Replacing outdated phone systems is uncomfortable until you see the benefits

Cutting the cord

Having worked with small and midsized businesses in the VoIP arena for the past 10 years, Ohio.net Marketing Director Alex Desberg says it’s interesting that companies getting a new phone system commonly ask why they need to change.

“In one instance, we introduced new services that had fairly advanced features to a company,” Desberg says. “A provisioning team was sent out to install the system and train the company’s employees on how to use it. The front line manager asked the provisioner if he could set up the new phone system just like the old one so none of his employees needed to learn anything new. It’s interesting because people have access to revolutionary services and their first thoughts are often around how they can take a high-tech system and dumb it down to mimic the service they’re getting rid of.”

Desberg spoke with Smart Business about making the switch from traditional phone systems to VoIP.

What does it mean to “cut the cord” on outdated phone systems?

Traditional phone systems typically ride on legacy phone lines — the copper lines running down telephone poles that connect to buildings and their phone systems. When VoIP came along, it translated all the voice traffic into data and freed it from needing a physical connection.

That innovation created a host of capabilities through hybrid systems. Remote and office staff can now be connected with virtual phone systems that maintain the core capabilities of a traditional office phone system but without needing to be tied to a single location.

What is involved in the process of cutting the cord and why might it be uncomfortable for a company?

When it comes to phones, people are change-averse. It’s strange because technology users seem to be comfortable with or even expect to upgrade their computers, cellular phones and tablets, but when it comes to office phones, people are so comfortable with outdated technology that they resist anything new. Telecommunications are often the last office upgrade considered. Even when a company moves its offices, it’s usually the last call made. And when plans are made, companies typically move the outdated system rather than upgrade it.

That fear is likely driven by the concern for potential disruption that could be picked up by those outside the company — customers, vendors, etc. A fundamental change to the phone system from a traditional line to VoIP could be recognized in the voicemail greeting or possible changes to the menu prompts. In reality, customers won’t disappear because a company’s voicemail sounds slightly different or there is a new set of button pushes. With VoIP, there is the chance to make telephone service more personable and easier to navigate to improve the customer experience.

In what ways would a company’s customers be affected by an updated phone system?

VoIP allows customers to more easily reach individuals in the company directly. If they call the office line they can be instantly redirected to a cell phone without needing to talk with front desk personnel and they avoid voicemail. That creates more of a direct connection between the customer and the person they need to reach.

VoIP systems are great for calls that occur after hours. In most traditional phone systems, customers can’t reach anyone in the office once it’s closed and that’s the end of it. VoIP can incorporate time-of-day plans to redirect calls to whoever is available at that time. That can change how a company is viewed.

What can a company do with VoIP that it is unable to do without it?

There are some really outdated phone systems still in operation. Often companies hold onto equipment until it’s completely amortized or obsolete. These systems don’t have caller ID or voicemail. Instead, message taking is done with paper and ink. Replacing a system like that is a very striking change. For companies that have a remote workforce and are located across the country, a legacy system is more of a liability than an asset.

VoIP systems tie employees together under one cohesive phone system. This is critical in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) setting. It helps unite devices of all types through a multiplatform service. Custom systems allow companies to add or remove features as they’re needed anytime. It’s a way for companies to build their own systems that can be scaled to meet the needs of the company at any stage of its lifecycle.

What sort of training is necessary to get employees up to speed on using the new phone system effectively?

VoIP providers will both install the system and provide end-user training as part of the ramp up. A trainer will come to the company’s facility and walk employees through the systems features. They can also teach remote employees through webinars.

Because providers are service-oriented, they should always have training options available to answer questions and provide technical support on managing transfers, checking voicemail online, fixing issues or reminding employees how to use any of the service’s functions — it’s essentially an on-demand training and provisioning service.

What are the long-term benefits companies can realize with a new phone system that couldn’t have been realized without it?

It was once the case that companies would be required to maintain their own phone system hardware with costly parts and service. Now, the brains of every unit live on cloud servers. As new services and features come out they’re added to the system and can be used immediately. There are always new features being made available to VoIP customers — small call center resources such as call queues and operator features to call recording and text to extensions, for instance. They can be added or ignored depending on the value and budget of the company.

There can be some nickel-and-diming with some providers. A good provider will have the most common features already turned on. It’s only the higher functions such as call recording that come with an added fee. Companies typically use 40-50 percent of the functions that are available, but each company uses a unique 40-50 percent.

