter months and say, ‘Go ahead and scale back our services — we don’t need as many phones or as many lines.’ As a result, they’ll save money over the winter period when they know they won’t be nearly as busy.

This is very hard to do in the traditional telecom world because a contract will hold you to a certain dollar amount per month regardless of usage.

How can VoIP be used to service multi-location companies?

VoIP is geographically leveling the playing field. If I’m going to deploy 100 phones in the VoIP world, I don’t care if there are 100 phones all together in the same physical building or if they are being used by 100 different people in the company spread out across the country at multiple locations. The phone system itself is going to work the same in both cases because it’s essentially a virtualized phone system.

Also, VoIP offers local dialing between all the phones. For example, if I’m in New York and someone in my VoIP partition is in California, I can still do a four-digit dial.

How can a business make a seamless transition from traditional telephony to VoIP?

Training is essential; it is the difference between a clean start with VoIP and a bumpy one. Any time you implement a new phone system, people are going to be uncomfortable with the change. You have to get all of the individuals trained and get them comfortable with the phone before the system goes live.

With VoIP, the transition is seamless because we can have the new system running parallel to a traditional phone system. Once the users become comfortable we do a changeover where their old numbers become live on the new phone system.

After the transition happens, it’s important to have support available. Customer service is an important part of our model. One of the biggest complaints we hear about traditional telecom is that their support is terrible.

What advice would you give about selecting a VoIP provider?

Because it’s technology-related, a lot of young companies think they can enter into the VoIP business and be accepted. In truth, however, they need a stable backing in order to understand the technology they are deploying. In addition, they need to have a support system that can serve their clients. There are fly-by-night VoIP service companies that swoop in and make promises, but then quickly realize that they can’t support their customer base.

Look for a VoIP provider that has experience in your industry. If it hasn’t done what you need it to do before, I would be wary. Also, it should have a good future plan. A big part of our business is understanding what’s next and how to integrate that into a seamless service for our customers.

How are VoIP technologies being integrated into smartphones?

We are integrating to any phone out there, whether it is a smartphone, regular cell phone or landline. We can deploy services that allow calls to be routed to cell networks or home networks. For example, we work with a small government agency that has case workers who work from home. We just did our first installation for a remote case worker who is never going to step into the home office, but needed office connectivity.

It doesn’t matter what phone is on the other end. Let’s say you have an iPhone, one of your coworkers has a BlackBerry and another has a landline — you still want to be integrated. In order to allow integration, we built the service into the VoIP system rather than trying to build an app that changes every time someone gets a new type of phone or operating system.

Alex Desberg is Sales and Marketing Director for Ohio.net, a wholly owned subsidiary of Doylestown Communications. Reach him at (330) 658-1888 or adesberg@ohio.net.

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