How to make faster decisions using unified communications

By 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their business relationships in the digital space without interacting with a human, according to Gartner. Even today, Forrester Research found that 90 percent of customers check a website before emailing or calling a company, and 63 percent are more likely to return to a website that offers live chat.

Modern business communication demands a host of tools, including desk and mobile phones, email, instant messaging, voicemail, presence information and audio, video and Web conferencing, for both employees and customers. When these tools are integrated into a system that allows an easy flow among devices, it’s called unified communications and collaboration (UCC).

“Just as a line is the shortest distance between two points, UCC allows businesses to make the fastest possible decisions and transactions — and users can communicate in whatever manner best suits their needs or situation,” says Doug Mason, major accounts executive at Warwick Communications Inc. “The individual tools are interconnected so that access is streamlined and efficient.”

Smart Business spoke with Mason about the business case for UCC, which can increase productivity and revenues.

What are the benefits of UCC solutions and how are progressive companies using them?

The workforce dynamics have changed. Since almost everyone has a smartphone or mobile device, more people work outside the office. It’s harder to collaborate with co-workers and customers, so UCC keeps that remote worker engaged with the company.

It also speeds up the decision-making process. As companies trimmed fat in the recession, cutting support resources, more things are done on-demand and in real time. With UCC, you can get everyone quickly together to get a consensus on a project or document, no matter what their location.

UCC is not only device agnostic but also additive in nature. You can choose what layers you want to use at that given moment. For example, if two people are talking, they can use a bridge to include a third person on the call or via instant message, while sharing files back and forth. You also can track that so you have a record of that chat session and what files each person used.

You can provide UCC to employees but it also gives people that you communicate with — namely your customers — access to this same technology. UCC allows you to move from a webinar to a chat session, and then bring up past emails, in real time, in order to determine the path going forward. This is particularly useful for out-of-state customers that executives, sales or project managers communicate with regularly.

How can business owners find out if UCC could improve their business?

Although you might not use the technology yourself, ask people in different departments, ‘Where are you seeing roadblocks? How can we speed up our processes internally? Are our current tools limiting us?’

Evaluate how your employees work and the tools they need to do their jobs:

  • Do they need to be mobile?
  • Do they need to know which of their colleagues is available at any given time?
  • Is collaborating on information real-time with multiple parties a helpful step in the business process?
  • Do some employee activities have a greater impact on the revenue stream than others? If so, how can you leverage that even better?
  • Will any investment in UCC integrate with the processes and systems you already have?

Then, look at how the potential benefits of UCC could extend to how customers want to contact your business, especially sales, support and customer service. Communication with these departments, the contact centers within companies, has traditionally been handled by phone, but email, chat and text are rapidly catching up.

Having the tools to manage these channels typically makes the job of the sales person and contact center agent easier, leading to greater productivity and improvements in the customer experience. This leads to an enhanced corporate reputation and market position.

Technology experts can help you evaluate the business case to figure out where these technologies can play within your organization, and where you can see a payback and value for them.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Warwick

How to limit the security risks of bring your own device

Providing the right technology tools so your employees can exchange ideas and do their jobs more effectively is something all employers strive to do. One way to achieve this, at a lower cost, is by allowing employees to bring your own device or BYOD.

With BYOD, employees use their personal mobile devices, laptops and tablets to access corporate email, documentation and applications, and use unified communications solutions to make or receive calls, check voicemail and view the presence of their colleagues to see their availability.

These activities are especially important when the mobility, such as with the sales force, business owners, project manager or trainers, is a critical component of their job description. Some business owners, however, hesitate to follow this path because of concerns about security — a fear that can be minimized with the right management.

“BYOD started about five or six years ago and back then there were a lot of issues regarding security,” says Brian Yeary, senior technology consultant at Warwick Communications Inc. “But that has changed since companies’ IT departments are making companywide policy’s and applications that reduce that risk”

Smart Business spoke with Yeary about best practices for managing your BYOD policy.

What are you seeing with BYOD right now?

BYOD is still an increasing trend for small, midsize and large businesses, regardless of type of company or industry. It allows employees the freedom to work remotely in a productive manner, which is turn increases employee morale. The trend created a buzz when it was first introduced and that buzz is still there because it continues to increase productivity and reduce cost for employers.

