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. 

How Do Mobile Users Drive VoIP Decisions in the Corporate World?

Mobile users are driving VoIP decisions in the corporate world.How hard is it to find a group of adults, ready to sit down to a meal, with no mobile devices in sight? The addictive element of a mobile device usually involves an app and can lead to less-than-collaborative human interactions. Voice over IP (VoIP) may or may not be involved, but connectivity is certainly a must.

This can happen when business professionals are in the same room, on the go, or simply trying to make a connection. The demand for instant access when on the move stems not just from a change in consumer behavior, but from a desire to be in the field where it’s easier to connect with the customer. It’s a must in today’s market and it’s driving the demand for mobile. When VoIP is involved, the capabilities reach a whole new level.

In fact, the demand for and use of mobile devices has significantly influenced VoIP and unified communications (UC) in the last few years. Mobile apps for both continue to mature, driving tighter and more seamless integration, ease of use, security, and significant convenience as users easily align their device of choice with the technology needed to accomplish their goals. To that end, the demand for cloud-based solutions continues to grow as such assimilation allows for deep integration and support with VoIP and UC.

Likewise, mobile apps and the desire for better accessibility continue to drive the choice of phone systems within the corporate environment. If a company needs nothing more than the ability to communicate via VoIP, then any VoIP system can easily handle the need. If employees are also using their mobile devices to connect to the VoIP system, the demand changes according to what these employees need. Given that they are generally field-based, including support or sales professionals, the demand may include video conferencing, web conferencing, text messaging, presence, instant messaging, email transcription, admin tasks, screen sharing, and calendar integration.

So how des this affect the way in which VoIP solutions are selected? The employees that use mobile devices for business typically aren’t in the office. They rely on their communications in the field. They also need seamless integration of mobile devices to ensure full phone extensions and access to remote applications at any time. Finally, mobile device policy dictates the use of such devices for business and personal cases.

If you’re ready to embrace these opportunities but you’re not sure where to start, look to Focal Solutions. It’s our job to help our clients evaluate their options, available solutions, and the type of VoIP that fits their needs. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you.

Ensuring Quality of Service with VoIP

VoIPOne of the key benefits of moving to a unified communications (UC) framework is the ability to swap out old, limited PBX-based systems for the flexibility and added functionality of a VoIP system. It is important, though, when choosing a service provider for a UC solution, to make sure they are able to accommodate the Quality of Service (QoS) needs of the business and deal adequately with issues such as jitter, packet loss, and latency.

QoS

QoS is an umbrella term for a number of protocols and technologies designed to guarantee the quality of data flow over a network. Generally this involves prioritizing certain types of network traffic over others to ensure that network services such as VoIP, which are susceptible to latency, aren’t adversely affected.

Latency

Latency is the delay between when a data packet is sent and when it is received. It’s basically the time it takes for data to get from one point on the network to another. It is affected by a number of factors, including conversion from one data type to another, physical distance between the two points, the number of hops or redirects along the route, and encryption. This has some pretty obvious implications for VoIP traffic, particularly in light of its real-time requirements. Round trip latency of more than 250ms is noticeable to users, and the IUT recommends never exceeding 300ms.

Packet Loss

Packet loss occurs when a router receives more data than it can pass through at one time. This can be a frequent occurrence with VoIP traffic simply because of the volume of data generated by real-time voice communication. The effects of packet loss on a VoIP call are usually noticed as stuttering sound, a “tinny” metallic quality to the other person’s voice, or outright dropped calls. Packet loss of more than 1% is usually considered unacceptable. High latency levels tend to exacerbate packet loss.

Jitter

Jitter is a variation of latency where the timing of packet arrival at the destination is inconsistent. This doesn’t affect most types of internet traffic very much – it’s unnoticeable when loading a web page, for example – but can seriously affect VoIP calls. Generally, jitter results in delays in the conversation, similar to a “buffering” effect. Unless excessive it doesn’t hamper communication as much as the other issues discussed here, but it can be frustrating for users.

By giving VoIP traffic a higher priority level through QoS protocols such as Class of Service and Type of Service, issues such as latency and jitter are kept to a reasonable level. Policy-based network management and bandwidth reservation also help. A good cloud services provider will be able to provide the right combination of these strategies to ensure the necessary QoS.

 

VoIP Network Software and Hardware Security

VOIPSince Voice over IP (VoIP) and hosted PBX services are easy to deploy, some small to medium businesses (SMBs) take network security for granted. Enterprise network security requires more attention, but anyone using VoIP is still a target for foreign attacks. Following are areas of concern for management when implementing these modern communication features.

