The Model for a Successful Enterprise Today Includes Embracing the Cloud

Enterprises gain agility and the ability to scale up and down with an investment in the cloud.Enterprises of the 20th century were accustomed to housing their infrastructure onsite, managing all aspects of IT and navigating changes in the market gradually. As cloud solutions become more widespread, it will help level the playing field and allow smaller, more agile companies to edge out bigger, lumbering enterprises.

CIOs are seeing the benefits of paying a subscription fee rather than investing in a big hardware spend. The frequent updates and advances in software applications mean that cloud solutions make sense for enterprises that want to stay competitive both in efficiency and in the customer experience.

Scalability is leveling the playing field. It used to be that only the biggest enterprises could enjoy the advantages of the best software, but subscriptions make it easy for small- and mid-size companies to access the same tools large enterprises are using. For any size business, subscriptions make a team more agile, able to scale up or down based on changes in the marketplace.

Enterprises — the finance department, in particular — love the subscription model of cloud options because the investment can be categorized as an operational expense, rather than a capital investment. The ability to scale up or down also lowers the fixed costs of the enterprise and makes it easier to adjust spending to accommodate demand.

Everything as a Service (XaaS) is now an option. While Software as a Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) have been in use for a long time, the growing service industry is also allowing for the growth of other service areas, including security management and managed services. The XaaS mindset is dominating conversations about digital transformation as executives weigh the benefits of housing more of their IT management with service providers.

The service economy has plenty of room for growth. The market is just entering a shift from “procure and maintain” to a full-service economy. Enterprises are embarking on plans to embrace XaaS models of completing business processes, but there is a lot of opportunity for service providers to capture growth in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and Big Data analytics.

The shift to the service economy is evident across a variety of industries. Examples like car-sharing or pay-by-the-hour jet rental can be compared with companies in the financial arena sharing data management services.

If you’d like to capture new opportunities in the service economy, Focal Solutionscan help you. When you choose Focal Solutions as your trusted telecom partner, you are choosing to extend the range and value of your own IT team. Contact us today to learn more.

VoIP Offers Important Back-Office Advantages for IT Team

VoIP offers back-office benefits for your IT team, such as streamlined cable plant design and easy scalability.Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has been available for the past 20 years, but it remains somewhat misunderstood. It’s often sold as a set of features that serve the front office and help management meet their cost-saving and efficiency objectives. What’s not stressed is the positive impact that VoIP can have on the back-office processes of the IT team.

The team that installs, supports, and maintains the information systems in the enterprise usually has surprisingly little involvement in telecommunications decisions. The push for a new system often comes from line-of-business managers. Fortunately, many of the benefits that result in a decision to move to VoIP are those impacting IT:

Design advantages: When an enterprise moves into a new facility, one of the first considerations that needs to be addressed by the IT team is the cable plant design. VoIP provides the potential for cost savings in this area because it allows for one line to run to the phone and then a jack in the VoIP phone provides a connection for the computer. This step eliminates half the drops required for the cable plant.

VoIP also offers easy scalability. Adding a new phone to the existing VoIP switch is as simple as plugging it into the network, then completing a quick initialization process. The phone is then ready for use. The addition of new phones can be completed easily by a technician with minimal training and perform multiple additions in a short time period.

Portability advantages: Remote access provides a way to extend the desktop. When VoIP was new, remote access was more difficult to offer, and IT teams spent a lot of time supporting remote users and troubleshooting problems. In most cases, bandwidth is no longer a problem, and current technology allows remote workers to travel with a laptop and a headset. They can conduct business as if they were on-site at a desk in the office.

Remote access and other monitoring tools significantly reduce the amount of time that IT spends helping remote workers manage their communications connectivity.

Promoting advanced technology: Integrating phones and voicemail was one of the first advantages offered by VoIP. Now technology allows for the easy transfer of voicemail to email and text. Hardware costs and conflicts between phone systems and email servers used to create a barrier to this function, but that’s no longer the case. Now IT managers can use these types of advances to promote the adoption of new technology.

