3 Way Unified Communications Helps Your Business

UCAAS

3 Way Unified Communications Helps Your Business

UCAAS

 

Enterprise businesses have been known to have complex needs when it comes to their business communications.  But, thanks to the cloud and specifically unified communications as a service (UCaaS), enterprise businesses are able to take advantage of more efficient and cost-effective methods to integrate their communications and respective applications.

Here are a few 3 ways UCaaS solutions are proving they are equipped to handle the varying challenges of enterprise businesses.

Unifying Locations and Employees 

Enterprise organizations often struggled to unify their communications infrastructure in an affordable way.  With multiple locations and remote and traveling employees, keeping everyone connected was complicated. That is, before UCaaS entered the marketplace. As the workforce continues to be more mobile and distributed, the growing need for mobility and flexibility has driven the UCaaS market into even greater demand, especially for large businesses. UCaaS enables voice, fax, video conferencing, presence, chat, file and desktop sharing, and mobility both in and outside of the workplace. The workforce today thrives on this type of multi-channel communications and collaboration and UCaaS is the catalyst.  With every employee, service and feature unified onto the same system and accessible from any device, productivity and internal communications are drastically enhanced. With the most advanced UCaaS solutions where the user profiles lives in the cloud and are not tied to a specific device, employees are even able to move seamlessly between locations, enabling phones and workspaces to be shared interchangeably which drastically reduces equipment and IT support costs.

The Enhancement of Existing Technology Investments

Enterprise businesses are relying more on cloud services and third-party networks for their mission-critical applications. Almost every enterprise utilizes some form of a customer relationship management (CRM) solution. A huge advantage of UCaaS solutions is their ability to integrate seamlessly with leading CRM solutions that many of these businesses rely on.  This is a win-win for many reasons. Enterprise businesses not only improve their overall communications, but they enhance the functionality of their existing applications as well. Talk about ROI! Improving employee workflows and productivity, while at the same time providing a greater return on both technology investments. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Beyond CRM application investments, many enterprise businesses have legacy conference and meeting room systems in place. With locations all over the world and many enterprises involved in some type of acquisition and merger, having multiple disparate meeting room systems in place is a common result. The product of this costly and complicated challenge for many is having existing meeting room systems sitting idle collecting dust.  Fortunately, there is a cost-effective and simple resolution.  Advanced HD video, audio and web conferencing solutions that offer features like Room Connector can enable existing meeting room systems like Polycom, Cisco, Tandberg and Lifesize to communicate with one another, as well as with other commonly used devices like smartphones, laptops and tablets, all in the same virtual meeting.  Through the purchase of a few licenses,  meeting participants can share documents, collaborate, and chat with other offices and remote workers easily and efficiently utilizing existing technology investments. Coupling this with the advanced features of an entire UCaaS solution, the cost-effectiveness and boost in productivity and efficiency is off the charts.

Improving Productivity, Scalability and Business Continuity 

With UCaaS solutions, enterprise businesses can achieve a more cost-effective and productive way to communicate and collaborate.  By unifying all of the communications services, business applications and employees onto the same system, everything employees need and use is centralized in one place. The features of UCaaS systems are typically managed online through secure web portals, which enable access to features and the ability to make changes from any device, anywhere. This is especially beneficial for ensuring business continuity. Changes like routing calls, updating greetings, checking voicemails and conferencing can be enabled directly through the industry’s best online portals, ensuring that employees and customers can communicate regardless of the circumstances.  Scaling cost-effectively is another common concern for large organizations. Advanced UCaaS solutions have the ability to enable users, services and equipment to be added or removed at any time, giving enterprise businesses the ability to pay for only the services they need and the flexibility to scale to meet growing business demands.

UCaaS unifies the communications experience, connecting and integrating employees, locations, services and business applications. It’s no wonder that IDC predicts the global UCaaS market will top $35 billion by 2019. Enterprise businesses benefit greatly from this refined method of communications and collaboration and will be a large portion of this anticipated growth.


UCaaS in Chicago

4 Reasons Why You Will Move Your Phones to the Cloud

At times, there are events that are sudden- like a snow storm or a flood. At other times, events move like an erupting volcano. Other events have the change occur like a glacier- over time and colossal. In technology, we have change advancing at a rapid pace. Yesterday’s invention is tomorrow’s necessity. In business communications, the shift has been tremendous.  Communications have shifted from premise based systems to hosted systems. Communications have shifted from being its own separate network to another application running on the network.

The business communications industry is seeing some of the greatest changes of its time. The leading driver being the steady adoption of the cloud, specifically unified communications (UC) and the delivery of these services, better referred to as unified communication as a service (UCaaS).

As we see in every space, products have life cycles. It’s becoming clear that the premises-based phone systems that many businesses relied on are quickly approaching the end of theirs. According to Gartner, there has been a 6.6% decline in premises-based revenue over the last 5 years.

So, why the steady decline of premises-based systems?

Many businesses today are faced with aging premises-based phone systems and are left with the choice to either replace them with the same technology or migrate to newer technology like cloud-based UC solutions. Premises-based systems have a tough time competing with cloud based UC systems in several key areas.

Here are 4 reasons why UCaaS is rapidly replacing premises-based systems.

  1. Cost

From large enterprise businesses, all the way to small non-profit organizations, everyone is looking to reduce costs and become more cost-efficient. Companies are moving away from systems that require high upfront capital expenses and are gravitating to solutions that allow them to pay for only what they actually need and use. With premises-based systems, upgrading an entire system is no longer a financially attractive option, with many systems requiring a longer commitment and the inability to scale.  Cloud-based UC models offer greater flexibility, with financing options and the ability to add and remove services and users whenever needed, providing businesses with the assurance that they can scale at anytime with ease.

