Let’s Look at Why VoIP?
Let’s go back to the earliest days of business telephony, where companies were forced to buy their phone connectivity just like they purchased other services such as electric, gas and maintenance. While even after the telephone monopolies were broken up in the late 1980s, these things did not change very much.
Business Owners at the time did not realize it, but they were severely constrained by the way their telephone systems were constructed and what it offered them, With the introduction of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), voice calls could be converted into data packets just like any other data travelling over the Internet. Since the Internet used a common and open standard, the VoIP packets could interact with practically any other internet-based data system.
Now this might not sound like a big deal, in reality, it changes everything. Since VoIP packets can be handled the same way as other Internet-based data packets, companies can create VoIP applications that are best suited to their own needs.
VoIP is finally breaking the artificial shackles imposed on business communication systems and is shifting the balance of power to the user. While also adding additional capability like video conferencing does not necessarily imply going in for expensive equipment; it can be as simple as installing new software. What this capability really means is that VoIP systems will support new communication systems that are not even on the drawing board today.
Business Telephone systems look very different today thanks to VoIP.
Telephone Systems Evolution
The Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) has been the backbone of business communications since the late nineteenth century, and it was only a few decades ago that standards such as the ISDN began to appear. However, the traditional phone system was remarkably resilient and formed the first web that really bound the world together.
Over the last few decades, cellular systems and, more recently, VoIP systems have emerged, and the traditional phone has finally begun to see a decline. Data for the U.S. clearly shows the march of VoIP and decline in the use of both POTS and cellular phone systems.
The reasons are not hard to find. To begin with, due to low bandwidth costs, costs of using VoIP phone systems are far lower than either POTS or cellular phone systems. In terms of sheer capability, VoIP systems can outperform both cellular and POTS systems in most areas. We cover some of these issues in the next few sections.
It helps if you think of VoIP as a strategic tool rather than something that merely provides communication to a business. Besides providing amazingly diversified communication capability, VoIP adds value through three important attributes: intelligence, virtualization, and customization capabilities.
VoIP systems are still evolving, and it is not yet clear where they will eventually end up. However, they interface very easily with business intelligence and decision-making systems. This helps engineers to design intelligent systems that can automate many activities in companies.
In one experiment, a supply chain management system was programmed to interface with the VoIP system of a company. The VoIP system had a link with the company directory and thereby “knew” which individual was performing what task in the company. In the event of a disruption in the supply chain, the chain management system triggered the VoIP system, which looked up and dialed the required persons, passed a message, and sent streaming video to their computers along with links to a website displaying the required information. Using fairly simple technology, the supply chain management system and the VoIP solution were able to contact the right persons and inform them about the problem automatically.
In another example of intelligence, a hospital integrated a patient-monitoring system with its VoIP solution. In case of a patient’s vital parameters going beyond defined limits, the patient-monitoring system automatically triggered an alert, which the VoIP system then routed to the right person after taking into account duty rosters and closest qualified doctor and nurse availability. In this way, the hospital converted an undifferentiated emergency message to a targeted message focused on selected health workers. These intelligent systems also log the entire sequence of events for later analysis.
While the systems described above look easy to implement, the rules that trigger certain actions can be complex to program – especially if there are a lot of alternative and conflicting decision paths. VoIP vendors and developers are now focusing their attention on making systems easier to program and linking them to knowledge management systems so that the system responses are better and can accommodate a degree of ambiguity.
VoIP makes it possible to virtualize your phone system and use it from wherever you can get a good connection to the Internet. It is easy to launch a new phone service and create any number of virtual phones. These capabilities bring the benefits of portability and scale to businesses. Using VoIP, a travelling employee can be on the other side of the globe, yet use her own office number to receive and make calls and have access to all the phone-related facilities she would have at her desk.
Businesses also enjoy the flexibility that VoIP phone systems bring. Such as Remote workers having access anywhere in the world to the main system, by using VoIP and a computer terminal, employees have access to the same information as an in house employee would have had.
Another great productivity feature is a user can create and check their appointments and work with their task lists simply by using their VoIP phones. The system can also prioritize incoming calls and send some calls directly to their phones while routing others to their voicemail.
User Customizable Options
VoIP systems can be easily customized to meet specific company and user requirements.
In fact, some services such as voicemail and caller ID were touted as major accomplishments of traditional phone systems, but these are considered very basic as far as VoIP is concerned.
Phone system vendors are in a race to offer new features that allow users to tailor their VoIP systems to their liking and use them to add to their brand value.
Many Organizations have switched to a VoIP based system to save money and lower costs, by eliminate the need for extra service, and technical personal to maintain and operate service.