The Focal Solutions team is committed to your business’s success in all areas of telecom deployment. Contact us about your goals for your telecom system and we will help you identify the right solution to meet your objectives. 

What You Need to Know for SD-WAN Testing

SD-WANAs companies begin hearing about software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) and contemplate deploying the approach in their environments, there are numerous questions that arise surrounding testing. Every SD-WAN provider lists a variety of features, and it’s important to test those features before making a final decision or attempting to implement.

Here are the areas you should test when running your proof of concept (POC):

Path selection: One of the reasons you’re likely to be considering SD-WAN is its ability to split traffic between dedicated links (which cost more) and low-cost internet virtual private networks (VPNs). It’s not easy for SD-WAN to distinguish between mission-critical and less important traffic, but doing so is important for you in terms of cost savings. Each vendor features its own algorithms for making these determinations, so make sure the provider you’re considering has the capability to support the path selection needs of your company.

Scalability: What will your SD-WAN needs be as your company grows? Do you plan to employ a hub-and-spoke model or will your network be full mesh? Full mesh networks require a different level of complexity when it comes to network support, so make sure your SD-WAN is prepared to grow with you.

Failover: SD-WAN is a good choice because it offers failover capabilities in the event of a link outage. What’s more challenging is determining a true link outage from a momentary pause (which happens frequently) or a high level of packet drops. Your testing should include link outage failover response as well as determination of how a particular SD-WAN handles heavy congestion, momentary outages, and a variety of packet loss rates.

Application performance: Testing application performance is important, particularly if you’re counting on SD-WAN to provide application acceleration. You need to test under real-world conditions to experience how the network will affect the end user’s experience. Acceleration improvement rests heavily on network conditions, latency, jitter, and loss, so take time to test whether your applications will experience acceleration with an SD-WAN solution.

Usability: The POC of your choice for SD-WAN should include heavy usability testing. Practice the activities you conduct on a daily basis to see how responsive and user-friendly it is for you. Try adding and removing users, installing new SD-WAN locations, changing application parameters and reconfiguring nodes for existing locations.

The surge in interest for SD-WAN means there are many providers offering similar services. Before you make a decision, take time to thoroughly test your final candidates. Whether you’re just getting started or are nearing the testing phase, give Focal Solutions a call. We can help you navigate the sometimes confusing world of SD-WAN and guide you to a decision that supports your company and its growth.

Orchestrating Business Growth: 5 Reasons to Embrace Hosted Telephony

To support business growth, companies must reduce operating costs and implement strategies that improve productivity. Fortunately, hosted telephony service offers an actionable method for facilitating these goals. Introducing cloud based communications provide businesses with enterprise-level resources that reduce costs and usher in measurable improvements throughout the operation.

Although the concept of hosted telephony has been around for years, it’s only been within the last decade that the service has become practical for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs). With cloud technology, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) provides advanced audio quality and performance without requiring a huge upfront investment. Companies can access the latest communication tools without having to purchase, maintain, and manage expensive hardware systems. Following are five ways in which hosted telephony helps orchestrate business growth.

 

Minimal Capital Outlay

Hosted communications require very little capital expenditure to implement. The required equipment is IP phones, broadband access, and PoE (Power over Ethernet) switches to provide connectivity and electricity. Because transmissions are conducted through the cloud, PCs (soft phones) may also be utilized to make calls, but there are a variety of IP phone options available. Companies may choose the most basic designs or more advanced models that feature touch screens and monitor-like displays.

 

Enhanced Mobility

Another benefit of hosted service is enhanced mobility. Employees and remote workers may use their own devices to connect to the system via software applications. Moreover, satellite locations, regardless of the number of phones or workers present, can be seamlessly integrated. Since communications are conducted through the cloud, businesses are able to apportion numbers in various locations, and many service agreements offer free calling within the system.

