By Ralf Ebbinghaus, CEO at unified communications provider Swyx

The cloud is already popular for businesses to host applications such as their email or accounts, but what about telephony or Unified Communications (UC)?

Here are six key reasons why growing businesses should consider ditching their old hardware based phone system in favour of a hosted solution that offers everything from lower cost calls through to video calling, for a fixed monthly fee.

1. Take advantage of more productive ways of working

With cloud-based communications you can revolutionise the way staff operate and interact with each other and customers. With an old-fashioned phone system installed in a head office, there are immediately limitations placed on how colleagues are connected. With an increasingly mobile and widespread labour force, it becomes more complicated to transfer calls and telephone tag is a constant frustration.

However, with unified communications in the cloud you can bring your staff together, whether they are in the same room or miles apart. How? Because they are all linked to the same centralised communications engine that is not restricted by geographical boundaries, employees simply login to the UC system and they can immediately see on-screen ‘who’s available’, ‘who’s in a meeting’ and simply click to start a conversation, video call or instant message. With the majority of cloud-based UC solutions you can even integrate them with other core business applications like your accounting, or CRM system, so no need to waste time finding a number or pulling up customer details from a separate programme.

2. Reduce overheads across your business and release capital

With more seamless, location-independent communications you can also dramatically reduce your overall costs. Face-to-face meetings that require both time and expensive travel costs can be held less frequently and be replaced by video calling and/or document sharing. You can even re-consider how improved communications can support different types of flexible working, which in turn can translate into less office space and savings on rent.

A virtualised office concept is particularly attractive to growing companies that want to reduce their capital expenditure and re-invest into other areas. It also allows those that are down-sizing and want to lower their office footprint. Having the flexibility for non-office based working has other advantages too. Think about the recent rail strikes, if your employees are dependent on an office environment to do their job, think of the downtime implications, lost productivity and if you run a service desk, what implications this will have for your customers and future business, if you are short-staffed.

3. Retain and gain new customer with exemplary service

According to the ICS (Institute of Customer Service), “The UK is shifting from a transactional economy to a relationship economy, customers expect a dialogue with organisations rather than monologue, and they are using a mixture of new and existing channels to engage.” The Institutes’ latest UKCSI (UK Customer Satisfaction Index) shows that service levels are still falling across the majority of industries, only banking and utilities have seen a rise. The research suggests that in a more competitive environment there is the perfect opportunity to use service as a key differentiator from rivals. With the introduction of cloud-based communications technology you can enhance the quality of your conversations with customers by having all the resources you need at your fingertips on a single screen. Response times can also be optimised by being able to automatically route calls to colleagues that are a) available and b) have the appropriate knowledge to address any enquiry.

4. Expand into your markets and extend opening hours

With e-commerce, international borders are fast disappearing, enabling companies to successfully operate and maximise revenues across multiple countries and different time-zones. Investing in cloud-based unified communications means you can extend your reach with 24/7 sales and customer service lines and adopt a ‘follow the sun’ policy, drawing on different resources based in a range of locations from London to Hong Kong. Gone are the days where you need to purchase separate phone systems for different countries, instead everyone is taking advantage of the same technology across the globe.

5. No need for in-house IT support

Not only can companies save money on duplicating its IT investments across different territories, but you can make enormous savings in terms of IT personnel and support. Instead the cloud provider takes care of all of this for you, giving you a single point of contact for any queries, plus all updates and upgrades are done automatically without downtime or loss of business.

6. Be ahead of the curve & avoid risks of using ‘end-of-life’ technology

58 per cent of organisations in the UK are reported to be running Windows Server 2003, support for which ended in July 2015. In spite of the impending deadline, this figure has declined only slightly from the figure in 2014 (60 per cent). This puts any organisation still using this technology at risk, so now is the perfect time to consider migrating more applications including telephony/unified communications to a virtualised, cloud-based platform.

The other advantage with cloud of course is that you are always on the latest version of the software, no need to worry about the cost of upgrades, depreciation of IT assets or the headaches of replacing legacy technology. Remember, customer service is a real differentiator to attract and retain clients, so with the latest communication tools you can get a march on the competition.

The latest research from the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) reveals that the overall Cloud adoption rate in the UK today stands at 84 per cent, with almost four in five (78 per cent) of Cloud users having formally adopted two or more services. If you’re undecided by cloud and in particular unified communications, Swyx has produced a free layman’s guide that you can download here