  1. Advanced Features

Businesses are no longer interested in replacing older phone systems with newer ones that offer the same functionality. Companies today are looking for mobility, flexibility and more efficient ways to collaborate and work. Cloud-based UC systems integrate traditional telephony solutions with other communication and productivity applications on an internet protocol (IP) network, enabling a myriad of capabilities, including audio, web and a video conferencing, company-wide chat, presence, email, file sharing and integrations with leading CRM solutions. The enhanced capabilities that cloud UC solutions are able to deliver are much more equipped to meet the growing demands of the modern workforce.

  1. Maintenance

Premises-based switched telephony systems, typically a PBX or IP-PBX system, can be time-consuming, complex and costly to maintain, requiring dedicated IT staff to manage the systems and servers for even the most basic of changes. With the additional costs and complexities, companies are fleeing to the simplicity and maintenance-free technology of the cloud. Unlike equipment that just depreciates, the cloud continues to update automatically and often for no cost. Cloud-based UC systems, like Broadview’s OfficeSuite UC™ , SNET Cloud Phones or Zultys Cloud Services which are easy for both employees and administrators to manage the features of the system without IT support, provide the ability to save even more time and money, while improving operations.

  1. Security

Premises-based systems don’t offer much in the area of security, with equipment and critical data all stored on site.  Cloud-based UC systems on the other hand, especially those that utilize the cloud for 100 percent of its storage and processing are hosted on the provider’s servers and accessible through an encrypted web browser, ensuring that nothing is left  on-site where it could be vulnerable to hacking, theft or damage.  The best cloud UC providers even guarantee calls using the public internet are encrypted from the handset into a secure network, ensuring call data remains protected and confidential. An added assurance is offered by the most secure UC providers like Broadview Networks, who encrypts calls, messages and recordings with Transport Layer Security (TLS), cryptographic protocols that provide communications security over a provider’s network, and Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), a symmetric encryption algorithm. Some cloud-based UC systems even allow internal IT staff to change user settings through flexible web portals that work across multiple devices. Offering these additional internal abilities, like controlling who is permitted to forward voicemail, further safeguards private information.

Businesses today are becoming more strategic with their communications investments. In addition to the desire for enhanced capabilities and collaboration features to improve employee productivity and customer service, they are also looking for solutions that are future-proof, secure and allow for growth and expansion. This extreme market shift and steady rise in cloud adoption and UCaaS is an indication that businesses are seeking a more holistic communication solution that extends well beyond voice communications.

If your businesses is looking to move to the cloud or upgrade to a more secure cloud-based UC solution, Prime Telecommunications can help!  Our stable of award-winning unified communications solutions are  100 percent cloud-based, making it more secure and easier to use and manage than any other system.

Our solutions operate solely in the cloud, eliminating the reliance on phones, servers and power to operate and ensures nothing is stored on-site where it can be vulnerable to threats or theft.  With encrypted calling, messages and meetings, and its intuitive online dashboard, which features customizable user profiles, employees can quickly, easily and securely manage any feature of the system from anywhere, eliminating the need for IT support, increasing productivity and ensuring business continuity.


UC for Small Business

7 UC Benefits for Every Small Business

More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business. Regardless of how small a business is, communications is the most essential component to their success. In the past, having the latest communication technology in place was a costly challenge for small businesses to maintain. Fortunately, with cloud technology and the developments of cloud-based Unified Communications (UC) solutions, it is much more attainable.

With many of the most advanced features built-into UC systems and the top providers including maintenance and free upgrades, helping your customers remain professional and connected to their customers and colleagues has never been easier or more affordable for even the smallest of businesses.

Here are 7 UC benefits that provide a competitive benefit to every small business.

1. Auto Attendants
Auto Attendants are one of the most utilized built-in benefits of cloud-based phone systems. They ensure that all incoming calls are answered and directed to the appropriate place, no matter who is physically available. For small businesses, this is a huge advantage. They gain the ability to pre-record greetings they’d like customers to hear, ensuring a professional image is projected with every single call. Plus, they can save significantly by not having to designate employees to answer calls. Since the most common reasons for calls are for hours of operation and directions, using an Auto Attendant for this purpose alone will reduce the number of routine calls that need to be answered by 25%, allowing staff to focus on their business and better serve their in-person customers.

2. On-hold Greetings
The best cloud-based phone systems include on-hold greetings and music options. This feature can really make a difference in how a company is portrayed. While their customers are waiting on-hold, they can take advantage of this time with pre-recorded messages to promote and advertise specials, their website and upcoming events to boost sales or attendance, all for free. Free direct advertising opportunities like this are few and far between and definitely a great benefit for businesses with limited advertising budgets. Additionally, small businesses instantly seem larger and more legitimate having professionally recorded messages or music entertaining their callers while they are waiting on hold.

3. 800 Numbers
Another great feature that helps your prospects project a larger company image are 1-800 numbers. They can be used in a variety of ways, such as designating a phone number for advertising campaigns to track results, to direct calls to a specific employee, or to just project a larger company image in a specific location. They are a great way to centralize calls for little to no cost and a huge advantage to provide customers who would otherwise be calling long distance.

4. Online Fax
Faxing may seem obsolete, but it’s still very much alive in business. With online fax, your prospects can fax digitally and eliminate the need for a traditional fax machine and the high costs associated with it, like phone lines, paper, maintenance and ink. Faxing with UC systems is basically free and so are they. Free to fax to and from any device, from anywhere. Transactions become instantaneous, secure and hassle-free from wherever they need them to be.

5. Video Conferencing
Face-to-face meetings are critically important, but can be costly for businesses who serve clients located in other parts of the country or the world. Delivering personalized service and collaborating on deliverables can be both affordable and simple with the right video, audio and web conferencing software. These solutions allow customers to share documents, give presentations and meet and connect with their clients or team members from any device, anywhere, for a fraction of the cost of travel.

6. No IT Required
A big draw for UC systems are their ease of use. These systems are designed with the user in mind and provide access to every service, feature and setting, so your customers can easily and independently manage their own communications without the need of costly outside support. Systems that are even more advanced, go beyond just admin privileges and enable your customers to grant access to their own employees so they can manage the features needed, which saves them even more time and money.

