The great equalizer Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007

How does a company with 20 to 200 employees compete with companies two, three or 10 times their size? How can they maintain their efficiencies, increase productivity and lower costs at the same time? That may seem like a pretty tall order.

“With Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems, all that is possible along with the added benefit of disaster recovery,” says Jonathan Curry, vice president of sales and marketing for Curry IP Solutions. “You can obtain unlimited long distance service, increased mobility, innovative long-term solutions, and single network infrastructure savings and give the appearance and service of a much larger company. VoIP is the great equalizer between small and large businesses.”

Smart Business talked with Curry about the basics of setting up a VoIP telephone system.

Why do you say VoIP is the great equalizer?

You can set up a virtual office with your employees. They can work from anywhere and be connected through the Internet to your main office. They can be reached by telephone and have access to any needed data. When a customer calls your central number and provides the extension to an operator or by key pad, the call is transferred to the right person no matter where he or she is located; home, branch office or wherever. You can add employees without the expense of more office space and equipment. They can set up in their home, but customers and suppliers can be taken care of seamlessly without having to know where the employee is located.

Where do the savings come in?

One area is long distance service. Some plans offer unlimited long distance service while international calling is down to pennies per minute to a number of countries. Call centers can also drill down their costs by eliminating dedicated PRIs or point-to-point T-1s. Another area is bill simplicity. Your bill is provided electronically without stacks of paper stored in file cabinets. Invoices are easily imported into Excel for analysis whenever needed. You can set up monthly payments to be charged directly to a credit card or for an electronic fund transfer. So you have no missed payments or late fees.

You can save time when calling colleagues. Instead of having to punch in 10 digits, you can just dial their four-digit extension number, just like you would in the office, and be connected directly to them.

Another time saver is the ability to check e-mail and voicemail messages at the same time. Forwarding a voicemail message to someone else is as easy as forwarding an e-mail.

Saving capital expenses is also a benefit. With traditional phone systems, the hardware may be outdated soon after it is installed. With VoIP products, one vendor often updates its software or firmware for free. With a point and click of your mouse, you’re instantly updated.

You can grow your system as it fits your budget and you will be operating in the most up-to-date way. Some service providers provide hosted PBX. With this service, companies only need to purchase IP phones and not a complete system, realizing a significant reduction in capital expenses.

How would this system assist in disaster recovery?

The ability to have employees work from anywhere also works in case of emergencies and natural or man-made disasters. You set up your disaster recovery plan to include who is responsible for what. With a couple of clicks of the mouse, your computer system can be reset to operate from a remote location. All calls can be rerouted through that location, and employees can converse with each other, customers and suppliers.

Are there any potential downsides?

The latest concern was the routing of emergency calls. You should check with your service provider to verify that it is E911-compliant. If it is, anytime you change your location you must update the physical address on the provided Web site. Then, if a call is placed to 911, the call center will have both your contact number and your current location. While your provider may place a follow-up call to your Pittsburgh telephone number when you are out-of-state, it will respond with emergency personnel and equipment to the physical address you updated in the Web site.

A second concern may be quality. With the explosion of access to increased bandwidth and hardware, it is difficult to know if it’s VoIP or traditional phone service.

JONATHAN CURRY is vice president of sales and marketing for Curry IP Solutions (www.curryip.com), which caters to business clients. Reach him at jrcurry@curryip.com or (412) 307-3600, ext. 9002.