Businesses that are investigating new phone system options should look at everything and evaluate them based on what could provide the biggest benefit for the organization. Explore the benefits of switching to VoIP and pick a supplier that has both the best services and support.

This article brought to you by Ohio.net.

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

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.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

How to use data collected by VoIP systems to build business strategies

Nowadays, there’s a lot of talk about using data to drive your business. There are entire departments set up to gather and analyze data, and make strategic recommendations based on their findings. Usually these initiatives center around Web statistics, email open rates or other customer interactions. But what about your phone system?

Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems offer companies the opportunity to gather data on phone usage and gauge employee performance, or even develop revenue-generating strategies.

“VoIP is taking true voice and turning it into data and pushing it across the Internet,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “That means that it is running through computerized systems that can track it. It’s standard data, but it doesn’t get used in this manner with traditional telephones.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about leveraging call data.

What sort of data does a VoIP system collect?

Companies are able to take the calling patterns of their organization, whether they’re inbound or outbound, and provide detail down to the second of who’s calling in or out, how long a call is, or the amount of time between calls. This kind of data becomes very valuable for service organizations that may receive high call volumes.

The data is available almost immediately after the call ends. Companies can track when a call is transferred and moved around in an organization. Single call resolution is very big in the service industry where you want the person who is answering the phone to be able to complete everything the customer needs and not transfer them several times. You can watch that transferred call travel and you know who initiated the call and who is the final person on the call.

VoIP also offers call recording. The recording data can be categorized by date, time, which phone number was called or which extension answered. You have the ability to pull a call or keep records of a call, so it’s great for conflict resolution or he-said she-said scenarios.

How do companies access the data, and how do VoIP vendors support that?

The customer has full access to all data, which can be available securely online with real-time statistics. If, for example, you want to see what your call statistics were for yesterday and how many calls were answered between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., that’s all in a very easy-to-pull report. Many reports are pre-created so that a user can just pick from a list. Alternately, custom reporting is available, or the VoIP vendor can just supply all of the raw data — basically everything that happens on a phone system — in a spreadsheet, and the company can mine that data itself.

What can a company do with this data? 

There are several ways to analyze and use the data to improve business. To target qualified leads and prepare the appropriate sales person, the marketing department can see where inquiries are coming from with inbound calls, in terms of geographic area, based on the phone number from which the caller is dialing. Advertisers running radio spots can measure impact by comparing the time of the day the ad runs with call volume and adjust appropriately. Custom phone numbers can be placed on advertisements to judge the effectiveness of the particular message — the more calls to that phone number, the better it is working.

Sales managers can measure performance of their team by seeing who is making phone calls, how often they’re making calls, how long they’re spending on the phone and they can couple that with call recording to see what works best. For example, perhaps the data shows that calls over two minutes increase the odds of closing a deal, or that calls under one minute decrease the chances of a sale, or whatever the statistics reveal.

On a corporate level, a company can also determine how busy their operators are and whether or not they need to add more staff for that time of day, month, year, etc., and how quickly customers are being taken care of. The more data you have, the more you can extrapolate out of it and build a strategy around it.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

How VoIP can save money during business expansion

When a business is in expansion mode, there are many expenses that accompany its growth. But if an expanding company has the economy-of-scale benefit that’s inherent to VoIP, the more offices it opens the more cost savings it has the potential to see.

“There is so much duplication when trying to offer traditional phone service if you have multiple offices,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “If we can get rid of that duplication, that extra waste, you really start to see some economic benefit and efficiencies within telecommunications.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg to find out how businesses with multiple locations are able to save money and streamline their labor efforts by using VoIP.

What kinds of issues do some businesses experience with a traditional phone system in multiple office locations?

Some companies have six or seven locations across the region, and every one has a different phone system, different provider and one IT person trying to manage it all. Sometimes they’re on legacy equipment, where they inherited an old phone system culture. An IT or telecom manager may get separate bills for phone service — for the vendor that takes care of phone systems, for Internet and for long distance — and each invoice needs to be reviewed and approved. But with VoIP, it’s all on one bill, saving a lot of time.

How does moving to a VoIP system increase efficiencies?

VoIP can turn multiple phone systems into one cloud-based system, reducing the resources that the provider needs to maintain.

It’s hosted, so the provider only needs to go to one place to effect change or support or update the system for the customer. If a phone provider has to go on-site to update, change or move a phone around, that adds cost. In a hosted environment such as with VoIP, the provider’s staff doesn’t have to go anywhere because they have remote access to everything that the client’s business is using.