7. Online Management
With cloud-based systems, everything is well, in the cloud. This is incredibly helpful for a business of any size, but especially a small business because everything can be managed and accessed remotely at anytime through a secure online portal. Many small businesses have limited staff available so for basic changes like recording a greeting or checking the company voicemail, owners would previously have to physically go to their place of business. Everything with cloud UC systems becomes mobilized and flexible, giving your customers the ability to forward calls, fax, listen to voicemail, change greetings about hours and much more, from any device, anywhere.

Small businesses work with limited resources. All-inclusive, cloud UC solutions offer them an affordable path to the latest technology for a low monthly fee and often no capital expense. This gives businesses of any size, the opportunity to compete with even the largest of competitors, while improving their sales, operations and customer service. We expect to see an increase in UC adoption in small businesses over the next few years. Ensure you are the one to help them transition and reap the benefits of having a cost-effective solution in place.


Unified Communications Chicago Business

4 Ways Seasonal Businesses Benefit from A Cloud Unified Communications Solution

According to the US Department of Labor, there are more than seven million businesses nationwide that employ approximately 135 million part-time and seasonal workers. In addition to increased staffing needs for retailers during the holiday season, the summer is also high season for many industries like tourism, hospitality and entertainment.

Communications with customers in any business is critically important, but especially during the busiest time of year when the interaction with customers is at all time high. Training can be  challenging at peak season, especially with a large influx of new employees. Therefore, having a communications solution that is cost-effective and easy-to-use and manage is a top priority. Fortunately, cloud-based unified communications (UC) systems fit the bill and offer many benefits to businesses that employ seasonal and part-time workers.

Here are just 4 ways that seasonal businesses can benefit from a UC solution in a big way.

1. Scalability
First and foremost, they offer a completely scalable technology solution. When employee needs fluctuate so drastically throughout the year, flexibility for these businesses is key. As new employees are coming on board to help with the busy season, they will need to get new users set up on the system as quickly as possible. Cloud UC solutions provide businesses with greater control and flexibility than traditional, hard-wired systems can. Traditional systems require time and the help of expensive IT consultants to install new lines and move and install new phones. However, with cloud-based unified communications solutions, businesses can add or remove individual users, features, services and equipment with ease, without costly set up charges. And, with many systems, you can do all of this instantly with just a few clicks from their online portal.

2. Hot Desking
With the best UC solutions, everything is stored in the cloud. This means that individual user profiles are not attached to a device, allowing phones and workspaces to be shared interchangeably. This is a huge advantage for business settings where employees share phones and offers the ability to save on equipment costs, while keeping productivity high. With cloud-based systems, the employees designated phone number, extension, contacts, voicemail and speed dials follows them with any device they log into. Advanced features like Hot Desking are ideal for work environments with multiple locations, employees who share workspaces and those who are required to work from different areas within a given site, which are all common circumstances for seasonal businesses.

3. User Profiles
With UC solutions, everything is managed online through a secure customer portal. The most advanced online portals, like Broadview’s MyOfficeSuite, provides administrators with the ability to create unlimited user profiles for their employees and departments. Since roles of employees vary and businesses may or may not want employees to have access to certain features or capabilities, creating custom profiles based on user personas is incredibly helpful. This is really beneficial in a seasonal business because they are faced with so many new employees coming on at one time, all with different roles. Restricted access helps to keep things secure, but also provides the right amount of access so employees can work independently and use the features you need and want them to. Not to mention, at the end of the season, these profiles can be saved for future use or deleted in just seconds.

4. Programmable buttons and Intercom
With seasonal workers, there is little time for on-boarding, so new employees need to be able to use the system quickly and efficiently. This is where having a phone system that has lots of programmable buttons, versus complicated menu trees to access common features is hugely important. Some phone systems will enable employees to customize programmable buttons as frequently dialed numbers, other employee’s extensions and the help desk. This functionality might not sound important, but when crowds start forming and there’s a long line of customers out the door, time-saving capabilities like these go a long way in the delivery of customer service. Intercom is an incredibly useful button to program. This allows employees to hit one button to speak hands-free directly to the rest of the organization, a department or specific employees, depending on how it is set up.

When it comes to seasonal workers, the most important aspects are cost-savings, efficiency and flexibility. Cloud-based UC solutions provide this along with advanced communication features that work across all sites, unifying organizations that have multiple locations. This model of paying for only what you need, when you need it, makes ramping up and winding down each season both easy and affordable for these businesses with peak seasons.


Presence management

7 Ways Small Businesses Benefit from UC Solutions

Happy Small Business Week! National Small Business Week has been celebrated every year since 1963 and recognizes the key contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners. More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they generate about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year. Since many of our customers are small businesses, we see first-hand how hard they work and the impact they have on America’s economy.

Regardless of the size of your business, communications is the most essential component. In the past, having the latest communication technology in place was a costly challenge for small businesses to maintain. Fortunately, this has all changed with cloud technology and the developments of cloud-based Unified Communications (UC) solutions. With many of the most advanced features built-into UC systems and the top providers including maintenance and free upgrades, remaining professional and connected to customers and colleagues has never been easier or more affordable for even the smallest of businesses.

Here are 7 ways that small businesses can benefit from UC solutions in a big way.

Auto Attendants
Auto Attendants are one of the greatest built-in benefits of cloud-based phone systems. They ensure that all incoming calls are answered and directed to the appropriate place, no matter who is physically available. For small businesses, this is a huge advantage. You get the ability to pre-record the greeting you’d like customers to hear, ensuring you project a professional image with every single call. Plus, you save significantly by not having to designate employees to answer calls or worse, answer them all yourself. Since the most common reasons for calls are for hours of operation and directions, using an Auto Attendant for this purpose alone will reduce the number of routine calls that need to be answered by 25%, allowing you to focus on your business and better serve your in-person customers.

