How VoIP streamlines communication across multiple office locations

Many companies have more than one office, or find they are growing to the point of needing additional locations. With traditional phone systems, companies may experience internal issues, or they may not provide the best customer service when operating across multiple office sites. However, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems can solve many of those problems.

“Many growing pains are based on updates and portability. Satellite offices experience these issues the most,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.

“There’s no limit to the expansibility of a VoIP system. If a franchise wants to open an office in Nashville, Tennessee, a VoIP provider can provision a couple of Nashville numbers for them and they can start making their business cards. Next week, it might be Arizona, and the provider can just keep adding to their system.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg to find out how to streamline communication across multiple office locations using VoIP technology.

What problems do companies experience when communicating across satellite offices using traditional phones?

Often when you have satellite offices and a headquarters, all of the attention for the technology goes to the headquarters. It’s only later that they realize, ‘Oh yeah, we need something for the guys out in Kentucky.’ Then they look at a system that might integrate into the headquarters’ telecom system.

Making that interaction work properly with a premise-based phone system requires a lot of technology and capital, as in Internet or Wide Area Network connectivity, or a lot of long-distance calling so that systems can interact with each other.

How does VoIP help in these situations?

Even if the headquarters has something different for its phone system, a VoIP provider can bring a remote location online and give it multiple local calling areas and integration to existing phone systems. A satellite location can appear to be a part of the original phone system with the ability to four-digit dial to the headquarters. In the best of all worlds, the VoIP system would be installed in both locations. That way, the four-digit dial, voice mail systems and all the add-ons are intrinsically linked.

How does this help with internal communication?

Ideally, all phones are native on the system, so a transfer or an internal call doesn’t use additional telephone line resources, and it is not just a call forward. Traditionally, if you transfer a call from one phone system to the next, that phone call isn’t linked back to the original system. And if you need to send it back, you’re sending it back long distance. But if your main system and your remote office are networked, that transfer from extension to extension or location to location is really just a four-digit dial transfer and doesn’t use any other resources than what has been put in place for that phone system.

Does VoIP have an effect on external incoming calls?

There are a couple of advantages. One is that you can use ‘follow-the-sun’ technology. If you have multiple offices across the country, when your New York office closes at 5 p.m., you still have a good three hours of work time for those out in California, and they answer calls for the company until the sun goes down there. If they’re on the same VoIP network, then time of day situations can be set up where, after 5 p.m., all calls go to the next office in the next time zone and cascades across so that you can staff accordingly.

As far as basic calling, you can front-end your phone system as well so that people who are calling a main number or an 800 number can choose the office that they want to talk to. It’s seamless to callers because all they have to do is choose who they want to talk to and it’s not a transfer, it’s a direct connection to the location that callers want to reach.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

Run call centers effectively, efficiently and affordably with VoIP

Call centers often have specific needs and requirements to operate properly. Between the sheer volume of calls that take place at large call centers and the budget considerations that come with smaller operations, effective phone systems need to be both robust and flexible.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems help to organize call centers in such a way that a company can have the features it needs without purchasing an all-encompassing system at a high price.

“A lot of call centers don’t like to put all of their eggs in one basket and it’s hard to divide up call center resources,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director for Ohio.net. “Companies that use VoIP can take advantage of what the platform has to offer and toggle it on or off by groups of phones or individual phones so that they’re really only paying for what they’re using.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about the benefits and logistics of incorporating VoIP into call center environments.

How does VoIP fit with companies that need call centers?

VoIP systems offer several features for call centers. Call recording, for instance, can either be a set of add-on recording servers and switches, or the company can pick a VoIP platform that has call recording built right in.

Call detail reporting, which includes the trends of inbound and outbound calling, presents good reports to review and see what marketing is working and what’s not. A lot of traditional phone companies just provide a list of how many calls took place, how long they were and how much each call cost. With a VoIP system, a company can measure trends by generating reports showing busy times of the day, week or month, and then drill down to which operators are handling the most calls, who’s on the phone the most, or how much time there is between calls.