 

Scalable Features

With hosted telephony, companies are able scale services (usually) on a month-to-month basis, easily add or remove users, and only pay for the amount of service they need at a given time. This feature dramatically reduces operating costs for seasonally-based businesses, and allows companies to expand service as required. Companies pay only for the number of subscriptions and features needed.

 

Improved Maintenance, Support, and Control

Rather than housing large quantities of hardware that must be upgraded every 5-10 years, cloud based communications are located at a colocation site and managed by the service provider. SMBs are able to benefit from having a full-time maintenance and support team available, without incurring the costs associated with traditional employment. Systems are managed through a basic software platform that can be accessed anywhere from any browser, making it easy to alter service or add features. Moreover, upgrades are conducted automatically, without having to purchase and install new software.

 

Lower Energy Use and Cost

With hosted telephony, the servers employed are typically advanced enterprise-level units that consume less energy, so usage makes less of a carbon footprint. By removing an on-premise phone control unit, the amount of energy consumed at the business is reduced, delivering lower monthly electricity costs. In addition, hosted telephony service contracts reduce long-distance and toll free calling expenditures significantly.

Companies can facilitate growth by moving to hosted telephony service. The improved performance and quality combined with lower costs and greater mobility creates a professional atmosphere that supports expansion and improved profitability.

Embracing SDN: Understanding the Advantages and Challenges of New Network Technology

Software defined networking (SDN) is transforming business infrastructure models. The ability to support multiple technologies through redefined network architecture offers businesses superior networking capacities at a significantly lower cost than traditional hardware-based models. The results provide companies with real answers for improving network security, scalability, and performance, regardless of size.

However, this new method of increasing network efficiency also presents new challenges for network managers concerning those very same areas.

SDN offers businesses practical opportunities for responding to the emerging demand for personal IT services, while simultaneously providing realistic support and responsiveness for user needs. Yet deploying this flexible, more modern network architecture without compromising the reliability of legacy network performance requires a new approach to ensure that the exchange of digital information is more efficient than ever.

Growth Trends

The modern data center, with virtualized servers and advanced storage capabilities, has outlined SDN parameters. Open standards allow SDN-enabled hardware control policies to be individualized, and a centrally managed, programmable network allows for maximum business efficiency. Market analyst IHS, Inc. reports that SDN revenues grew over 80% in 2015, and experts predict that that trend will continue.

These revenues indicate that within the next few years, more and more enterprise networks will become virtualized, eventually generating a completely new environment for network managers. Data centers based on software constructs will necessitate skills in storage, server, and virtual infrastructure.

Challenges

Adapting to new technology can be a challenge, especially when dealing with a highly dynamic, increasingly distributed infrastructure. Network managers can address those difficulties by examining the issues and developing actionable solutions.

  • Security—Coding is an essential aspect of SDN, but it also presents one of the biggest challenges for network managers. New network applications can unwittingly introduce security threats that extend throughout the network, from either a centralized or partially distributed controller.
  • Scalability—Bottlenecks can still happen with software constructs, particularly with certain high-use controllers. Managers can overcome the difficulty by splitting control planes, but it requires a keen awareness of potential convergence and configuration requirements.
  • Performance—Maintaining controller response times and preventing latency can be difficult when transitioning legacy data environments to SDN. Network managers must develop their skills for managing and generating virtual functions and services, but also learn specific programming for building platforms and automation in a policy-based architecture.

SDN is delivering actionable opportunities for businesses that need to increase the agility and flexibility of their networks to meet the demands of today’s dynamic marketplace. However, the changes will redefine network management responsibilities, so companies need to be prepared.

Orchestrating Improved Business Productivity and Efficiency with Video Conferencing

The use of video conferencing is growing exponentially. As technology advances, companies of all sizes are recognizing the benefits of this powerful business tool. The IDC predicts that over the next four years, the video conferencing industry will surge to be worth over $6 billion.