On-hold Greetings
The best cloud-based phone systems include on-hold greetings and music options. This feature can really make a difference in how your company is portrayed. While customers are on-hold, you can take advantage of this time with pre-recorded messages to promote and advertise specials, your website and upcoming events to boost sales or attendance, all for free. Free direct advertising opportunities like this are few and far between and definitely a great benefit for businesses with limited advertising budgets. Additionally, small businesses instantly sounds larger and more legitimate having professionally recorded messages or music entertaining callers while they are waiting on hold.

800 Numbers
Another great feature that helps to project a larger company image are 1-800 numbers. They can be used in a variety of ways, such as designating a phone number for advertising campaigns to track results, to direct calls to a specific employee, or to just project a larger company image in a specific location. They are a great way to centralize calls for little to no cost and a huge advantage to provide customers who would otherwise be calling long distance.

Online Fax
Faxing may seem obsolete, but it’s still very much alive in business. With online fax, you can fax digitally and eliminate the need for a traditional fax machine and the high costs associated with it, like phone lines, paper, maintenance and ink. Faxing with UC systems is basically free and so are you. Free to fax to and from any device, from anywhere. Transactions become instantaneous, secure and hassle-free from wherever you need them to be.

Video Conferencing
Face-to-face meetings are critically important, but can be costly if your business serves clients located in other parts of the country or the world. Delivering personalized service and collaborating on deliverables can be both affordable and simple with the right video, audio and web conferencing software. These solutions allow you to share documents, give presentations and meet and connect with clients or team members from any device, anywhere, for a fraction of the cost of travel.

No IT Required
A big draw for UC systems are their ease of use. These systems are designed with the user in mind and provide access to every service, feature and setting, so you can easily and independently manage your own communications without the need of costly outside support. Systems that are even more advanced, go beyond just admin privileges and enable you to grant access to your employees so they can manage the features you need them to, which saves you even more time and money.

Online Management
With cloud-based systems, everything is well, in the cloud. This is incredibly helpful for a business of any size, but especially a small business because everything can be managed and accessed remotely at anytime through a secure online portal. Many small businesses have limited staff available so for basic changes like recording a greeting or checking the company voicemail, owners would previously have to physically go to their place of business. Everything with cloud UC systems becomes mobilized and flexible, giving you the ability to forward calls, fax, listen to voicemail, change greetings about hours and much more, from any device, anywhere.

Small businesses work with limited resources. All-inclusive, cloud UC solutions offer an affordable path to the latest technology for a low monthly fee and often no capital expense. This gives businesses of any size, the opportunity to compete with even the largest of competitors, while improving their sales, operations and customer service. We expect to see an increase in UC adoption in all markets over the next few years, but small businesses can most certainly reap the benefits of having these solutions in place for their business’ communications.


Use HD meeting for interviews

How Using our HD Video Conferencing Can Simplify Your Hiring Process

Hiring top talent is critical to the growth and success of every organization. Each company has its own process. Even after your human resources department, or recruiting agency narrows down hundreds of applicants for each job posting, the interview process with the most qualified candidate pool can still be a daunting and expensive task. Here’s where video conferencing technology can simplify the hiring process.

After candidate applications and resumes are carefully reviewed, your next step is most likely to set up an initial interview in-person or over the phone with several of the most qualified candidates. However, in-person interviews can be costly to bring all the candidates in, not to mention time-consuming. Sure, there are phone calls, but they are not as effective at showing you the whole picture, literally. Meeting face-to-face through video conferencing software, especially when it pertains to hiring employees can really tell you a lot and save you a ton of time in the process.

Narrow down candidates more efficiently
For one, you have the opportunity to screen candidates more thoroughly to see if their resume and application match up before moving them further along in the interview process. Speaking with candidates via a brief video conference gives you the opportunity to evaluate their verbal and non-verbal communication skills, without having to do lengthy in-person interviews. You can better evaluate if they would be a good fit for the role than you can with just a phone call. How professional do they come across in terms of their appearance, attire and posture? Do they communicate effectively and display confidence? Are they energetic and excited about the potential role? Visual cues are critically important. And, if your company will be using video conferencing in your daily business, it’s a great opportunity to see each candidate’s comfort level with this important business technology.

Include colleagues easily
Another great benefit is the ability to include other key decision makers in the interviews who may be working from another location or traveling. This is a common hiring issue, and instead of delaying the interview process and potentially losing qualified candidates, multiple parties can participate in the interview process from any device, anywhere. This is incredibly useful and not to mention, practical.

Simplify geographic challenges
For out-of-state and international candidates, you may even opt to just do a series of video interviews and skip the costly and complicated in-person interviews all together. This is becoming an increasingly more popular method for hiring top talent located elsewhere. This powerful tool can save both you and your candidates time and money.

In sum, video conferencing provides your business with a cost-effective, time-saving and efficient way to interview and hire new employees. There is a great deal that can be learned from video interviews and many ways it can help to expedite and simplify the hiring process altogether. This will most definitely become a more common hiring practice and one that can really benefit your business both now and in the future.


Office suite UC portal

6 Must-haves for every UC Portal

 

Since unified communications (UC) solutions are cloud-based, the actual brains behind the systems are in the backend online management platforms or, as most refer to them as, online portals. When it comes to your ability to remain agile, mobile and productive, the interface you use holds all the power.

Here are 6 must-have features and abilities every UC portal should offer.

1. Centralized Technology: One of the greatest benefits of UC solutions is their ability to centralize all of your communication services into a single platform. You no longer need multiple systems and logins to access services beyond your phone system, like faxing, video conferencing, email and toll-free. The most advanced unified communications systems will unify your access right through their online portal. This not only applies to customers, but agents who manage multiple customer accounts through other providers. A single point of access to everything streamlines the administration of your system significantly.

2. Intuitive Design– Time is everything, especially in business. So having a portal that offers an intuitive design is crucial. The last thing you want is a complex menu tree or hierarchical system that is difficult to navigate. With one portal for everyone, managers and employees alike, the portal design should be straightforward and offer the latest technology like drag and drop and click-to-dial capabilities. The most common functionalities: listening to voicemail, setting individual preferences, uploading contacts, forwarding calls, recording greetings, paying bills and adding new services, should be both easy and possible without any IT assistance.