VoIP also allows for monitoring or listen in, where a call center manager can listen to calls or can talk so that only the operator can hear what they say. With a barge-in feature, somebody can actually take over a call.

What if a company already has the phone system resources for a call center?

At that point it’s about building a cost-effective dial tone program, which features a less expensive dial tone, a very competitive price on toll-free inbound calling and all of the recording resources or monitoring resources that could be wanted. VoIP is also very good for disaster recovery backup if main line traditional telecom fails, or if a company wants to try something new.

Is there a major capital expense to set up VoIP for a call center for the first time?

It almost can be handled on a test case basis because you can add or remove services without penalty. If a company wants to try telemarketing or a call center, for example, and decides after six months that it’s not a good fit, the service can be turned off. On the flip side, if it is helping the business it can be ramped up even more — just start adding desk phones and the company can grow its call center. With traditional call center systems, often a company has to add all of the software, cards, hardware, the features and the support even if it only has one operator. That’s a significant capital investment. With VoIP, phone expenditures can fluctuate up and down based on the number of operators a company needs.

How do you size a VoIP system properly for call centers?

Call centers can be anything from a major operation consisting of hundreds of agents with very sophisticated phone systems to small organizations that have a handful of people. Scalability is an area where a VoIP system can really help a call center.

Call centers often handle a couple functions for an organization, and sometimes companies have to separate clients and customers for the type of business being handled. In this case, they can very easily spin up a VoIP call center that is technically and physically separated. That can be very hard to do with a phone system that is designed to be all-inclusive.

A look at what’s driving businesses to identify more ways to work together

Many businesses want to create and nurture a workplace environment in which both leaders and employees share ideas and work collaboratively to provide a great product or service to customers. That first step when you gather everyone together in a room and talk about what can be gained by working together is fairly simple. The challenge is to make it last and have a culture in which employees seek input from each other and engage in collaboration that leads to better results.

Technology is a tool that can serve as an important component to reaching this desired outcome.

“Today’s successful businesses embrace a collaborative work environment and understand how to use technology to foster that collaboration,” says Kevin Conmy, regional vice president at Comcast Business. “Working together with colleagues, partners and customers gives companies the agility to drive innovation and success.”

Smart Business spoke with Conmy about how to make collaboration an integral part of your company.

What is contributing to the push toward collaborative work environments?

There are a number of trends that are driving businesses to pursue a stronger level of teamwork in their workforce. Social media and cloud computing are obviously two of the biggest factors since they allow people to be more accessible no matter where they may be. As these tools become ever more commonplace and usability improves, it will continue to reduce the time it takes to learn the ins and outs of a new device or platform.

From a customer standpoint, expectations become much higher with regard to the quality of the product or service you provide when you’re effectively using technology. If you put yourself in the shoes of being a customer and you know that your vendors have all these new tools at their disposal, it only makes sense that their level of expectation will increase.

Add to that the fact that the world continues to get smaller and the pressure customers feel to remain competitive, and the need for another voice in the room as you plot your strategy becomes clear.

How do you turn collaboration into innovation?

You need to take the goals you have in mind as a business and put them on the table for discussion. That ‘table’ has to be more than just the one surrounded by chairs in your conference room. Use the technology tools and social networking mindset of today’s employee and change what it means to work together. Don’t limit yourself to the time on the calendar that everyone can get together for a face-to-face meeting.

To truly drive innovation, you must make data available to more people in the organization and then implement solutions to harness the collective knowledge, experience and communities that social networks foster.

Be willing to be creative in how those solutions are implemented. Successful organizations will take the steps to streamline their operational environment and equip employees, customers and partners with the tools to innovate.

If you’re a restaurant owner with high school and college-age wait staff and kitchen help, you have a team of people that is probably more connected to the social media world than you. Use that knowledge to tweet out new offerings at your restaurant or to post new menu items on your Facebook page. Learn about search engine optimization (SEO) and what it takes to lure new customers to your business. You learn something and your employees become more engaged in the growth of your business.