VoIP and Hosted PBX Vulnerabilities 

  • DDoS attacks can indefinitely block business communication.
  • Cyber criminals can listen to phone conversations and steal trade secrets.
  • Spies, ex-employees, or script kiddies can infect a network with ransomware.

Firewalls

Firewalls are simple to set up, as provisions and configurations determine who has access to a network. In other words, firewalls allow users assigned by administrators to access the network, while blocking unfamiliar users.

Businesses commonly use software firewalls on each node of a network to filter traffic based on individual configurations. While a software firewall is easy to implement, it can be expensive due to purchasing of multiple licenses and extra maintenance costs for each machine. Other drawbacks to consider before implementing software firewalls include:

  • Installation on individual computers is time consuming.
  • Users of each machine must be involved in the installation process.
  • Security is weaker, making it easy for hackers to infiltrate.
  • They are not user-friendly for inexperienced computer users, creating confusion and disruption.

The best way to approach network security is to use common sense by staying on top of which connections are allowed by administrators and blocking suspicious users.

Hardware Firewalls Strengthen Security

While software firewalls need to be installed on each network machine, a single hardware firewall can be assigned to the entire network as an extra protective layer. Whatever work needs to be done in terms of provisions, configurations, monitoring, or maintenance can be executed on one computer. This quicker approach does not require as much participation from individual users.

Packet loss can be avoided across the network, as security managers can configure a hardware firewall when necessary so that traffic is prioritized separately for VoIP or video conferencing. Maintenance and monitoring will still need to be overseen by IT personnel. Hardware firewalls may integrate with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for encrypted connections, which entails:

  • Time consuming initial installation but to a lesser degree than a software firewall
  • Prioritizing VoIP and video data for a jitter free, smooth, and secure experience
  • Reduced restrictions on permissioned users
  • Less need to train workers on how to make network access decisions

Cloud Managed Firewalls 

Investing in a hardware firewall clearly provides more efficiency and stronger protection than a software firewall, and can work as a premises, network, or cloud solution. A cloud service provider may be the most efficient solution for businesses that prefer IT services to be managed by an offsite third party. Even though a managed firewall often requires hardware to be connected to the network, most cloud service providers will handle maintenance, provisioning, and monitoring from their data center.

Furthermore, they can provide continuous firewall administration, monitoring, and quick response to security issues. Quality cloud providers manage firewalls using reliable brands such as Cisco, Dell Security, and Verizon Enterprise Solutions or niche competitors such as Secure Works or Simple WAN.

Conclusion  

SMBs that use VoIP and hosted PBX can improve security with a hardware firewall that protects every computer on a network. Some companies choose to install software firewalls on individual computers, but this strategy can run up costs. Companies that would rather not worry about the nuts and bolts of IT work should consider cloud managed services.

 

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.

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.

Improve Customer Service and Retention with VoIP Call Centers

shutterstock_340318367smWhen choosing a service or product, savvy customers are now beginning to rank customer service considerations higher than price. Since call centers figure largely in the customer relationship equation, making the change to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a cost-effective method for increasing customer relationship management (CRM) performance metrics.

VoIP offers business benefits that meet the needs of today’s consumers. And although call center technology has never been a piece of cake, the enhanced features and heightened security of this telephone service make it an investment that will deliver efficient results.

Call Distribution Agility

With VoIP, call center routing is improved. A variety of options allow businesses to build customized, flexible solutions for incoming calls. Providers are able to offer call center management that allows for specific procedures. For example, businesses may choose to direct calls through regular, weighted, or other distribution methods, enabling them to make decisions concerning the best form of service to provide for their customers.

Improved Operator Provisions

Many organizations face seasonally high-volume calls, predictable times when regular call center capacity is inadequate to meet the amplified need. For situations such as this, as well as during marketing campaigns and in the event of severe weather, VoIP-enabled contact centers allow organizations to increase operators and scale phone lines so that customer wait times aren’t also increased with the surge in calls.

Enhanced Infrastructure and Automation

VoIP offers businesses cost-effective strategies for managing and orchestrating remote workers through an infrastructure that facilitates simplified internal call transfers. With an agile infrastructure, companies can reduce operating costs by increasing their remote workforce.

VoIP call center systems also improve automation, establishing faster routing to the right person or department by employing interactive voice recognition (IVR). Instead of having to listen to lengthy menus, customers are able to simply speak their requests, which is a time-saving benefit that limits frustration and confusion.