Employers don’t have to spend as much on employees’ mobile devices such as phones, tablets and laptops, and those same employees can still work effectively on the road or at home, especially with telecommunication tools like unified communications.

How do you recommend employers best manage their BYOD?

As employees utilize their own devices, it does come with risk to the company, such as when their mobile device is stolen or lost and it has company information on it.

A companywide BYOD policy should be put in place, which needs to be signed by all employees to ensure there will be no confusion. You don’t want a lack of user security awareness to contribute to the risk of information being accessed. You also can password protect certain data items and establish a screen timeout period.

Mobile device management (MDM) is an industry term for the administration of BYODs. This solution, which can be either on-premise or cloud-based, helps ensure employees stay productive and do not breach any corporate polices. MDM helps companies deal with data segregation, securing emails, securing company documents, enforcing corporate polices and managing mobile devices including laptops or tablets.

If employees must go through an MDM application to get to company information, it allows the IT administrator to manage the users. The MDM can provide a hardware and application inventory; mobile app deployment, updating and removal; mobile app configuration and policy management; and remote view and control for troubleshooting. A remote wipe can be used to if the device is lost or stolen, or if the company no longer employs the employee — where the wipe only deletes corporate information.

Companies also have to realize they may have to upgrade their data infrastructure to accommodate the increasing number of BYODs on your network. That may mean your wireless infrastructure will need to be upgraded.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Warwick

How to improve your customer service with communications technology

Every business interacts with its customers, and it’s critical to direct those customers quickly to the right resource, whether that’s sales, billing or customer service, in order to get answers on the first try, every time.

Just think about how customers expect to communicate with your organization in today’s world. They don’t want to just speak with a customer service agent over the phone. They expect to use all forms of communication to reach your company — email, text chat, Web interface, etc.

“And if your customers can’t communicate with you easily, they’ll move on to some other competitor,” says Ed Flynn, senior technology consultant at Warwick Communications Inc. “The bar continues to be raised.”

That’s why organizations are turning to contact center technology to take their customer interactions to the next level. They are building relationships that better assist and empower their customers, through consistent customer experiences across all channels that are handled quickly and efficiently.

Smart Business spoke with Flynn about how to utilize technology to better serve your customers.

What exactly is contact center technology? Is it related to call center technology?

Call centers, as you may traditionally think of them, are not as effective for today’s business environment, because phone calls are only part of how customers contact you. Instead the terminology has moved away from call center to contact center.

It’s about how effectively and efficiently you communicate with your customers beyond just voice interaction — regardless of the type and size of your business.

What are some features that businesses use to better interact with their customers?

Historical and real-time reporting and monitoring lets you understand the big picture and call-by-call performance of your staff. You can respond instantly to changing traffic volumes to ensure service levels are maintained, and use historical data against service-level objectives, for reviews to measure key performance indicators and to identify ways to improve business processes.

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are playing an increasing role today. Contact center technology can be seamlessly integrated into these back office systems like CRM, so that critical customer data pops onto the computer screen as calls and multimedia contacts arrive.

You’ve probably heard the rule — 20 percent of your customers generate 80 percent of your revenue. In order to deliver a superior level of service to your top-tier customers, you can profile your customers. Then, regardless of the way they contact you, you can prioritize their position in queue or ensure top employees handle them.

Other features include a Web chat option where customer questions come through your phone system and are directed to the right employee; interactive voice response, which allows callers to self-access information from your system like the status of their order; and skills-based routing where, for instance, calls are routed to a staff member who speaks a foreign language or best handles complaints.

How can employers find the best solution?

With so many options, it’s important to have somebody with experience help you sort through the choices.

It all starts with understanding how your business works and what your needs are now and for the future. Then, the technology and its features can be customized to fit your organization, as well as plan what could be added later as your company grows.

It also takes someone with experience to tweak this technology, so it’s not cumbersome for the customer or your employees. Again, the right expert can help with the implementation and education.

What else is important to understand?

More manufacturers are offering, as part of their services, ways to utilize contact center technology to improve customer service.

