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The journey to VoIP nirvana: When should I consider a cloud phone system?

Following on from a look at which VoIP system is best for your business, Rafael Cortes, Foehn head of marketing, by getting down to the specifics of how a cloud phone system can save money for your business and improve the productivity of your employees.
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Have a look at part one – Which VoIP phone system is best for your business?

The advent of the cloud as a reliable, secure and technically viable environment for application service delivery has taken hosted communications to a new level. Testament to the wholesale acceptance of cloud services is the number of legal firms, generally accepted as the most cautious and cynical of IT consumers, now adopting cloud services including communications.

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Whilst delivering all the benefits of a hosted solution, the cloud is all about providing access to high performance applications and delivering on-demand services anywhere on any devices. The impact of the cloud on communications has resulted in an explosion of productivity-boosting applications that use the versatility of the cloud to make integration simple.

The flexibility of subscribing to a VoIP cloud phone system means you can now access a platform that bristles with innovative features and integrates with the new exciting applications that appear on the market daily. This latent ability of the cloud to drive innovation is demonstrated well in the rise of cloud contact centres that have capitalised on the versatility and agility of cloud services to provide a vast array of features, such as scaling of contact centre resources to meet market conditions, integrating customer data with VoIP calls and linking multiple features to improve the customer experience.

Could I convert my VoIP phone system to a cloud system in the future?

Yes, many larger companies have been doing just that. Those that have forked out hundreds of thousands on VoIP kit five to ten years ago have watched the simultaneous rise of cloud communications and the comparative decline of their return on investment. In response, they have moved their systems to the data centre and capitalised on server virtualisation to integrate new applications and manage their systems remotely from the office.

Other, more risk-averse businesses have taken a half way measure with a hybrid cloud arrangement. The main VoIP server remains at the company offices whilst certain applications (e.g. video, messaging) are run from the cloud. Either way, cloud migration and hybrid cloud strategies are the domains of the larger enterprise trying to recover return on their investment. For most SMEs, adoption of the cloud for the entire communications portfolio of communications is a much simpler and cost-effective decision.

Is Skype for Business the right cloud solution for the SME?

You can’t ignore Skype4B, if only because it comes from Microsoft – which still controls 75 per cent of desktops amongst the world’s mid-size to large enterprises, plus a lot more. But, unlike its longer established applications, Skype4B doesn’t serve the SME with the same empathy. That seems strange because Skype’s origins are amongst the world’s smallest businesses and personal users. The driving force behind Skype4B has always been Lync, and Microsoft OCS before that. In the past, these solutions have served the large enterprise and the current Skype4B inherits this focus, leaving the SME space under-served on pricing, feature sets and support service.

Evidence of this appears when attempting to understand the complex pricing and bundling of services. From day one, even the larger businesses have been caught out by pricing that, in a typical Microsoft way, tries to lock you into the extended suite of Skype4B services. Many early adopters who took on the messaging and presence features for free have since been surprised at the upscaling of prices for voice and video licences.

Starting with the on-premise based Skype4B Server, integrating with MS Office and providing a comprehensive set of unified comms services, Microsoft has expanded out to integrate with the cloud based Office 365, incorporating Cloud PBX to marry Office 365 with comms features. These Online Services achieve full voice capability by combining with additional features, including their Skype4B PSTN Calling Service, to provide breakout to the public telecoms network, and Skype4B Cloud Connector to enable cloud access from a premise based phone system.

From here on, the complexity and variations in licence options increase while service tie-in escalates – all at odds with the needs of all SMEs to maintain simplicity and freedom to change. The fact is, Microsoft is a relative newcomer to the world of voice and communications. The attempt to catch up and deliver voice in the shortest possible time has created a bottleneck of solutions, and it shows. SMEs that want to remain agile and not locked in to one vendor will shy away from these one stop shop offerings.

What does cloud communications hold in store for the SME in the future?

It’s exciting times, with providers of cloud phones and contact centres building on the key advantage – ease of integration. WebRTC is a feature that assists voice connection through web-based services. For example, a click-to-call button on a web site. This is just one of many developments that is driving the latest trend to deliver voice communication from the application rather than from the device.

Open source is another feature of cloud phone systems that has been well-established over the past ten years but, more recently, has found renewed enthusiasm from smaller businesses that demand freedom from “vendor lock-in” and the opportunity to integrate with applications of their choice.

In short

Without doubt, cloud-hosted services are driving the development of VoIP for both telephony and contact centres.

The good news for small businesses is that the cloud is also the most affordable and flexible platform.

Get the complete story about the actual features of VoIP phone systems and how they interact with your business to build productivity and impress your customers. Download Foehn’s complete “Cloud Phone Systems Buyers Guide Series” to learn more about the options and what your business needs to consider when investing in this high performance communications technology.

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