How do these processes improve efficiency?

It is easier to keep things moving in today’s world without being together in the same physical space by using tools such as online meetings, document storage and shared calendars.

You can easily protect sensitive information and limit access to those who need it. Enabling high productivity requires a strategic approach to collaboration. Successful organizations will take the steps to streamline their operational environment and equip their employees, customers and partners with the tools to innovate.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

Updated VoIP systems’ service enhancements simplify operations

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is not necessarily new — the basic concept has been around for about 20 years, with widespread use in business settings since 2004. However, as with most kinds of technology, it has been through a series of advancements since its early years.

Early VoIP systems essentially mirrored traditional phone systems, with proprietary licensing and network configurations. New technology enables modern VoIP systems to work on a virtualized platform with a very different licensing and cost structure, as well as other enhancements.

“The power is now in the cloud, not in the telephone closet,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “If the premise-based phone system has to stay, we can work with that, too. Using traditional Private Branch Exchange (PBX) or IP-based phone systems, we can create the same geographically agnostic dialing.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg to find out what the major benefits of updated VoIP systems are for businesses, and how to seamlessly update an older VoIP system.

What were the features of early VoIP systems?

Early generation VoIP is very software intensive, but it’s not much different than a traditional phone system, other than the features that it provides. Early VoIP systems mostly worked internally as IP, and not connected to the public switch telephone network in an IP-based way. You still had to call up your local phone company and plug in these phone lines to the PBX.

When VoIP technology was just coming out, there were major players that were using computer networks to allow phone systems to do things that they couldn’t traditionally do, including remote calling, multiple locations that are hooked together with the same phone system, integration to computer systems for basic call reporting and some software integration. The old way was very proprietary, meaning, you had to have one company’s handsets, phone system and their large PBX equipment in house, and you were essentially using new technology just like the old telephone systems. It just happened to be new hardware.

How can you work with an older system that is already in place?

There are plenty of organizations that have made a long-term investment in a phone system, whether it is IP-based or a traditional phone system, so it’s not easy to throw out the old system and buy everything new. There’s a way to take baby steps toward that.

Sometimes the company keeps the old phone system while it capitalizes on a better pricing structure for dial tone with a VoIP provider. That allows it to budget and plan and get a few years of savings under its belt. Then, the company plans for this capital expenditure and a hardware investment and moves when it’s time.

What enhancements do modern VoIP systems offer?

VoIP as we know it today is virtually managed; you don’t need somebody on-site and if you do require additions or changes, all you have to do is pick up the phone and ask somebody to do it without coming out. You don’t have to buy the brains of the unit — the PBX — for on-site installation, and modern VoIP systems are not nearly as proprietary as early systems.

In the VoIP world now, you could choose any number of providers to be your dial-tone provider, and that’s delivered virtually. The system lives on the cloud, which gives you some great abilities. It gives you disaster recovery capability, it allows you to put phones wherever you want geographically and they all operate like they’re connected. It gives you options to pick different or updated hardware so the phones on your desk can be up to date, and it changes the licensing model to more of a subscriber model. And it’s non-contractual, so you are not contracting with the local phone provider to get a dial tone — all of it is delivered through the service to the desktop, wherever that may be.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

VoIP flexibility can mean keeping up with technology as it changes

Being stuck in a lengthy telecommunications contract has long been a major pain point for businesses. Companies feel locked in, stuck, unable to move to a different provider even if they find a better deal.

“Traditionally, it’s not uncommon to see 36-month and 60-month contracts still in place,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “In terms of technology and how communications are changing, that’s an eternity to wait for new and better services.”

Today’s businesses need flexibility and choice to move with the speed of technology. Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) functions as a software service that is nimble, movable and changeable, and typically doesn’t require long-term contracts.

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about the differences in telecommunications services in today’s evolving business market.

How has the industry progressed in its delivery of telephone services?