This unprecedented growth is largely due to the benefits companies are able to gain by active deployment, and the fact that cloud applications have enabled businesses to access video technology in a cost-effective way.

 Building Efficiency

Video conferencing makes it easier to structure collaboration and coordination between in-house employees and remote teams. Employers are now able to enhance communication between key staff members by making video sessions a viable option to meet the needs of a growing number of remote workers.

Moreover, training protocols are streamlined. Rather than absorbing extra labor costs by training new team members one-on-one, leaders may conduct video orientation sessions for multiple new hires simultaneously.

Video sessions also enhance the decision making process. Team leaders and executives are in a better position to make informed decisions because of the heightened transparency of face-to-face contact. The confusion, omissions, and similar problems created through emailing and texts are eliminated.

 Increasing Productivity

Cloud-based video conferencing tools offer effective customer service and vendor communication alternatives that improve productivity. Organizations are able to engage customers and suppliers directly and easily maintain detailed recordings, removing the need for follow-up calls. The recordings may also be used for developing improved service metrics.

This type of data-driven record keeping is particularly beneficial for corporations and similar entities responsible for compliance laws regarding meeting minutes. User-friendly tools automatically allow businesses to record and store an unlimited amount of sessions, which can then be accessed and shared at a later date.

 Reducing Expenditures  

Collaborating with global users through video conferencing tools allows businesses to severely curtail travel costs. Additionally, whereas hardware-based options often limit the number of guests, cloud technology easily allows businesses to adjust the number of users relative to immediate need. Scalable access creates long-term savings by controlling costs and eliminating lengthy set-up and implementation.

The popularity of video conferencing is growing because of the scalable, accessible nature of cloud-based solutions and the cost saving benefits it provides in today’s global marketplace.

Investing in VoIP Business Phone Systems

Businesses continue to realize the importance of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems across several industries. Cloud-based systems can truly enhance productivity and performance. VoIP is designed to ensure optimal customer service, from small commercial startups to Fortune 500 companies.

For companies still debating whether to switch over to VoIP, the following information highlights all the benefits of this burgeoning trend. From centralizing client communications to driving daily business, there are a multitude of reasons to adopt VoIP communications.

 

Cost Effectiveness

VoIP is a cost effective alternative to conventional business phone systems. When considering switching over from traditional systems, keep the following in mind:

  • These cloud-based systems are offered by multiple providers with different pricing plans.
  • Customers are only responsible for monthly costs per user, and for the calling minutes they use.
  • VoIP business phone systems are hosted in the cloud; there is no need to purchase expensive on-site equipment.
  • There are never any additional costs for maintenance and upkeep.

 

VoIP Maintenance

VoIP maintenance is managed by providers, so customers are never assessed additional fees for updates and services. This saves businesses a lot of time and money while ensuring systems run at peak performance levels. Providers are also responsible for system upgrades, which guarantees clients have the most up-to-date technologies available.

 

Business Scaling

Business scaling is one of the biggest benefits of VoIP business phone systems. Clients are able to:

  • easily scale up and down their services for increased or decreased work-forces,
  • hire employees during busy and peak work seasons,
  • manage their systems more efficiently during downtime and slow periods, and
  • add or remove applications and services based on workforce size.

 

VoIP Features

VoIP systems are equipped with a myriad of built-in features that can help any business run more efficiently. This includes call recording and time of day routing, which is essential in managing employee-customer relations. Live call monitoring also enables owners to listen in on any incoming or outgoing calls. This is crucial in ensuring optimal customer service for new and existing clients.

 

Access Options

Flexibility is the key to success for any customer service platform. With VoIP business systems, companies can:

  • easily access their systems over the Internet,
  • correlate their systems with existing broadband Internet connections,
  • place or receive calls in real-time over dependable connections, and
  • allow remote employees to conduct business on the road.

