For the last hundred years, the desk phone has been a staple of every business. The landline has been a lifeline to customers and colleagues as the primary means of communication, even as email threatened to render the telephone obsolete. For some purposes, like conference calling, there was simply no substitute. That is, until a few years ago.
With all due respect and apologies to Mr. Alexander Graham Bell, the desk phone is becoming just one solution, out of many devices, used for the modern business world. The idea of tethered, point-in-time communications has become a major limiting factor to business growth as new technologies have given companies the ability to grow faster than the conventional on-premise PBX infrastructure could accommodate.
The rise of mobile workforce
Over the last decade, we’ve seen a tremendous shift in how and where employees work. High speed internet accessibility, Wi-Fi and cellular technology have ushered in an explosion in mobility. Many employees are no longer confined to an office, or even a specific building, and now enjoy the freedom to work quite literally anywhere at any time; the corner coffee shop at 6 a.m., at home after midnight or on the beach while soaking up the mid-day sun.
At the same time, companies have leveraged the power of cloud technology to branch out, setting up distributed office locations while still connecting staff with shared resources like cloud-based productivity software, document storage and collaboration suites, as well as an entire industry of apps that have emerged to fulfill specific niche needs.
New technology, new limitations
Despite the changing work habits, the telephone has remained a vital link, although the format has changed significantly. Many employees now work exclusively from a mobile phone, with the vast majority using their own personal devices. Meanwhile, many companies still rely on conventional on-premises PBX-style landline desk phones to keep employees connected.
In fact, it’s exactly the variety of platforms now available that poses the greatest challenge. Many conventional on-premises systems are siloed and proprietary. Adding new locations or new users can be very costly and time-consuming, and existing technologies often don’t integrate. That leaves companies forced to pay exorbitant fees for disparate systems that don’t scale and require specialised third-party assistance to maintain, all while taxing internal IT resources and the bottom line. Adding new features is cumbersome and expensive, and complex systems require massive IT involvement and investment to maintain. Conventional landlines simply don’t work at the pace of modern businesses.
Add in the mobility challenge and things really get messy. Companies can either provide devices to employees and assume the responsibility for device management and cost, or allow employees to use their own. But, BYOD environments can pose a major security threat if not handled properly. Not only does it require employees to give up their personal identity (their mobile phone number) to business associates, BYOD is also difficult to control. Employees have access to a wealth of highly confidential corporate data that could very well walk right out the door with them if they leave the company. While you can introduce preventative measures to ensure that sensitive data is kept safe, it is one more task for the IT team to manage.
Despite all of these options, getting in touch with a colleague is actually now harder instead of easier. Everyone has at least three numbers: desk phone, mobile and fax, plus email, a conference bridge and instant message or SMS text messaging. Making contact might require three or four attempts. Do you try the office line before the mobile? Leave a message at one or both? Follow-up with an email, then shoot them a text? It’s not exactly the most efficient system, nor the best image to send to your customers. Why make it harder for them to do business with you?
The phone of the future is in the cloud
As we’ve seen in so many other applications, cloud technology is answering the call to be our phone of the future. As with email, document storage, CRM and so many other business applications, the cloud makes calling, faxing, voicemail and other conventional telephone tasks accessible anytime, anywhere and on virtually any device.
Softphone applications turn a laptop or desktop PC into a full-fledged telephone with advanced features that rival or surpass the most sophisticated PBX systems, like call forwarding, conference calling and even video calling, all accessible with nothing more than a few clicks and a headset or web cam, something most of us have already.
Users can access the complete feature set from anywhere, including a mobile phone, with purpose-built apps that provide virtually the same user experience on the mobile platform. And, for BYOD environments, cloud communication solutions are designed for mobility, with apps that keep business contacts, conversations and data usage separate from users’ personal information for added security. Now, employees can have one number that works to reach them anywhere, no more dialing three numbers and still not getting through.
Seamless management, unsurpassed value
From a management perspective, setting up new locations and users on a cloud-based system is as simple as installing software or an app and making a few clicks to configure specific settings. Features and user access privileges can be added or revoked from a single management console in seconds, without having to rely on time-consuming and costly outside technical support.
In addition to offering a flexible and scalable technology, ease of use and minimal management, cloud based business communication solutions are also a much better value over conventional on-premises PBX technology. Not only is it much more affordable to set up and get started, but it’s also a pay-as-you-grow system. Subscription fees are based on the number of users and features, rather than a blanket monthly fee that you must pay regardless of whether you use the full capacity or feature set of your plan. An all-inclusive cloud-based system also eliminates the need for multiple vendors, which adds even more savings.
Data from the Forrester TEI study found that using a cloud-based solution could net a 182 percent ROI, with an expected payback period of less than just two months. Users in the survey saved an estimated $1.6 million by switching from PBX systems and consolidating fax and conferencing services onto a single cloud platform.
Unlocking new data and insights
Perhaps one of the most interesting and exciting benefits of cloud-based communications is its ability to capture usage and efficiency data to help any business make better-informed decisions. Unlike conventional systems, where you might be able to view a basic call log with call duration data, cloud-based solutions provide much more insight. Information on overall data usage, consumption per user, call routing details, softphone vs mobile usage, and more can help businesses maximize the value of their ISP/communications services, improve resource utilisation and allocation and reduce costs. By better understanding exactly how you’re using bandwidth, you may find you’re either paying too much or legitimately justify an increase.
Cloud communications amplifies IT strategic value
In addition to easing the management burden for IT, cloud communication solutions can also have a powerful impact on raising the overall perception of IT within the organisation. Often IT is viewed as a cost center, a necessity of doing business in the modern age, tasked with keeping the systems up and running to enable the “real” business drivers, like sales, marketing, manufacturing and customer service, to do what they do best.
However, by initiating strategy to evaluate and switch to a cloud-based communications platform that saves time and money, and supports the business growth objectives of the organisation, IT can transform from a cost center into a value center. Elevating IT’s position as a strategic business component allows any company to adopt a more integrated growth strategy with all departments and services contributing directly to grow the bottom line.
By Monica Visconti-Patel, Senior Director EMEA Sales and Marketing at RingCentral