Since the technology in VoIP is developing and changing so fast, we’ve seen a lot more non-regulated services that don’t fall under normal tariffs, and now it’s offered like a service. So there is no reason for it to be contracted, other than choosing the provider that serves you best. If you’re not happy with that service, you should have the opportunity to move, change, and find someone that serves you better and not have to wait to the end of a contract.

Why are short-term offerings a good option for businesses?

Over the years, people have learned to hate their phone companies because they have to wait until the end of their contract to find someone else that they might like. If an offer sounds good, the company switches providers and after three years, they may realize they don’t like the new vendor either. The contract world has taught businesses to suffer through a term until they can find someone better. And that doesn’t help the end user because the technology will change within three years. If your business is not being served well by your telephone company, they don’t deserve your business anymore. On the other hand, if a telecommunications company has customers for 10 years who are not on contract and can leave at any time, but choose to stay, that’s a sign of serving the customer well.

How is the industry driving technology and service improvements?

A parallel can be drawn to the cell phone world. The cell phone industry drives technology with newer devices that have new features and enhancements. Whatever company carries the better device can garner more business. The same thing is true in the VoIP world. As companies in this space offer new services and customers demand new technology, the industry is coming out with options and features that are customized to businesses.

The goal of VoIP companies is to offer best-in-class technologies and stay ahead of what the customer wants. This way they can retain any customer looking to make a switch. VoIP providers offering old technology that doesn’t get updated may as well be a traditional telephone company. If a provider comes up with something new and the competition hasn’t figured it out yet, the provider can pick up the competition’s customers the moment the customer decides to switch.

How does the hardware come into play with the fast-paced technology updates?

Many times, organizations view their phone systems and their phone providers as a linked entity, thinking they can’t move to a new phone company because they have an old phone system. Moving into the VoIP world releases companies from that legacy hardware, that outdated phone system that can’t do a whole lot in terms of what’s available on new technology. That can be a big step for a customer as well — to cut the old phone system off the wall and go with the new VoIP technology on their desk. The move is typically a fraction of what it was to purchase a new phone system since you’re only buying the phones on your desks. VoIP phones are fairly universal, so you can move them from one VoIP provider to the next and take advantage of the upgrades, updates and technology without having to buy new hardware. ●

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

How to find a VoIP provider that fits your business

Alex Desberg, Sales and Marketing Director, Ohio.net

Alex Desberg, Sales and Marketing Director, Ohio.net

There are many Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers out there, some large and some small. In the case of telecommunications, bigger is not necessarily better. Small providers tend to be more nimble and are able to customize and innovate in order to help their clients grow.

Also, independent VoIP providers can lend a personal touch, says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.

“Most small and medium-sized businesses want to work with a local company. Companies don’t want offshore support,” he says. “They want someone who is in their backyard. Someone who is in the same time zone and easy to relate to.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about changes in the VoIP landscape, the differences between providers, and the importance of customer service and support.

How has the VoIP landscape changed in recent years?

In recent years, the marketplace has changed. AT&T and some of the other big players are now offering VoIP services. While the corporate giants have marketing dollars behind them to push their products, it is the smaller, more flexible companies who are pioneering new technologies.

Companies looking for an apples-to-apples replacement for traditional phone systems might be satisfied with a traditional provider.

However, business leaders that want to make a change to VoIP typically prefer working with agile companies that are trailblazers and provide service at the local level.

What are some of the differences between VoIP providers?

Companies interested in VoIP services have two options: They can either choose a big provider with pre-set packages or work with a small, innovative company that is willing to invent solutions from scratch.

For example, many organizations want to integrate their customer relationship management system with their phone system. Unless you work with a provider willing to break the mold and try new technology, it’s likely that you’ll receive a one-size-fits-all model that might or might not be a good fit.

How important is customer service and support?

The service standpoint is what truly makes VoIP providers stand out. Either they are readily available, hands-on and willing to help navigate technological challenges, or they take the stance of expecting a business to be the one that makes accommodations, fitting the company’s telecommunications needs into inflexible packages.