 

Better Security

Security is always a high business priority. Internet-based phone systems are designed to ensure discreet and secure communications. In fact, VoIP systems are consistently monitored and upgraded by security teams, ensuring the highest level of protection across the board. This includes firewalls and other security components that ensure maximum privacy for business communications.

 

Customization Options

VoIP offers better customization options for businesses. Unlike on-site phone systems, VoIP maintenance is done on the Internet. This helps companies expand their systems and increase maximum functionality. Clients are also able to easily integrate any new or existing features as they see fit.

In this day and age, client communications can make or break a business, and companies need reliable, affordable, and dependable phone systems. VoIP is simply the best alternative for increasing customer and employee satisfaction levels.

Growing Small Business with VoIP

shutterstock_152025617Finding the right Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service provider for small business can be tricky. This business tool delivers cost-effective solutions that help streamline tasks and improve productivity, but there’s a big difference between understanding the benefits that are available and actually integrating a solution that will engender business expansion and outreach.

Knowing the aspects of VoIP infrastructure that actually drive business growth can help companies create actionable guidelines for choosing a service provider. These specific performance features have the ability to expand small business capabilities and maximize growth potential.

Scalability

A scalable solution is essential for most small business models. For example, many service-based companies experience seasonal fluctuations, and rather than invest in an extensive infrastructure that isn’t needed, it’s more cost-efficient to scale usage through a provider. With the cloud, businesses have the power to escalate or diminish communication and IT capabilities. Moreover, as business expands, flexible scalability ensures that increased usage won’t create an increase in IT headaches.

Intuitive Administration

Many small businesses operate with slim margins, making it difficult to staff a full-time IT department. With cloud-based VoIP, companies experience a user-friendly interface that allows effortless routing, calling options, and similar administrative functions. Further, a team of experts ensures that maintenance and support tasks are performed at the service level, so businesses can concentrate on performing mission critical tasks without dealing with frequent or unexpected downtime.

Automated Routing

With VoIP, small businesses can take advantage of routing solutions that limit hold times and other enhancements designed to improve customer service by improving business responsiveness. For example, the system is able to route off-hours emergency calls directly to on-call personnel, so that customers are able to reach a professional rather than an answering service. It’s also able to ring several numbers at once, giving a particular staff member the ability to connect from a variety of locations.

Enhanced Mobility

More and more business models depend upon a growing mobile workforce. Employees, especially the sales staff, are more productive when they are able to conduct activities from a remote location. Many service providers offer mobile optimization through software applications that empower small businesses by delivering instant connections to real-time business and client information.

Business growth doesn’t just happen; it’s the result of dedication and development. With VoIP solutions and the right service provider, companies can optimize their current resources and make improvements that deliver positive results. Contact Focal Solutions to learn more about how to orchestrate company growth and lasting success with VoIP.

When to Consider Updating Call Center Software

shutterstock_207082261After a company first implements call center software in its business operations, it may be a long time before employees realize that certain useful capabilities are missing. These capabilities might range from the ability to handle higher call volumes to more efficient video conferencing. Following are several signs that it may be time to upgrade a business’s call center software.

 

Certain Call Center Features Are Missing

One of the main problems with traditional call center services is the need to purchase certain features separately. Whether it’s additional software or equipment, it will likely cost more than a company is willing to spend.

Thankfully, newer software packages come with many different features, including call forwarding and social media integration.

The Current Software Limits the Company’s Growth

The lack of scalability in call center technology can greatly hinder a company’s ability to grow. Call centers need to expand with new employees and more capable technology during peak seasons, but traditional onsite call centers don’t typically allow for this.

Using a virtual call center allows for greater scalability and provides solutions that accommodate additional employees and subsequent software needs.

There Is a Lack of Continuity

Another issue with traditional call centers is the overall lack of disaster recovery capabilities. If call centers are located onsite, there’s a smaller chance of effective recovery when the network goes down. There are certain steps companies should take to ensure that their call centers have sufficient continuity implemented.

