As the move away from traditional landlines, copper wiring and on-premises PBX (private branch exchange) continues, more and more businesses are making the switch to telecommunications systems based on Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP.
Why Choose VoIP?
Many enterprises have bought into the technology as a money-saving measure. Compared with traditional telecoms set-ups, VoIP offers big savings in capital expenditure, and on call charges.
Organisations appreciate the reduction in labour costs and time that would otherwise be associated with managing and maintaining complex hardware and infrastructure – particularly when those responsibilities can be taken on by a commercial service provider, in a hosted VoIP system.
But beyond these monetary concerns and the efficiencies inherent to the technology, there are real commercial benefits to be gained from the strategic use and customisation of the features offered within VoIP systems.
And with Internet connectivity extending its global reach, and broadband access expanding to enable faster contact and real-time applications, there are true competitive advantages to be enjoyed by businesses willing to take up the challenge, and exercise some ingenuity.
So Far, So Good…
World-wide revenues derived from VoIP and Unified Communications (UC) are expected to exceed $120 billion by the end of this year, according to figures projected by Infonetics (News Alert) Research.
In the U.S., mobile workers account for 75% of the employed population, with 80% of adults using at least one personal device at work, as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies continue to gain in popularity.
With over 4 million subscribers (that’s over 10% of the domestic market), Japan stands out. But investment in VoIP continues at all levels, with large telephone and cable TV companies in the sector, together with start-up concerns offering competing services.
Set-up, for Success
The essence of VoIP technology is that it converts voice signals into digital data, which can be transmitted in packets over the Internet – alongside all the other data types which make up Internet traffic.
It’s all data, so VoIP calls aren’t restricted by physical location (such as the network of lines between exchange cabinets), or tied to specific devices.
Callers can use a telephone hooked up to a VoIP converter, or an IP phone linked directly to the Internet. Desktop PCs and laptops may have “softphones” on board, with microphones or headsets linked to VoIP telephony software.
Installing the headsets, handsets, converters, or IP software needed for front-office operations is the first step, in setting up a VoIP platform. Hosted VoIP providers or the enterprise itself may supply the hardware infrastructure that replaces a traditional PBX.
The interaction of VoIP software and infrastructure will determine what telecoms features an enterprise can employ, and how the various VoIP devices link up with the company’s IT systems.
It’s these features – and the construction of applications that fully exploit your VoIP resources – that give rise to appreciable business benefits, and a competitive edge.
Appreciable Business Benefits
Even before proactive steps are taken to exploit VoIP strategically for competitive gains, there are benefits inherent to VoIP that make these moves easier to implement.
- With less focus on managing and monitoring telecoms infrastructure (especially with hosted solutions), IT divisions are free to assume a more active role in business decision-making, and in devising the best methods to implement strategic plans.
- The “always available” nature of VoIP communication (which includes call forwarding, re-routing, messaging, and contingency measures for network downtime) ensures businesses of a 24/7 time-frame, in which to operate.
- Technology is mobile-friendly, and communication features may be packaged as apps or Web interfaces, for remote and mobile workers.
With these benefits as a foundation, organisations may use VoIP to achieve competitive gains in three areas: customisation, virtualisation, and intelligent development.
On a VoIP platform, it’s easy to customise existing call features, or to adapt and build new combinations of features and voice applications.
Custom-built applications can move software and infrastructure to a new level – one where companies can distinguish themselves from their rivals through improved branding, better provision of customer services, and more streamlined internal communications.
VoIP systems enable businesses to test and develop new customer-facing interfaces – combinations of corporate brand imagery, ambient music, prompts and voice recordings for call queues and reception, etc. Content may be modified as new features come on board, or business conditions change.
IP technology makes it possible to combine telephony features, to create packages of tools to streamline business tasks – e.g. using speech recognition to allow users to manage their voice mail accounts and contact databases, or to issue commands initiating conference calls.
These combinations can be made unique to an enterprise, and incorporate its branding elements and characteristic working methods.
Virtual Phones and Movement
Using a VoIP system’s Web administration console, it’s a straightforward process for companies to provide phone services for all their workers across the globe – and to allow individual users to take a virtual version of their business phone line wherever they go.
So your staff can receive business communications at any time of day, and in any location (Internet permitting). To the caller, a mobile worker (who could be halfway across the world) appears to be receiving the call from his/her standard office number.
And VoIP users will have access to the full features of their office phone system – including company-specific applications and interfaces.
One-click provision of phone lines for individuals, departments, or entire sites makes it possible for businesses to respond to changing conditions, instantaneously.
- Business continuity may be assured through designated lines to which calls are re-routed, in the event of an emergency or disaster.
- Fluctuations in demand may be met by providing lines to additional or part-time staff – who can be “clocked out”, when the rush is over.
- Home-office phone capabilities can be used as an incentive, in recruiting work-forces from beyond traditional or mainstream labour pools (think parents with young children, or the disabled). Again, VoIP enables these workers to use the sophisticated tools of the enterprise telecoms system, while not physically present at corporate HQ.
Intelligence and Innovation
As VoIP becomes more widespread, and people become more familiar with the technology, avenues open up to create systems that intelligently link communications features with mainline business processes, to give innovative and distinctive combinations.
An example of this was the renovation project recently undertaken by the U.S. Department of Commerce, in Washington D.C. Here, a public address system intended for emergency communications was implemented with VoIP, enabling administrators to override voice messaging and broadcast priority messages to specific areas of the building.
The biggest competitive gains will go to those prepared to use the technology in a phased and strategic manner. Here are some recommendations:
- Build VoIP into your infrastructure upgrade or development plans, from the ground up.
- The evolution of your hardware, infrastructure, and data network is an opportunity to integrate VoIP functionality with these areas, as well.
- Use your existing business processes – customer relationship management, Help desks, supply chains – as an opportunity to exploit the features of VoIP.
To find out more please contact us or telephone 01886 884030.