3. Mobility– Today’s workforce is mobilized, so the platform you use needs to match your organization’s work style, Your online portal should offer unlimited mobility, where users can access any feature and make changes as needed, from any device, anywhere. With the increased need for mobility and the popular BYOD trends, support for mobility is a critical component to every UC offering and the online portals that support them.

4. Permission-based Controls– In every organization, different employees and departments have various functions and levels of authority. User profiles are a new way that businesses can achieve optimal productivity, yet remain in complete control. With portals that allow you to create custom user profiles based upon individual user personas and needs, administrators can grant employees access to self-manage the features that are applicable to their role, saving time and resources.

5. Collaboration– Many companies today have multiple locations and employees that travel or work remotely, so having an online portal that unifies your entire organization is a definite must. Features that encourage internal collaboration like real-time presence that showcases the availability of each employee, company-wide chat, and the ability to video conference online, will enable your organization to stay connected and collaborate seamlessly, no matter where they are.

6. Built-in Intelligence– Beyond just being used to manage communication services, online portals provide us with a great opportunity to tap into the intelligence of the system. Advanced tools are now built into portals, such as call history reporting, so you can extract and evaluate important call data that will help improve the sales, customer service, marketing and operations of your business. Agents can also benefit from built-in intelligence tools from provider’s portals and gain greater visibility into their customer accounts, product revenues, contract renewals and customer satisfaction levels.

Online portals are really the heart of any UC system, so when purchasing or recommending your next unified communications solution to your customers, be sure that the online portal used to access and manage the important features of the system offers the functionality you will need both now and in the future.


Labor Under Correct Knowledge

Are You Relying on Luck? Key Technology for Business Continuity

Luck is in the air, or is it? St. Patrick’s Day may be today, but relying on luck in business can be catastrophic, especially when it pertains to your business’ communications. Luck is really L.U.C.K – and that means ” Labor Under Correct Knowledge.  You have to run your business on knowing what is the right way to deal with the changes in the business environment.

The reality is, things go wrong. And, just like we have insurance for our homes, car and life, the same precautions and investments are needed for the continuity of our business.

Many small and medium-sized businesses have neglected or postponed the adoption of business continuity due to the perception that the cost was too high. Years ago, this may have been the case. Developing a disaster recovery plan previously required your IT staff to completely re-engineer your entire business phone system so it could be recovered successfully in the event of a disaster. However, with the emergence of cloud-based systems, safeguarding your business has become both affordable and worthy of any investment.

With pay-as-you-go cloud-based unified communications (UC) solutions, businesses are now provided with the ability to move to the cloud, without requiring a hefty capital expense. These models also enable companies to scale up and down as they see fit, eliminating any risk of over investment.

So, how does cloud-based UC technology provide business continuity?

Cloud-based systems eliminate the threat of down-time and provide continuity for your communications in the event of outages. Since communications are centralized, hosted virtually and routed through the internet, disastrous events or disruptions from landlines are no longer an issue. The technology itself is no longer stored on-site and can be managed online from anywhere, so you are not bound by the internet connection at your physical business. Should the internet go down, calls can easily be routed to cell phones, home phones or other locations without the disruption of call quality, enabling your employees to communicate with customers from anywhere needed.

Advancements of the cloud continue to eliminate the hurdle of price, providing cost-effective and scalable methods for infrastructure, applications and data. Companies relying on luck because of the once burdened financial commitment can now have a feasible and efficient path to business continuity thanks to cloud-based unified communications solutions.

So, don’t test your luck, check into cloud-based options that can protect and enhance your business.


Communications solutions Chicago

What Is the Best Communications Solution for My Business?

There are so many alternatives out right now for companies and organizations that are looking for a communications solution. There are many factors that need to be considered in making the decision. Sometimes you come across an article that you just have to share. This is a case where I came across an article that encapsulates almost all of the necessary elements of that decision and is a very well organized presentation. As always, we are here to listen and to help you make sense of all of the information presented. Please feel free to call us and we will gladly explain what you may be confused about or would like additional information on. For over 20 years, we have helped businesses and organizations throughout Chicago make sense of the two, three and four letter acronyms that make up crucial components of your communications solution.

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Sandra Palumbo, research fellow, reports into Yankee Group’s Research Council. Her research focuses on cloud computing, enterprise mobility and service provider strategies, with particular emphasis on software as a service (SaaS), mobile applications, Web portals, managed services, professional services and wholesale.

Picking the Right Communications Solution for Your Business Is Critical in This Fast-Paced World

Businesses large and small continue to evolve their communications infrastructure in an attempt to garner the greatest benefits from the latest technologies. Today, the technology options available to businesses of all sizes are greater than ever before. Instead of just choosing between a managed service and a traditional on-premises deployment of a communications solution, we now have cloud delivery as an option. The move to communications and collaboration applications is not just thought of in terms of office worker use, but mobile worker use as well. Security, reliability, performance and flexibility are solution criteria that are now more important than ever before in a highly competitive, rapidly evolving world.

History shows that while many companies struggle with choosing the best communications solution for their business, other companies enamored with the promise of the latest technologies move quickly to adopt them without considering how those new solutions fit into their existing infrastructure and if they will truly benefit the business and its employees.

Enterprises are rapidly extending beyond their physical borders and to be successful, businesses must be able to communicate and collaborate with their employees, partners and customers, no matter where they are located. Implementing technology solutions that are easy to adopt and can scale to meet the needs of the business today and tomorrow is a real challenge for any IT department looking to stay competitive in today’s marketplace (see image 1).

image 1This report examines the evolution of communications services and their associated underlying technologies. Specifically, we analyze the architectural and feature evolution of managed/hosted telephony, VoIP, IP trunking and unified communications (UC). Additionally, we present key decision criteria for selecting the right IP telephony solution for a particular business.