A company could discuss with its current provider the upgrades that would help deploy an effective data recovery solution. Alternatively, a business could switch over to a virtual call center that comes with plenty of redundancy in the event of data loss.

If all a business needs is added data redundancy, it may be better off sticking with its current provider and only using that additional service. However, if other important features such as improved scalability are noticeably missing, turning to a virtual call center provider may be a more inexpensive and efficient solution to the continuity issue.

The Call Center Is Simply Not Worth the Cost

The cost of running a traditional call center can be particularly high, taking into account certain maintenance and upgrade costs along with other expenses.

Cloud-based virtual call centers, on the other hand, are typically much more affordable, and provide companies with all of the features they need in convenient packages. No upfront capital investment is required, and companies usually only pay a set monthly fee along with payments for total minutes used. Virtual call centers also eliminate the need for a dedicated IT team, as providers are responsible for maintenance and upgrades.

Is an Upgrade Appropriate?

These are just some of the many reasons companies might consider upgrading their call center software. If any of the above issues are recognizable, it may be time for a business to look for a virtual call center solution that can meet all of its needs without requiring a massive investment.

SIP Trunking and Its Use in VoIP Solutions

shutterstock_258855032Session initiation protocol (SIP) is mainly used for instant messaging and telephony technologies. SIP trunks are synonymous with private branch exchange (PBX), which is utilized in business communications. The basic function of SIP is to connect private and public domains within cohesive and unified platforms. The main difference, however, is that SIP secures connections via virtual phone lines – as opposed to traditional PBX, which uses a physical analog line.

SIP is the main protocol that enables Voice over IP (VoIP) to place calls and perform other vital functions. With hosted VoIP communications, vendors handle the SIP trunking function of IP telephony for clients. This helps secure optimal communications within a cohesive and consistent environment. In a nutshell, SIP trunking connects VoIP services to unified IP PBX communications systems.

SIP-Enabled PBX

Traditional PBX systems are only able to handle voice calling over physical phone lines. SIP-enabled PBX, however, has the ability to handle a myriad of services for clients and businesses. These include:

  • optimal communications and data transfers via VoIP,
  • compatibility with existing hardware and software communications systems,
  • enhancement of existing infrastructures to secure unified communications (UC) platforms, and
  • advanced telecommunications that supports voice, video, and even information transfers between private and public domains.

The Many Benefits of SIP Trunking

In addition to securing UC, SIP trunking provides the following range of benefits for clients and businesses looking to switch over from hosted VoIP services.

1) On-Premise Control

While hosted PBX and VoIP services are helpful, clients have little to no control over these systems. Businesses must rely on vendor recovery plans if extensive downtime or a disaster occurs. These vendors are usually inaccessible and rarely visit the sites and venues they service.

Even the slightest communications problem can result in loss of revenue and time. It is therefore vital to implement and utilize SIP trunking for effective on-premise control. This solution gives a company maximum control over its phone systems while retaining necessary IP telephony features.

2) Cost Savings

SIP trunking is less expensive to deploy than a traditional PBX system. Some SIP trunking solutions include integrated hardware that costs much less than PBX. This is due to the virtualized nature of SIP solutions, which continue to enhance business communication protocols across the globe.

3) Integrated Hosting Solutions

SIP trunks play an essential role in integrated hosting solutions, giving clients the ability to create uniform infrastructures to handle all calls and correspondence. This includes IP PBX services along with hosted services for all business needs.

4) Scaling

SIP trunking allows clients to scale up and down as needed. This is especially helpful during seasonal increases in call volumes or on particularly busy days. The virtualized nature of SIP enables users to easily implement changes to meet their communication needs.

According to Infonetics, 58% of businesses are currently using SIP trunking for VoIP platforms. If a business is looking to transition away from conventional PBX systems, SIP trunking offers the perfect on-premise solution.