By Neil Armstrong, Director of Business Services, Timico
As the lines between voice and data communications become increasingly blurred, many businesses are turning to VoIP (or Voice over Internet Protocol) solutions to meet their ever expanding needs. Traditionally, firms that wanted telephone lines on their premises had to have a traditional Private Branch Exchange (PBX), which would be connected by analogue or digital lines. The PBX would provide the intelligence to route the calls around the office as required, whilst the telephone lines would allow calls to be made and received with the outside world.
Voice and data
Using an alternative form of IP-compatible phone system, Voice over IP technology allows calls to be carried over data networks instead of traditional analogue or digital lines. These newer, scalable, resilient systems are effectively IP-based servers or platforms which businesses can locate on-site or connect to remotely, providing the complete functionality of a phone system without a traditional PBX. But while VoIP has a range of benefits – which ones could help your company the most – and how would they fit into your business plan? Timico takes a look at VoIP’s top five uses.
1. Office moves
Business is fluid – with expansion often going hand in hand with success. Of course it’s not only expansion which could prompt an office move, sometimes it can be a strategic decision – like the BBC’s decision to relocate to Salford’s Media City.[i] Whatever the reason for your relocation, maintaining a level of service to your customers is paramount. A familiar telephone number is one of a business’ most prized assets – and needs to be maintained. VoIP allows companies to retain their existing numbers, even if they have local area codes. This not only maintains service for the customer, but also saves thousands of pounds which would have to be spent on producing new marketing collateral. VoIP also has the benefit of being a ‘plug and play’ solution – so phone lines can be up and active before even the new kettle has been unpacked.
As well as businesses on the move, VoIP is also the perfect solution for start-ups. Sending voice calls over IP networks means that there is no requirement for an upfront investment, or ongoing monthly rental in fixed ISDN lines – perfect for new businesses trying to keep overheads to a minimum. Some hosted VoIP solutions also have a pay monthly option, meaning that cash forecasting is easily taken care of. What’s more, these types of VoIP solutions are easily scalable – so as the start-up develops or experiences seasonal peaks in call volume, their requirements can be easily tailored to suit. Also – there is often no limit to the number of handsets attributed to the service, so as the start-up develops (hopefully) into a larger organisation, their telecoms solution can grow alongside them.
3. Business continuity
Every business owner knows how critical it is to be online at all times. Downtime is money – in fact, according to a 2012 study by Aberdeen Group, UK SMEs record an average loss of £138,000 for every hour of downtime[ii]. Your phone lines are just as important – especially if emails and data are experiencing problems. VoIP telephony is exceptionally resilient, particularly where it is all hosted off-site. This means if some sort of unavoidable mishap should occur – a flood or fire for example – users can simply re-connect to the system from another location. This ensures resilience against unforeseen problems and also maintains the level of service for customers.
The business world is having to adapt in order to meet the needs of its customers – and that increasingly means being flexible towards when and where your staff work. Flexible hours, home-working and office sharing – they’re all markers of the modern workforce and need to be catered for. VoIP solutions allow calls to be redirected to mobile devices – even if a client calls your landline number - as well as remote access to voicemails. Add to this Instant Messaging capabilities, presence information and video calls and VoIP allows the entire workforce to use all of their communication and collaboration functions from wherever they happen to be. This not only aids flexible working practices, but also cuts down on added expenditure – like travel to face-to-face meetings.
5. Cost saving
As with some solutions there is no obligatory requirement to invest in hardware, VoIP becomes more of a subscription-based service, with customers connecting to their provider’s readily available system. This means VoIP customers only need one service provider for telephone calls, phone system maintenance and internet access. This is exceptionally cost effective, as it reduces the cost of line rental, call charges and maintenance charges, as well as potentially negating the upfront investment in a PBX, where the VoIP solution is a hosted tenanted solution for example. These benefits, plus free calls between offices and the ability for homeworkers to be included as users on the system - cutting down the amount of calls made to and from their mobiles - means that starting from as little as £7 per month, VoIP really is a solid strategy for both performance and profitability.
VoIP offers a range of solutions for a variety of businesses, but it’s important to remember that there is more than one way to deploy it – which generally relies on the size and strength of your IT department. Using VoIP services also requires a good, fast data connection to ensure voice quality – so make sure you chat through all of your requirements with a trusted provider before signing on the dotted line.