The Evolution of Managed and Hosted Telephony

In today’s complicated technology world, the terms “managed telephony” or “hosted telephony” can often refer to a variety of solutions. Yankee Group defines VoIP/IP telephony as the use of business-class voice and multimedia applications provided through IP telephony systems, handsets and software. When the terms “managed” or “hosted” are added to “VoIP,” “telephony” or “IP PBX,” we are referring to businesses using a third-party service provider to manage and maintain at least some aspect of the voice service. Typically, this includes the monitoring and management of any hardware and software required to make the voice solution work. Managed solutions typically involve some on-premises equipment and hence remote management and monitoring, while hosted services are typically more cloud-based or hosted at the service provider’s location.

As enterprises come to terms with the business challenges that prevent them from reaping the benefits of IP telephony and UC solutions, it becomes time for these businesses to understand what solutions exist for overcoming these challenges and leveraging today’s IP networks. Because the underlying network is based on IP, IP telephony solutions can be located anywhere within the network reach, including the telecommunications provider’s cloud or hosting/data center. This allows for the possibility of a business offloading some of the day-to-day management and maintenance work to a service provider. A managed or hosted model is typically a most intriguing option for small and midsize enterprises because they don’t have the same staff expertise or balance sheet flexibility as larger enterprises.

From an economic or cost standpoint, a managed/hosted service is typically less front-end loaded with capital expenditures for equipment. Instead, a monthly service fee is billed over the typical three-year course of a contract. A managed/hosted service also offers savings in terms of time and productivity for IT staff, since most of the day-to-day management and maintenance work is handled by the service provider, meaning internal IT staff can focus on more strategic IT priorities and projects. This lets businesses with small in-house IT staffs do much more with the resources they have.

Many businesses that turn to managed/hosted IP telephony services already have some history with outsourcing and view it as a strategic business priority. With the emergence and adoption of cloud-based services, companies that are newer to outsourced services may find this the perfect time to consider a managed or hosted solution. As more applications are pushed to the cloud, a managed service can be a great first step and foundation for future communications and collaboration application adoption that doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting from the internal IT staff every time something new is deployed.

Yankee Group’s Anywhere Enterprise: 2010 US Unified Communications (UC) FastView Survey proves that for enterprises, speed and savings are the primary drivers for the move to managed and hosted IP telephony and UC solutions (see Exhibit 2). Enterprises are looking to save on IT maintenance, integration between multiple providers and infrastructure costs. These drivers tie nicely into the value proposition behind all managed and cloud-based or hosted services. Businesses also can benefit from the hosting/managed service provider’s road map for the evolution of available services and applications. It often is easier to undertake technology improvements and refreshes when using a managed service because those arrangements can be worked into the agreement upfront, without having to renegotiate or wait for a contract period to end.

image 2Concerns around a perceived lack of cost savings require some upfront conversations between businesses and their potential providers. Providers and businesses need to work together to identify the best IP telephony solution for a given business, whether it’s fully managed, a cloud-based hosted solution, a more traditional on-premises deployment or a hybrid. Every business will have different needs and goals, and service providers need to partner with businesses in putting together the right solution. Even when cost isn’t the concern but something such as reliability or performance is, VoIP’s benefits are no different in a managed arrangement as in a traditional one and need to be addressed as part of the initial solution plan and architecture.

If cost savings are an overall driver, the business must work with its provider to build a detailed cost assessment of VoIP and UC solutions, bearing in mind the business’ current and future communications environment. This ensures there will be no surprises when the bill arrives each month. Managed/hosted solutions can provide some savings over traditional deployments, but savings aren’t guaranteed until the enterprise architecture is really analyzed and evaluated. In a later section of this report we provide some detailed guidance for areas of consideration in selecting your service provider and solution.

The Benefits of Consolidated Trunking

Despite its benefits, managed and hosted telephony solutions may not be the answer for every business. For companies that choose to keep the IP PBX on their own premises, an architectural change that can have immediate cost savings is to move to consolidated IP trunks. Typically, VoIP is deployed on a node-by-node basis, with each location having its own call control and voice infrastructure. This means each location has its own trunks for calls out to the PSTN. In some cases, multiple trunks may be required for redundancy purposes. This architecture can result in a very high cost together with very low trunk utilization.

An alternative architecture choice is to centralize call control either in a central data center or corporate headquarters and then leverage the corporate WAN to distribute call control. This provides companies with the ability to consolidate trunking services to fewer locations. It also gives organizations the option of using higher bandwidth trunks that can carry more calls, which translates to fewer lines to terminate.

By adopting an IP trunking architecture, businesses can capitalize on the many core strengths of IP solutions, particularly when compared to traditional PSTN voice solutions. In addition to consolidation, these improvements and benefits include:

  • Better network reliability than traditional PSTN solutions. The idea that VoIP is any less reliable than traditional voice is one of the biggest myths holding back greater adoption. IP is a resilient protocol and reliability can be built into the design. For example, instead of having separate voice and data networks, a company could choose to deploy two data networks that act as a backup for one another. This would cost no more than the traditional model but could protect against any network outage. It would also provide better disaster recovery capabilities than running separate networks.
  • Lower intra-enterprise calling costs. All on-net calls (that is, calls within a corporation) are kept on the corporate data network, meaning the cost of these calls can be eliminated altogether or at least greatly reduced, depending on architecture. Cost savings will vary by organization type. A large, distributed multinational company will save orders of magnitude more than a large company located in a single building.
  • Faster deployment of UC applications. Particularly when a centralized architecture is adopted, new UC applications can be deployed in the central location and then distributed to all users over the company network. This can improve the time to market of new applications by orders of magnitude compared with the node-by-node deployment of traditional communications applications.