You also have the option to either purchase an on-premise system and install it in your workplace, or get cloud-based or hosted technology where you pay for the portions of the service that you want to utilize. Again, with the right adviser on your side, you can find a solution that works for you — before your customers find a warmer reception with someone else.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Warwick

How to increase mobility and unified communications in the workplace

Imagine the workplace over the past 25 years — employees have gone from working the desk to working the job. They’re no longer tethered to their workspaces and can more easily share ideas, collaborate with team members and stay connected with customers.

“In today’s modern and dynamic work environment, the ability to work anywhere at anytime from any device can be an important piece to the success of a business, and also provides that much needed competitive edge,” says Joe Hesske, vice president of Sales & Marketing at Warwick Communications Inc. “Employees usually are never without a mobile device of some kind. Having a mobile workforce can improve productivity and increase efficiency for any type and size of business.”

Smart Business spoke with Hesske about how organizations can utilize mobility and unified communications technology.

How does the right communication solution promote mobility and unification?

The right solution can recreate the in-office experience regardless of location. Increasing your remote workforce could reduce the need for office space, and ultimately lead to significant bottom-line cost savings.

Also, allowing employees to work remotely on occasion can be positioned as a perk and improve work/life balance. As more millennials take key roles in organizations, having a communication system that supports mobility can help attract and keep the right young talent for your company.

What features can help increase mobility?

Key mobile and unified communication features should include single number reach and unified messaging. This allows calls and voice mail to be delivered on multiple devises simultaneously. You also want to look at teleworker solutions with the ability to turn any phone into an extension of your office, instant messaging and chat, and audio and Web conferencing. Ultimately, the solution should allow employees and leadership to be reachable no matter where they’re located.

Who can benefit from these features?

Not every position will benefit equally from what communication mobility has to offer. Obviously, the sales team stands to gain the most — realizing that when workers are away from their desks, or out of the office, they can be more difficult to reach. When a salesperson misses calls that could represent opportunities, it can impact his or her success, and the organization, over time.

But remember that being mobile doesn’t always mean outside the office. Personal space mobility is an important element of workplace mobility. Incorporating DECT handset technology (Digital Enhanced Cordless

Telecommunications) allows in-office employees to move around the workspace — increasing collaboration, communication and ultimately productivity.

How can organizations get started?

Technology has come a long way, but finding the right communications solution and technology partner that can identify your specific needs is key in your success.

The goal is to try and replicate the in-office experience, no matter where you are or what device you’re using, because mobility technology and unified communications can help you connect with customers, grow your business, and improve employee communication and productivity.

To determine the right solution, ask:

  • Do you believe your employees can be productive when mobile or working remotely?
  • Do customers sometimes struggle to reach your employees, or are calls missed, especially with the sales team?
  • Do you have employees that often travel?
  • Do your employees contact customers while mobile?
  • Are you spending too much on cellphone bills?
  • Would you like to improve work/life balance for your company?

Also, most communication platforms are moving from hardware to software applications. This allows flexibility and critical functionality that can deliver all the necessary technology for a productive, efficient and successful work environment.

The most important thing, however, is to partner with a company that can assess your needs, understand your goals and deliver a unified communications and mobility solution that aligns with your corporate strategy now and in the future.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Warwick

How to maximize the benefits of an IT managed services provider

IT managed services are attractive to many companies today, but it’s important to utilize the arrangement fully in order to get the most value from your managed services provider (MSP).

That arrangement can range from a MSP taking full operational control of your IT operations to augmenting the existing IT staff who focus on specialized software and systems. An IT manager or CIO also might manage the MSP as if those contracted employees are “staff.”

“For a number of reasons like efficiency and cost effectiveness, more companies, especially those that are midsized, are interested in moving at least some, if not all, of their IT operation to a third-party provider,” says Paul Tuttle, senior technology consultant at Warwick Communications Inc.

Smart Business spoke with Tuttle about the advantages of managed IT services, as well as tips for getting the most out of this relationship.

What are the benefits of managed services?

There’s a revolving door when it comes to hiring and retaining qualified IT professionals. There’s a lot of turnover within the industry, and most business leaders don’t have the expertise to evaluate hires and make sure they’re getting a quality employee. Once you do bring that person in, it can be difficult to support the training and continued education he or she needs to stay at the top of the IT industry.

A MSP not only has the resources and ability to find the right people and keep them abreast of industry trends, it has built-in bench strength ready to plug in as needed. You don’t have to worry about what happens when your IT person goes on vacation, has a sick day or finds a better paying job.