The majority of small and midsize businesses have a telephone system that they set up years ago and haven’t made any changes to since. Such a system might work fine and it serves their purposes — they don’t need anything special.

However, there are other organizations that want to streamline their data and communications in order to be more efficient. That’s when it’s important to have a more dynamic provider that is pushing the envelope and striving to offer new services.

How should a business go about evaluating its telecommunication needs?

Businesses tend to have an IT manager or communications director put together an annual plan for servers, software, licensing, etc., but telecommunications companies will often wait until the contract is set to expire or there are budget cuts.

Under this scenario there is not enough time to investigate what services are out there that might be beneficial. Businesses tend to shoehorn themselves into what they find at the last minute within the budget, rather than figuring out what makes the most sense from an operational perspective, which may not be the best way to approach your telecommunication needs.

Alex Desberg is sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. Reach him at [email protected]

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

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

How companies can buy software in the cloud to gain a competitive advantage

Kevin O’Toole, senior vice president, general manager of Business Solutions, Comcast Business Services

Kevin O’Toole, senior vice president, general manager of Business Solutions, Comcast Business Services

Many owners of small and midsize businesses are aware of cloud technology and software as a service, but don’t understand its radical cost transformation. It’s no longer a technical curiosity but a competitive necessity.

“The cloud brings a tsunami of cost-effective IT to the small business’s front door,” says Kevin O’Toole, senior vice president and general manager of Business Solutions at Comcast Business Services. “But it does bring two challenges with it. You have to pick the right partners, adopt the right technology and have good support. And your competition is going to embrace these technologies, so if you don’t figure out how to embrace this your business will be at a competitive disadvantage.”

Smart Business spoke with O’Toole on what to know about software as a service.

Why are small and midsize businesses buying software in the cloud?

IT for small and midsize businesses used to be about scarcity. They couldn’t afford expensive servers and staff to maintain them. Now, the cloud allows everyone to buy applications and services on demand, as they need it. Instead of having a server that may or may not get backed up or upgraded, everything is housed in an industrial data center with strong security and software that is regularly patched.

Also, when you buy a server, you’re buying capacity for the future. But when you buy software from the cloud, you can get it on a per user basis, adding or taking off users as your company changes.

Overall, software as a service allows you to focus on your core business. The cloud can help you get customers and serve them more efficiently, help your back office run more productively and help keep your costs down.

What kind of software applications are businesses getting from the cloud?

Pretty much anything can be managed out of the cloud at this point. Business owners are getting messaging through a hosted email exchange service. They are buying data backup services and file sharing services. With conference services, literally a couple of minutes later you can be doing a conference from six different locations with video and screen sharing. Other applications being adopted are financial and human resources services.

What do businesses need to know upfront?

The biggest things to know are:

  1. There are a lot of providers out there, but you want to buy from providers you can trust. It’s actually not that hard to start a cloud company, but it is hard to run one well. Sorting through the clutter and having someone vet providers for you is very valuable. Make sure when you put your business information into someone’s hands, it’s someone you trust.
  2. Have insight on what you intend to do with the system, so you don’t implement one system only to find out you really wanted additional features in a larger system.  Also, even though your overall financial costs are lower with the cloud, there are also adoption efforts to consider, such as training your employees.
  3. Try to buy services in an environment with great user management and support. For example, if you’re using five different cloud applications, you don’t want each employee to need five logins and passwords. From a support perspective, make sure you have a partner on the other end to help with any troubleshooting.
  4. While a Google search of any cloud-based application or service will give you many listings, it is important to work with someone who can sort through it all. Find someone to ask hard questions of the cloud provider and set the bar high on quality.

What do companies do if they have technical questions about cloud-based software?

Like any technology project, you will have support questions — things do go wrong and there is confusion. It goes back to how you bought your cloud service. You can go to the source and work directly with a software vendor to purchase, onboard and maintain business applications via the cloud. You may get great support, or your provider may not always answer the phone leaving you with a major problem that you can’t solve right away. By going through a cloud expert that has the technical know-how to answer questions and troubleshoot when necessary, you can maintain that focus on your core business while also making your business more effective with the cloud.