Customized messages, music, prompts, and interactive voice response (IVR) technology all allow your phone system to closely reflect your corporate message and help you to create a distinct identity. Phone systems can respond to a language selection by a caller and alert multilingual contact center operators to respond in the appropriate language as they answer a call. You can program the system to contact an agent at different numbers depending on the time of day, or day of the week. This way, a VoIP system can be closely tailored to your business needs, delivering great value and customer satisfaction by giving your customer and your agents an experience customized to their needs.
Easier Disaster Recovery
VoIP phone systems can play a major role in your Disaster Recovery (DR) plans. This is particularly so if you have chosen a hosted VoIP plan. In a hosted system, the service is provided by a vendor who hosts the infrastructure in the cloud and you license a specified number of lines and services from the vendor.
If this is the class of service you have chosen, and your office premises become unusable for any reason, then you can simply move to the nearest location where broadband facilities are available and log into your phone system. You could transfer all services to another office in another city, and continue operations with your customers never being aware that their calls are being answered from a different location.
However, if you choose to use an in office Premise based IP PBX, then not all of these advantages will apply. If your PBX continues to be available through the disaster (and your office premises are not), you can still transfer your calls to a different location. However, this will be more complex than if you were using a hosted service. Nevertheless, the fact is that DR with VoIP phone systems is much simpler than with traditional phone systems.
Improved Productivity and Lower Operating Costs
Businesses are interested in productivity gains, and VoIP really delivers in this respect. The graph below shows how much faster VoIP-based phone operations can be as compared to a traditional Legacy phone system. As can be seen, most common tasks take half the time they would have taken with a TDM phone system, while some of the more complex tasks show even more time savings.
The average productivity gain is about 2.7 man days a year per employee, and at the average salary of a person who uses such systems heavily, this translates to about $500 per person per year.
If you have a large number of people using the phone system as part of their regular work, these are big numbers.
There are also additional savings that are not so evident unless one goes into detail. Take space savings. An IP PBX and its related infrastructure consumes about one-third of the space of a TDM PBX. A hosted VoIP service takes practically no space at all, since it shares much of your existing IT infrastructure.
The cost savings in space alone can be very significant. Move-Add-Change (MAC) costs with VoIP phone systems are far lower as compared to traditional phone systems. With a fixed line system, you invariably require a skilled technician to change or add a location. This is not the case with a VoIP system, and in many cases your own IT staff can accomplish the change. Once again, the savings (and the resulting freedom to change locations without worrying about costs) can be substantial.
Another important source of savings is created by the availability of free Wi-Fi services in many public locations. Remote and traveling staff can use their smartphones to connect using Wi-Fi, leading to a reduction in calling charges.
VoIP – Why Now?
Why is this a good time to switch to VoIP systems? There are several important reasons.
Basic System Operating Costs
A straightforward reason is provided by the graph discussed previously. If the system can save you so much, and yet give you greater capabilities and flexibility, then the business case for a switch becomes obvious. Even if costs were similar, it would make sense to go with a system that is more capable.
Matching Capability of IPv6 Phone Systems
Another important reason to consider a move to VoIP is the increasing adoption of IPv6 services. Internet Protocol version 6 is rapidly replacing the currently prevalent IP version 4. In an earlier paper, we had published IPv6 use percentage at 4.73% of all Internet traffic. This was based on data collected by Google on November 24, 2014.
As a consequence, with improving software, your VoIP phone system will be able to interact with and respond to millions of connected devices. This is truly a revolution just waiting to occur, and we really need to think this through. A traditional phone system will be an antique as compared to this capability.
The Hardware Replacement Cycle
If your business still uses a legacy system, then it is very likely that this system is nearing the end of its useful lifecycle. After all, the adoption rates of Traditional systems have been dropping over the years and very few businesses are purchasing or leasing new TDM systems anymore. Therefore, it stands to reason that any systems that are still in service have seen several years of use.
If you are considering a replacement of your Older PBX then it makes very compelling business sense to look at a VoIP system as its replacement. You would not want to be committed to a technology that is already obsolete.
Look at VoIP as Strategy
It would be a mistake to look at VoIP as just technology alone. Business Owners have to think of VoIP as a strategy for both growth and a competitive advantage. Companies that have really understood VoIP have converted their entire business into a customer contact center.
Smart businesses will look for new ways to connect with clients, collaborators, and even competitors. They will not treat communication capability as a scarce resource to be controlled centrally, but as a differentiation that will allow them to achieve ever greater efficiency and increased productivity.
How does your business look at communication systems?