An outside provider deals with dozens of clients. It is exposed to best practices across industries and the latest techniques that can help you make decisions about how you use technology. With the assistance of an expert on software, hardware and configurations, pain points can be solved quickly.

Security is another issue. So much of business operations are tied up in IT that if a relationship goes sour, what’s to keep an individual from doing damage or locking things up when he or she leaves? And there’s a risk even if the relationship doesn’t go bad, because your organization is dependent on one or a few individuals. With a MSP, you spread the risk and protect your company from being at the mercy of one person.

How would you recommend an organization get the most from its MSP?

Take full advantage of the benefits that were discussed when your partnership with the MSP first started. Follow up to ensure that the services and value adds that were slated to be delivered actually were implemented by your organization. MSPs frequently have the capacity to serve as a virtual CIO — not just fixing equipment but also taking your business to another level. Are you engaged in dialog to address the bigger picture?

Make sure you meet with your MSP partner on a regular basis — monthly or quarterly — to review the overall state of your IT operations and issues that came up in the preceding period, looking at how many tickets came through, the time of resolution, etc. The value in your MSP shouldn’t just be delivering service but also reporting on that service and working with you to enhance the maturity and functionality of your network.

You’ll also want to take seriously what the MSP provides in terms of strategic advice, including helping you plan future IT projects and upgrades. Most MSPs proactively evaluate your network, systems, workstations, etc., in order to present a case on outdated workstations or a trending problem on the help desk, along with a solution, what it would cost to implement it and the efficiencies that would result.

Take time to work with your MSP on a clear data backup and disaster recovery strategy, including a step-by-step plan with specific assignments. Then, make sure the MSP tests the backup process and does a sample restore.

You need to invest time and resources into the relationship with your MSP to make sure it’s doing more than just putting out fires. And don’t wait until 60 to 90 days before the MSP’s contract renews to engage. Taking an active role in the partnership with your MSP will pay big dividends by creating a more effective, cost-efficient IT operation within your business.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Warwick

Laying to rest the biggest concerns and misconceptions about VoIP

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) brings increased flexibility and efficiency to businesses today. In addition to voice mail and call forwarding, advanced VoIP features can unify your communications, allowing multiple numbers to tie into a single point. So, if someone calls your desk phone, the call could be set to ring simultaneously to your cellphone, desk phone or home phone through the software system. A call also can be seamlessly transferred while you’re on it — you can travel to your next appointment while continuing your current conversation.

But some employers have reservations about making calls over the Internet.

“When you weigh all of the feature sets, the improved efficiencies, and in some cases making it an operating expense, not a capital expense, you come out way ahead by putting in a modern VoIP solution,” says Joe Hesske, vice president of Sales & Marketing at Warwick Communications Inc.

Smart Business spoke with Hesske about how VoIP works, while addressing common concerns about this technology.

In what ways are some people confused about how VoIP works?

First, a lot of people just have a vague idea of what VoIP is, including what the acronym stands for — and that unfamiliarity stretches across all ages. VoIP carries voice traffic over an IP data network, regardless if it is on the Internet or your own LAN (local area network). This can reduce expenses and increase flexibility.

It’s also important to realize that VoIP doesn’t have to be a hosted Internet product. It can be hosted, on-premises or a hybrid of the two. The features of each are similar.

In a hosted environment you have the luxury of redundancy because the solution is hosted in several data centers, which can be in multiple cities, but you lose some control and security. An on-premise VoIP solution has more control but less redundancy. A hybrid solution uses the strengths of both — your core system is on-premise for more control and security, while your redundancy or fail-over is at an off-site location.

Smaller businesses tend to lean toward a hosted solution; they don’t have the resources to manage an on-premises VoIP solution. The upgrades and updates are part of the service. It is also an operating expense, rather than a capital expense.

Are these systems something only larger companies can afford?

When this technology first came out it was expensive, but that’s changed dramatically over the past 10 to 15 years, as it moves away from hardware toward software. You can run your whole phone system from a laptop.

You should match your needs with the right phone system, however, so you get everything you want and aren’t paying for features you don’t need. Your VoIP solutions adviser can help determine what you want to do with your system and how to alleviate pain points.