Sense of Urgency

The advantages provided by this type of call center combine to create an impression of urgency that is key for retaining current buyers and attracting new ones. Customers feel that their call is a priority when it is routed to the correct person quickly. Establishing this aspect of customer service is essential for competing in today’s global marketplace.

With the benefits VoIP offers, such as crystal clear communications, improved routing, voice recognition, and enhanced flexibility, businesses can enrich their call center experience and provide customers with the ability to speak with a human much faster, thus improving overall customer satisfaction.

How VoIP Affects Customer Service

VoIPCompanies must strive to enhance the consumer experience at every turn. Meeting client needs in a timely and professional manner helps generate lasting buzz about a business’s brand and can lead to word-of-mouth marketing, which is vital in increasing visibility.

With optimal customer service, companies are able to improve reputability and increase recurring business across the board. For any new or existing business to survive, however, it must tap into current technological trends. This includes Voice over IP (VoIP), which is designed to streamline and centralize communications across the board.

​The Benefits of VoIP

VoIP alleviates the need for outdated and costly business phone systems. And no matter the industry, niche, or sector, the benefits of VoIP are truly bountiful for clients and employees alike. These benefits include:

  • Internet telephony systems that seamlessly integrate with existing hardware and software applications;
  • advanced features such as Find Me/Follow Me and call forwarding that ensure businesses never miss a call;
  • integrated and cohesive platforms for agents, which establish true comprehensive communication protocols across the board;
  • data sharing and uploads from one central online platform; and
  • integration with work and cell phones.

Extended Customer Support Hours

Since VoIP systems are Internet-based, businesses do not have to rely on in-house or domestic workforces to meet company directives and initiatives. Remote employees are able to meet customer needs and requests from literally any location at any time. VoIP also facilitates customer service in the following ways:

  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR) enables callers to easily connect to extensions with live representative assistance.
  • VoIP features multiple options for clients within a user-friendly interface.
  • The system reduces miscommunication for callers, while eliminating expensive labor and overhead costs.

Increased Phone Call Speeds

VoIP also increases phone call speeds, which are vital in minimizing holding times for clients. With VoIP, clients and callers are assured:

  • optimal phone speeds to improve overall communications and performance;
  • automatically retrieved client information upon calling, which reduces wait times and eliminates the need to repeat information for representatives; and
  • multi-faceted platforms that allow more than one representative to answer calls.

VoIP is a cost-effective alternative to traditional business phone systems and makes it easier to conduct day-to-day errands and tasks. Unlike traditional phone systems, VoIP has little to no overhead costs and is compatible with existing communications protocols and systems. It is more efficient to deploy than conventional systems, which have long been obsolete in this challenging and competitive marketplace. For businesses that continue to struggle with telecom issues, VoIP is an effective solution.

Securing Unified Communications through Video Conferencing

shutterstock_180690092With the new digital age upon us, unified communications (UC) are vital for any commercial entity. UC platforms are designed to secure optimal communications between businesses and clients. Services within these cohesive environments include instant messaging (IM), Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), file data sharing/transfers, and web and multi-media video conferencing.

UC platforms help establish uniformity and consistency in communications – the cornerstones of any fast-paced modern business. The days of traditional communications via phone and other conventional devices are over. In order for businesses to remain competitively viable, they must tap into contemporary communications trends.

The Benefits of UC in the Digital Age

Video conferencing is designed to connect people across vast digital networks. Web meeting applications enable companies to conduct business from remote locations through activities ranging from screen and file sharing to uploads and presentations.

The use of wireless and digital devices accentuates the UC environment while building a strong platform of communications for employees and managers. With UC, clients are assured:

  • real-time interaction with businesses, managers, and employees;
  • centralized and streamlined communications with clear audio and crisp visuals;
  • integrated features that allow file and screen sharing presentations; and
  • correlation with existing communication protocols within an integrated environment.

UC Training for Employees

Training is vital to ensure all staff and workers are abreast of a business’s latest interactive tools. This is especially true when it comes to integrating video conferencing as a timely communications solution. With video conferencing, the need for traditional voicemails and even time-consuming IMs disappears. Video conferencing allows employees to effectively engage clients in all aspects of the business.

The Benefits of Video Conferencing

Video conferencing allows employees to see the body language of their clients. Staff can also ascertain whether clients are upset, bored, or unsatisfied with a particular product or service. Video conferencing facilitates resolution of any issue within a collaborative and real-time environment.

Video conferencing also helps build confidence and morale, particularly with regard to client presentations and interactions. Clients engaged through video are assured that someone is physically present to handle requests and meet their needs.