In these tough economic times, businesses are trying to improve profitability and reduce costs, and they are forced to look for ways to save when it comes to their communications expenses. Additionally, companies with smaller IT organizations must look for new, less staff-intensive ways of solving problems. The right IP telephony solution helps companies achieve the following benefits:

  • Reduced overall communications costs
  • More efficient use of network assets
  • Optimized trunking to match a company’s calling patterns
  • Accelerated deployment of current and future UC applications through the simplification of network design
  • Higher reliability and better disaster recovery capabilities than traditional TDM-based systems

VoIP is the direction every business is moving in and will eventually adopt. The key for businesses today is to find the right solution and the right service provider partner to deliver that solution to their business. And while the decision to move to VoIP may be an easy and straightforward one, choosing the best solution and solution provider can be a bit more complicated.

Finding the Right VoIP Solution

Businesses that do their homework in preparation for the adoption of a VoIP solution will find the decision an easy one. These businesses will also discover that VoIP and UC will benefit their business in many more ways than just cost savings. They bring tremendous productivity and collaboration improvements as well. IP trunking is the most cost-effective method of creating a scalable IP telephony and ultimately UC deployment, and it has benefits beyond those of PSTN trunking. The key to true success, however, is finding the best service provider for your company. What are the key considerations when making the decision?

For every business and situation, the answer varies, but Exhibit 3 offers a guide to better understand the areas for consideration and evaluation in selecting the right solution. We break the table up into two key components—voice and data—because a VoIP solution requires that companies not only have a handle on their voice costs but also their data costs, since the move to VoIP is a move toward convergence. When evaluating new solutions, companies must also understand their current costs (recurring, capital and operating) and be able to compare that to the expected new costs of the various solutions. With the various telephony solutions, it isn’t easy to do an apples-to-apples comparison, but it is possible to know exactly what a company’s investment and costs are with each solution to help make the best decision for how each particular business likes to operate.

image 3Except in some very specific cases, the cost of a solution is not the sole driving factor, especially when dealing with more complex solutions and services. Once a business has a handle on the costs and infrastructure pieces of the decision as outlined in Exhibit 3, IT decision-makers must consider the qualities of the actual solution provider. Features to consider include:

  • The quality and coverage of the trunking service
  • The quality and coverage of the underlying network
  • Experience in the market and availability of reference accounts
  • Interoperability with the major UC vendors
  • Deep expertise in trunking solutions and IP communications solutions
  • Commercial availability of IP telephony services
  • Managed and professional services experience and offerings

VoIP and IP trunking solutions are never going to be one size fits all. Businesses must find the solution that is right for their particular circumstances. Does the business prefer managed/ hosted solutions to premises-based? What are the growth plans? How easy is it to add, remove or change services? What is the state of the current telephony solution? These are just some of the many questions businesses will need to consider, and finding a service provider willing and able to have these discussions and offer business options and flexibility is always a great place to start.

Working with the right service provider partner to deploy a VoIP architecture that leverages IP trunking not only has an impact on costs, but also provides businesses with a road map to other communications and collaboration solutions, such as those found within the UC suite of applications. The right VoIP and UC solution, coupled with the best partner for the business, can lead to a path of change and growth beyond what many traditional communications solutions can enable.

Understanding the Implementation of UC

Communications, collaboration and worker productivity are key components to a business’ competitive advantage. Workers are being challenged to reach more people in shorter periods of time with the right information at hand. To meet these communications demands, many companies are turning to UC, especially as a means to enhance the functionality and use of their IP telephony infrastructure.

UC, in short, brings all a company’s communications and collaborative tools together into one solution. It is the convergence of voice, video, Web and desktop communications built on an IP network and allowing businesses and employees to overcome time, distance and media barriers. UC ultimately enables employees to communicate with each other virtually anywhere, any time and over any device. UC improves the manageability and effectiveness of the ecosystem and makes the enterprise more responsive and agile.

UC consists of the following tools:

  • IP telephony/VoIP: VoIP enables companies to use the corporate data network for phone calls rather than having a dedicated network just for telephone service. Historically, VoIP was considered by many organizations as the foundation of UC. However, during the past year, presence and desktop integration have been elevated to being critical to the success of UC.
  • Presence: The ability for users to understand one another’s availability and willingness to communicate over a variety of devices is critical in today’s quick-moving business environment. While instant messaging (IM) applications are common today, presence is also being used to understand a user’s status on phones, wireless devices, video conferencing and other collaborative tools. Additionally, presence can be extended to objects such as alarm systems, medical devices and even documents.
  • Mobile client: Enterprise mobility is rapidly becoming a key driver for UC. A mobile client mobilizes a UC platform and puts the desktop in the hands of mobile users, which make up 40 percent of the work force. The holy grail of mobility is when a worker can seamlessly access UC applications anytime, on any device.
  • Fixed-mobile convergence (FMC): FMC enables a worker to seamlessly move calls between desktop and mobile phones for voice call continuity. As the mobile workforce grows, the ability to provide mobile integration becomes a key decision point for organizations evaluating UC solutions.
  • IP network: An IP network is required to deliver information and communications to users. IP is the only protocol that is scalable and simple enough to make the vision of UC a reality; it will be the common network for the deployment of all communications systems. Although IP is a dynamic, scalable technology, it does require ongoing optimization. Management of a network life cycle is critical now as more applications are running on the network.
  • Integrated multimedia conferencing: Conferencing applications have existed for a number of years, but only recently have they become integrated into UC. Yankee Group considers the following services multimedia conferencing:
    • Video conferencing: Long a nice-to-have, video is now one of the main applications driving UC deployments. Quality and ease of use have improved dramatically, allowing more users to take advantage of video communications.
    • Web conferencing: This form of conferencing has become popular within the last five years, due largely in part to ease of use and accessibility. Audio and Web conferencing are now the most widely adopted forms of converged conferencing.
    • Audio conferencing: The most mature form of conferencing, audio conferencing through the use of bridge lines is still the most widely adopted form of conferencing. However, as this space evolves, we will see audio become more integrated into other forms of conferencing systems and UC solutions. Yankee Group has seen companies recoup their investment in UC in as little as six months by shedding expensive bridge line services.