Kevin O’Toole is a senior vice president and general manager of Business Solutions at Comcast Business Services. Reach him at (855) 867-5010 or [email protected]

Learn more about Comcast’s new online marketplace of business-grade cloud solutions with simple access and account management.

 

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

Why businesses are flocking to VoIP telecommunications

Alex Desberg, Sales and Marketing Director, Ohio.net

Alex Desberg, Sales and Marketing Director, Ohio.net

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 [email protected]

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

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

How VoIP can help improve customer service

Alex Desberg, Sales and Marketing Director, Ohio.net

Alex Desberg, Sales and Marketing Director, Ohio.net

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 [email protected]

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

Insights telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net.

Data centers: How your IT needs and growth can best be accommodated

Mike Tighe, executive director, Data Products, Comcast Business

Mike Tighe, executive director, Data Products, Comcast Business

A data center is the infrastructure a business uses to house its IT assets — space, power, cooling, network connectivity, wiring, etc. Depending on the business’ size, it may be a spare closet, a dedicated building or space leased at a public data center.

“The data center itself is infrastructure and doesn’t generate revenue or create differentiated business value,” says Mike Tighe, executive director, Data Products at Comcast Business. “So, the CFO frequently says, ‘Rather than utilize precious capital to build or expand a data center, there are other options including great public data centers where we can lease space.’”

Smart Business spoke with Tighe about data center best practices, including network and bandwidth considerations.

Why are data centers so important today, and what’s in store for the future?

The function of a data center is to ensure availability of IT applications and data. If employees don’t have access, they can’t be as productive and in some cases, the business can’t run. The trend to place IT assets -—applications, servers and storage — in public data centers is rapidly evolving for businesses of all sizes, either as a main data center or as part of business continuity strategy.

Over the next five years the trend of renting rather than owning IT infrastructure will accelerate as businesses utilize cloud-based infrastructure and applications. This is not just because of better economics, the ‘cloud’ enables rapid deployment and the ability to scale applications that drive better productivity.

When should you look at outsourcing a data center?

When IT becomes an important component of how you run your business, you have to ensure high availability. If, for example, you install specialized applications used for resource planning and creation of content, but the server starts going down because of power or network connectivity loss, it impacts your business’s ability to run.

Another factor is economic. As businesses make IT decisions, they may not have the capital to build or upgrade data centers, so they’ll look at alternatives.

What are some options to consider with public data centers?

By their very nature, there are more capabilities in a public data center because everyone is sharing the cost of the generator, the physical security monitoring, having multiple network providers, etc. However, some things to consider are:

  • Physical security procedures.
  • Redundancy of critical components.
  • The ability to expand as your IT infrastructure requirements increase.
  • Network for primary and backup connections. What providers have extended their network into the data center to provide connectivity and ensure access?
  • Location. Regional events including loss of power and natural disasters dictate that the backup site be located far enough from the main data center so as not to be affected by a single incident. Hurricane Sandy certainly brought home the point that a redundant data center far enough inland on a separate power grid helps ensure application availability.

How can companies build the right network?

Strong network connectivity becomes more important as IT assets are put into public data centers. Know how much your company’s bandwidth requirements are growing, and your network’s ability to scale for future requirements. On average, over the past decade, a business’s bandwidth requirements have grown around 50 percent per year. Look at network technologies that can cost-effectively scale — from 10 megabytes, an average site requirement, to one gigabyte, for example. Ethernet technology, which local-area networks are built on, is one solution that businesses are leveraging for their networks.

How do data center solutions impact a business’s bottom line?

With the economic downturn, use of company capital became a focus. Executives decided that the data center, while important, doesn’t produce any intrinsic value. And you can lease the space and preserve capital for projects that improve the bottom line. Companies can rent space by the square foot, rather than having to build another data center as IT needs expand.

Mike Tighe is a executive director, Data Products at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 286-5276 or [email protected]

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business