What are some other concerns with VoIP?

One of the biggest questions is: What kind of call quality am I going to get because my calls may be going over the Internet?

The linchpin to a successful system is your connection type. A lot of small to midsized businesses are attracted to a best effort type of connection, a cable modem connection, but these connections don’t necessarily include quality of service (QOS).

Voice traffic is more sensitive to packet loss than data traffic. There may be slight hiccups in your connection that you’d never notice as you’re looking at email or surfing the Internet, but you’d notice those same hiccups right away with voice. If a lot of bandwidth is being consumed, QOS prioritizes voice traffic over data.

Another concern is the infrastructure. Voice and data now ride over the same network, so a solid, internal infrastructure is critical. Again, your VoIP vendor can help, through upfront discovery, try to identify potential problems that could throw the implementation off track. It’s advantageous to work with a provider that understands and offers both voice and data solutions.

Finally, many people are concerned about security. This is a legitimate concern, and you may need additional hardware if you require stronger encryption.

In today’s workforce, mobility, flexibility and efficiency give you a competitive advantage. VoIP can help with that, so work closely with the experts to make sure you’ve laid any concerns to rest.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Warwick

How VoIP helps organizations avoid technology that won’t scale

As a business owner, sometimes it’s difficult to predict where your company will be in the next several years, or even the next few months. You may be on an upswing, adding new employees and growing into new departments, or you may hit a rough patch and need to downsize.

Scaling your phone system may be the last thing on your mind during times of transition, but it’s important to consider how personnel changes will affect this vital equipment for business.

“Businesses grow and change,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “We find that if they’re using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), there is ease and ability to grow. If they’re using traditional phones, there’s a certain amount of pain, additional hardware and consulting time that they have to go through to grow their phone system.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg to find out how VoIP systems save business owners money and hassle by easily scaling to the size the company needs.

What difficulties do companies with traditional phone systems experience as they grow?

Traditional phones have few components: the phone that’s on the desk, the phone system itself and the copper phone lines supplied by the phone company. Each one of those, depending on what a company needs, will need to be resized and changed. As you add more lines, the phone on your desk may not be able to support additional lines, so you may be buying additional phones. The brains of the unit may not have enough ports, cards or memory, and you may need to upgrade that. You may also need additional copper phone lines. Each of those adds cost — it may be a one-time cost for the hardware and upgrades, or it may be an additional monthly cost.

How do VoIP systems make it easier for companies to scale their phone systems as their business expands and contracts?

With a VoIP system, the phone that sits on the desk is programmable, so if it’s not capable of doing what you want today, it doesn’t mean that you need to throw it away and start again; you’re just changing the software programming in it.

Also, the ‘brains’ of a VoIP system, which contains all the features and functions, isn’t owned by the company. The company is not responsible for it and it doesn’t live at their office. VoIP is easily upgradeable as a service and provides a company with more scalability and functionality than a traditional phone system.

Finally, depending on the VoIP system you’re on, you may have unlimited calling or may be able to add calling at a much more reduced rate because you don’t need to have copper lines brought in and you don’t need to sign long-term contracts with your phone company.

Alternately, if a company is downsizing, with VoIP you reduce your costs every time you remove a line from the phone system. With traditional phones, you’ve made that hardware investment so you lose that when you scale down.

What if a company doesn’t need new phones but wants to put additional features in place?

If you want to add features, such as the ability to host a conference call, and your traditional phone system doesn’t have that ability, it’s typically an additional piece of hardware or a card that someone will come out and install. With VoIP, it’s just added as a service — the provider can just turn it on for you, and you’re ready to go.

When you own a traditional phone system, at some point they stop making additional features for the one that you own. If you want those new features that are developed, you need to buy the new series of that phone system or the new model. But as new services are added in the VoIP world, there is no new hardware to refresh, change or throw out — it just becomes an added-on service.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

How VoIP can be designed to fit the unique needs of different industries

Regardless of its size or sector a company works within, all businesses have certain common threads. For instance, the need to communicate effectively and efficiently — both internally and externally — is something every business deals with. However, it’s also important to note that every business has a unique communication DNA. A phone system that works for one company might not make sense for another.