Yankee Group believes a strong UC strategy begins with a solid foundation built on a well-planned VoIP environment and leveraging the concept of presence. Exhibit 4 depicts the key components of a full UC and collaboration solution.

image4UC is valuable on many levels. It is one of the few technologies that can fulfill on the promise of any IT project. Specifically, UC can:

  • Lower TCO
  • Increase worker productivity
  • Create new efficient business processes
  • Improve customer satisfaction

Over time, the focus of the value proposition has changed. A few years ago, the primary driver for VoIP and UC revolved around cost savings alone. Though cost savings still remains a key part of the UC decision, especially in tough economic conditions, the real potential is as a foundation for fundamentally changing the business and building long-term competitive advantage. Yankee Group believes we are finally approaching the time when UC solutions will be rapidly adopted by businesses of all sizes as collaboration and communications is poised to take businesses to the next level.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Deploying VoIP and ultimately UC is a key component to transforming into an Anywhere Enterprise®. The business benefits that can be achieved from the flexibility, scalability and functionality of a full IP environment can take business and employee productivity to the next level of success. If deployed strategically, it can also help companies redefine business processes around communications and leapfrog their competition. However, any new technology deployment needs to be a well-planned, strategic initiative with full buy-in at all levels of the organization and the right service provider selection.

Businesses must adopt VoIP and ultimately UC with a view to where their business will be in the future—what technologies and applications are on their road map. Taking into account business expansion, the number of remote and mobile workers, business plans around the customer experience and other possible initiatives all need to be factored into any IP telephony decision. Unlike other technologies, the voice and communications solution chosen by a business today will likely be one that is around for a while. With that in mind, Yankee Group recommends businesses:

  • Ensure full support from management executives to run the show. The deployment of VoIP solutions, hosted or on-premises, is not a one-time project. Long-term service commitment and collaboration from the management team is instrumental in achieving a seamless service migration without sacrificing the expected quality of service.
  • Choose a solution provider that has a robust IP network as a foundation to the service. For a managed service to provide the necessary levels of reliability and scalability, the data infrastructure needs to be rock solid. An all-IP network will provide high-quality services, newer services faster and a level of reliability that is better than a service built off a hybrid of IP and circuit switching.
  • Assess your readiness. UC can be too complex to be deployed across the entire organization in one sweep, especially in larger companies. Find a department or group of workers that would benefit most from UC. A younger group of workers or a highly mobile group is ideal. This will help you establish a strategy for deployment and start a grassroots adoption campaign as UC is slowly rolled out to a wider portion of the company.
  • Evaluate service providers on decision criteria that are relevant to this era of communications. Too often, companies make decisions based on vendor incumbency or simply choose the lowest cost provider. UC is ushering in a new era of communications and decision-makers need to evaluate solution providers based on criteria that will enable this transformation. Specifically, organizations should look for the following: Dedicated account managers and project managers to help with the transition, financial stability to ensure investments in UC will continue, full 911 compliance, a one-stop shop for all a company’s communications needs and an aggressive road map of future UC services.
  • Do your homework prior to any service-level agreement (SLA)/quality-of-service negotiation. Be ready to compare and analyze SLAs among multiple service providers. Assess your major business-impacting breaches to determine optimal uptime and negotiate business-driven SLAs. Be aware of contract lock-in by setting up baseline service requirements and expectations.

 


Staying with your current provider is bad

Why Staying with your Old Phone Provider is Killing Your Business

Take a look at your smartphone. There’s a good chance that, somewhere in the icons, you’ll see a throwback to old technologies, such as an image of a traditional telephone handset or the layout of numbers and pound signs that we’re all intimately familiar with by now.

This sort of aging iconography might make you feel as though phone technology is progressing slowly, but nothing could be further from the truth. While it’s true that traditional phone solutions and obsolete business models are effectively holding back progress, there’s another way.

How are you being held back? Let’s take a look at the ways, and at the best solution available right now: cloud based VoIP systems for your business.

Traditional Phone Isnt Scalable

Traditional office telephone systems have long been an all-or-nothing proposition. Smaller businesses ended up subscribing to the same services, at the same prices, as larger businesses. This is hardly cost-effective, particularly for growing companies that need to keep their overhead as low as possible.

In contrast, VoIP technology is scalable, meaning you only buy what you need, and pay a low subscription cost that’s proportional to the size of your workforce.

Traditional Phone Isnt Mobile

For better or worse, existing phone technology has created very clear delineations between our work lives and our social lives. In other words, business hours ended as soon as you stepped away from your desk. This might be appealing for those who want to very deliberately carve out their personal time from otherwise busy schedules, but it might also result in lost calls and, worse still, lost opportunities.

Whether you end up trusting Broadview for your office communication needs or end up with another VoIP provider, you’ll enjoy mobile productivity as never before. Thanks to compatibility with the leading mobile operating systems, you can take your VoIP network with you wherever you go.

Traditional Phone Isnt Efficient

At first glance, it might not seem as though changing phone providers could have a significant day-to-day impact on your company’s efficiency. The truth is, you may not even realize how much time you’ve already wasted investing in, and overseeing, your antiquated phone system.

Smaller companies don’t have the capital to invest in a dedicated IT department, which makes it essential that your communication technology doesn’t have a steep learning curve; wasting time learning and troubleshooting your phone system is going to kill your productivity. VoIP, in contrast, is very easy to set up and maintain, even without an in-house IT department.

Traditional Phone Is Unreliable

You may not spend a significant amount of your day planning for the next time a telephone pole breaks in half, or a flood sweeps through your area, but the icing on the VoIP cake is the fact that you don’t need to worry about natural disasters interfering with, or even destroying, your communications infrastructure.

If the worst should come to pass, remember that your phone settings are always saved securely in the cloud, meaning that you’ll be able to continue right where you left off, at any site with an Internet connection.

In closing, remember that business is already full of challenges; why not eliminate as many as you can?