With phone support issues, if there are multiple vendors, a company with a traditional phone system may spend a lot of time trying to figure out which vendor to call to service the phone system, Internet, etc. Using VoIP, a service call turns into a brief phone call rather than an hour of trying to figure out who does what.

Another issue is reporting. VoIP reporting shows everything a customer has, how much is being used, who’s calling who, and that reporting is available online. Customers can see a full call detail report any time they want. Traditionally, you would need to call your phone provider and request a report, and that can be a huge set of phone records that need to be manually reviewed.

How do VoIP systems save money for companies with multiple locations?

When multiple locations each have their own phone system, there’s time, effort and money involved in keeping each running. There’s a base cost per location. Even if it’s inexpensive, there are still costs associated with it and they’ll need resources running that phone system at each location.

Phone systems should also be built to allow for some expandability. It’s a mistake to put in the minimum amount of phone lines just to get by. It’s better to ensure accessibility and be able to answer all the calls a business receives every day. That may lead to a provider over-building a little bit. But with VoIP, that extra capacity is built in at one location, and it still has that expandability. It creates a better cost model.

Do business owners who use VoIP have the opportunity for labor savings as well?

Yes. Traditionally, organizations want fewer people doing the same amount of work that would be accomplished with greater human resources. With a cloud-based phone model, you don’t need somebody who is technically inclined to be able to maintain and update the system because it is part of the provider’s service. The company can subsequently invest resources into running its business rather than learning a phone system.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

Recognizing common phone hacking tricks could save your business

Security is always a concern when it comes to technology and communications, but recent high-profile hacks have brought the issue to the forefront. It has become clear that corporate telecom systems are not immune to these threats — they are often targets.

“Whether it be IP-based or traditional telephony-based, this is what connects you to the outside world and how people know you by voice,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “Security is very important not only in terms of liability and loss, but also in terms of your public image.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about common threats to corporate telecommunication systems, how to identify them, and how to offset the risk of security breaches.

What are some common threats and how do they affect enterprise communication systems?

Users are actually the biggest threats; having things like a voice mail password that is the same as their extension, or birthday, or something guessable creates real problems. Most sophisticated phone systems can redirect calls through voice mail. If someone can guess your password, they now have access to your phone.

People have figured out how to dial into an existing phone system, commandeer phone lines and start making international phone calls. That practice is a multi-million-dollar business for people who can create pseudo-calling card services and allow others to call internationally on a corporation’s dime. That happens regularly both on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones and traditional phones. It’s referred to as coming through the front door, which means dialing the number, getting into someone’s voice mail, gleaning the four- or six-digit code, reaching an outside line and making phone calls.

What steps can be taken with VoIP to mitigate risk?

As technology has progressed, so has security. When done correctly, VoIP becomes more secure than a traditional phone system. It uses security processes that are very similar to those in the world of data; just like servers and accounts can be secured, so can the servers and accounts of phone systems. Front ending any decent VoIP system right out of the box should include a superior-grade firewall.

Is front door hacking more prevalent than back door hacking, and is there a difference in the level of threats between the two?

Most often, front door hacking is done to make money. Back door hacking is more malicious, designed to wreck or learn more about systems. If you take down a company’s phone system because you’ve hacked the back end, you’re essentially putting it out of business. Conversely, front end hackers don’t want to be recognized. Often a front door hack will go on for a month before a company gets its first phone bill and realizes something is wrong.

How can companies mitigate that risk and secure their systems?

It’s important to diligently monitor call logs. VoIP systems have a lot of data associated with them and if it is analyzed via call records it becomes clear when a phone system has been compromised. It then becomes easy to protect because statistical anomalies or changes in normal usage are more apparent. There are flags set up for international calling as well as attempted access to phone systems from international IP addresses. To thwart back door hacking, companies can use intrusion detection, firewall and access list, as well as the ability to lock access via IP address.

How can business owners make sure their system is secure?

Address it upfront with the provider and make sure that they have operations in place that allow for security, then identify protocol for dealing with a security breach. The rest is all the simple stuff.

Don’t let anyone use their extension as their password for their voice mail box and make sure its nothing common.

Also, call redirection or a zero-out to an operator can go to any other phone number. If you don’t have need for that ‘press zero’ function, take it out.

Finally, be careful what you download from the Internet.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

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.

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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

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