“Every business is different,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “They shouldn’t be shoehorned into an off-the-shelf phone solution.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about the importance of customization, and how Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) can be tailored to serve various industries.

How can VoIP be designed to fit different markets that have different needs?

Different industry segments have characteristics that are only seen within that space. By deploying a customized VoIP system, a company can gain advantages from certain functions that are designed to fit that industry’s specific needs. It’s important to avoid trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

How can VoIP be tailored to serve the manufacturing sector?

Manufacturing facilities typically have two different components. First is the headquarters, which serves as the hub of communications and houses accounting, sales and administrative personnel. The sales team, which generally uses headquarters as their home-base, need a phone system that can help them keep in touch with their main facility while they’re out pounding the pavement. Then there are remote manufacturing and warehouse facilities that are often spread throughout the country or world. Not only is there a need for fluid communication at the administrative level, but the remote facilities must also be able to correspond effortlessly with headquarters. A VoIP system can be tailored to meet the disparate needs of a manufacturing facility, enabling that facility to become more accessible, and ultimately, more efficient.

How can VoIP support the needs of CPAs and financial institutions?

Typically, in these types of businesses, the staff are housed in a single location. If there are multiple locations, the phone needs are often identical. Employees are usually on the phone a good part of the day and there is a need for continual customer contact. The basic administrative functions are the most important components for such businesses. Because the workforce is stationary, there is rarely a need for remote or mobile applications.

How can VoIP streamline calls for the medical sector?

Most small to midsize doctor’s offices are structured so that during the day inbound calls go through a receptionist. During the evening, medical practitioners utilize absentee services where callers are redirected through phone numbers that lead to on-call personnel or forwarded to hospitals in the case of emergencies. A VoIP system can redirect, or triage, phone calls as needed.

How can VoIP allow a virtual company to appear as if they are well grounded?

More and more companies are shedding their brick and mortar locations in favor of having their employees work remotely. By having a front-end VoIP configuration, organizations can present a unified communications system that will give the appearance of a solid business. Functions like call forwarding, voice mail and conference calling are available so employees can stay connected without being tied to an office. Also, VoIP can eliminate the need for companies to utilize traditional phone lines and equipment, so overall cost savings and service enhancements can be significant.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

A look at the issues facing companies as they upgrade telephone systems

Small and midsized businesses face several key challenges brought about by an increasingly mobile workforce.

“Many are finding that their traditional phone services aren’t reliable or flexible enough to meet changing patterns of work and customer needs,” says Kevin Conmy, regional vice president at Comcast Business.

“As a result, many are seeking alternatives to PBX telephone systems that have become obsolete, expensive and labor-intensive to manage.”

According to recent UBM Tech research, more than 59 percent of small and midsized companies would consider a hosted or virtual alternative to traditional PBX or Key systems. Respondents to the survey perceived that cloud-based systems would address many of the primary motivations for considering the replacement of their current telephone systems.

Yet challenges in implementation are among the remaining barriers to wider adoption of this alternative to the traditional approach.

Smart Business spoke with Conmy about these challenges, as well as the benefits of a cloud-based telephone system.

What are businesses looking for in a communications system?

Organizations are increasingly seeking flexible communications that support in-office as well as remote employees (and those who move among multiple locations). Employees at organizations of all sizes have become increasingly dependent on communications systems to keep pace with the new mobile work style.

The most successful companies will be those that leverage technology to empower their employees, removing obstacles to their success, and engage this new workforce in ways that will drive the business. New communications and collaboration tools are needed to effectively tie together and promote teamwork among dispersed workers.

Many companies, but particularly small and midsized businesses, are finding that their traditional phone systems aren’t reliable or flexible enough to meet these changing patterns of work and customer needs. As a result, many are seeking alternatives to PBX telephone systems that have become obsolete, expensive, and labor intensive to manage.

Recent UBM Tech research, based on a survey of 228 IT directors, networking decision makers, and other senior management executives involved in purchasing telephone systems and unified communications services at small and midsized companies, revealed that a significant 59 percent of companies surveyed would consider a hosted or virtual alternative to traditional PBX or key systems.

Why are some companies resistant to making a change?

Companies that are considering the replacement of their current telephone systems are driven to do so by the age or obsolescence of their equipment, the costs associated with managing and maintaining that equipment and the need for modern communications features.

The research found, however, that many companies are reluctant to invest in a communications system with associated high maintenance costs and steep learning curves.

Respondents who are considering replacing their current telephone systems say they are challenged to select a new IP-based PBX that will not become obsolete and unreliable in a few years.

After all, the rapid changes of the last five years quickly rendered their traditional PBX systems unable to support the anytime, anywhere communications necessary to support an increasingly mobile workforce.

What is the benefit of a cloud-based managed phone service?

Cloud-based managed phone services provide a virtual PBX that offers features that are easy and intuitive to use and that help companies run a faster, more efficient business. Because everything is managed in the cloud, there is no need to make the major capital and hardware management investment that typically comes with traditional PBX phone systems.

In addition to making it possible to minimize capital expenditures on expensive hardware, cloud-based phone services remove the need to hire staff to monitor the system. There’s also no need to keep purchasing the latest technology, since the constant evolution of hardware is maintained in the cloud.

What barriers still need to be overcome?

According to UBM Tech research, some respondents are not convinced about the real cost savings associated with cloud-based communications. They are also leery of requirements that their organizations retain direct control over voice and unified communications and have concerns about security, privacy and regulatory compliance.

In order to drive adoption beyond the first wave of early adopters, these concerns must be addressed and a financial model must be created to demonstrate the savings in total cost of ownership over a five- to 10-year period.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business.

Used VoIP phone systems can go toward the good of the community

Change happens. Sometimes a company decides to upgrade its Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) hardware with a new system, has moved several workers off-site and no longer needs the same number of phones, or office mergers have taken place. In these cases and others, business owners sometimes have excess telephone hardware. Many companies are now looking to give back to their communities by putting gently used VoIP systems in the hands of those who need it.

“I’ve been to some businesses that say they’ve downsized and they have 20 to 30 extra phones that they’re never going to use again,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “I’ve had customers who contacted me and said ‘We’ve changed how we do business, we’ve reduced the number of people and we have all of these extra VoIP-capable phones; do you have anybody who actually needs them?’”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg to find out more about donating used VoIP systems as an alternative to selling or trashing them.

Why would a company choose to donate VoIP hardware?

Companies may have extra equipment that they’ve paid for in full, and two options would be to sell it back somewhere for a decreased value, or donate it. When they choose to donate the phones, they get an in-kind donation and can use it for a tax benefit.

Many nonprofits are struggling with their communication equipment. For example, they have caseworkers who are using their personal cellphones when sitting in an office somewhere trying to work. It’s not a professional environment and they’re giving out their personal number for services that are really not something you should be giving your personal number for. These donated VoIP systems raise the level of communication and allow the nonprofit to communicate more effectively and professionally.

The companies that have donated find that they’re happy to give the phones up, and then the added bonus of a tax benefit is nice. They want that sedentary equipment to go to a good place.

What is the process like for a company to donate used phones?

When a company’s vendor acts as the intermediary for donated phones, the vendor needs to keep track of where the equipment is coming from and who it’s being donated to. When you donate to a nonprofit, they give you a letter saying thank you for the in-kind donation of X number of phones valued at XYZ dollars, and the vendor will hand the note off to the company that donated.

Who receives donated equipment?

The company can request where their donated phones go. It’s a good idea to support organizations that don’t have the benefit of being a for-profit organization. A donation eliminates the need for a nonprofit to try and buy something new, as opposed to using a perfectly fine technology that just happens to be gently used. In the end, it’s a double-win: You’re not just throwing it into a landfill or just benefiting another for-profit somewhere, and you’re giving the equipment to a nice organization that does good for the community.

The vendor may also be able to recommend organizations if the company doesn’t have one in mind. Recommendations may come through the normal business channel or organizations may come looking for assistance. There are many small nonprofits that are struggling that nobody really knows about. Companies can make a difference just by identifying those organizations. Find your favorite, small nonprofit, and recommend to your VoIP supplier that they donate your hardware to that organization.

Are there minimum requirements for gently used phone systems?

To turn it around and make it effective, it has to be something that will work with VoIP. It can’t be a legacy phone system because the receiving organization will end up in the same situation with a service that doesn’t help them very well. Companies can call their VoIP provider and let them know what they have, and they will determine whether they can use the hardware or not.

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