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Choosing the right cloud phone systems provider

Cloud computing resides at the very foundations of Foehn telephony systems and is responsible for driving the huge wave of technology and applications that deliver the benefits of mobility, integration and on-demand services.

Attributable to Oracle’s Larry Ellison, the term “cloud” was being used as far back as the year 2000 but mainline deployment of cloud solutions really kicked in after the economic crisis of 2007. Businesses intent on rebuilding their computing and communications infrastructure around the more agile competitive and cost-effective infrastructure seized the opportunities cloud offered. Service providers like Amazon and Salesforce were quick to oblige. Microsoft and Google were quick to follow and, as they say, the rest is history.

A by-product of the cloud revolution was the spectacular explosion of start-up businesses, developing applications and services built around cloud capabilities. Today, you just need to take a walk down Old Street and around “Silicon Roundabout” to see how the cloud has effectively created a whole new generation of IT businesses, dismissing traditional organisational structure to adopt collaborative working, a new IT vocabulary and even social change where beards and sleeve “tats” are “” la mode”.

Over recent years, the term “born-in-the-cloud-business” has come to describe the young organisations that have dismissed the traditional business model to enter the brave new world of cloud. In a recent conversation with the head of one such business, it was surprising, if not shocking, to hear the opinion that being “born” in the cloud gave an advantage over longer-established providers with many more years experience. Furthermore, the young entrepreneur even went as far as suggesting that businesses boasting long experience were actually at a disadvantage. His point is that the mind-set, products and management style of thirty years ago bear no resemblance to those of today and act as a burden in the competitive marketplace.

On listening to this, the words “flawed logic, gross generalisation and extreme naivety” come to mind. On reflection, though, I can see his point. Traditional companies have had to reinvent themselves in order to survive the cloud revolution. Take Avaya for example. The global market leader in hardware-based telecoms systems twenty years ago, escaped bankruptcy last month by the skin of its teeth. They were slow to invest in cloud based architecture and the market was unforgiving. In fact, most of the longer established communications providers are struggling in a market where cloud phone solutions, like Foehn’s, are taking the lead.

On the other hand, our “cloud-baby” entrepreneur misses an important piece of history that, in the area of business communications at least, has created a very special kind of company. The piece of history applies to the period between 2000 and 2007. This was a time of change unlike any other in the history of telecoms, competing with the cloud revolution in terms of seismic shift. Unified communications was becoming a reality, virtualisation of hardware was happening, SIP was becoming reliable, converged networks were becoming global, cloud was in its infancy, BT was deregulating its services, the first iPhone arrived the list of communications breakthroughs goes on.

Today, for a business seeking a phone system supplier, this is important for three big reasons:

1. Businesses that move from a traditional telecoms system, or are integrating a cloud system in a hybrid arrangement, need a provider who understands “old” technology
2. Businesses that are investing it’s future in cloud communications need a provider who understands the “new” technology
3. All new cloud phone systems have to interact with long-established, national “PSTN” telecoms infrastructure and need the experience of traditional billing, porting and technical support that come with the territory.

These are the areas where experience really counts in the future reliability and return on your cloud phone investment. In turn, this experience relies on the skills and knowledge typical of the provider born in that transitionary period between the old and the new.

Of course, the choice of phone system provider goes deeper. It’s imperative to find a partner that offers the services you need and understands your business. In the process of selecting a provider, it’s worth paying close attention to the following criteria:

– Business Fit
Think about your telephony requirements. Do you need to support a mobile workforce, or home workers” Map your requirements against your business needs then present these requirements to telephony providers to ensure they are quoting on a like for like basis.

– Transparent Pricing

Some companies price on an all-inclusive basis, with a single price per user per month, with all features included. Others offer a very low starting fee, but then charge for each additional feature thereafter. Make sure you understand what extras the provider applies. Also check out the bundled call costs.

– Self-management
Some providers will charge for any administrative changes, so make sure you understand what the limitations are. This can become costly, and can cause significant delays if you are relying on a provider to make changes. Consider choosing an easy to use platform, where you can manage your own dial plan and schedule.

– Support Skills
Speak to the providers about the different support options they offer. If there is an incident or an emergency, you need to know that help is at hand. Make sure you choose a company that has qualified and experienced engineers. Also make sure that they offer the level of support that you expect. This is especially important if you need 24/7 support.

– Integration Skills
Make sure that you choose an expert provider that can offer you the capability to integrate your phone system with your CRM, billing or other business systems. A customer database linked to your customer relationship management system should be able to interoperate with your cloud phone system. Having a cloud telephony platform that can be easily integrated to your other business systems will save time and money.

– Network Skills
You will have considered your bandwidth, but you should also consider having a direct connection to the network. This will ensure that your provider can guarantee packet prioritisation, QoS and latency management. Underpin performance of your network and support team with a service level agreement. You will be in safe hands if you work with a provider that has the network skills to ensure end-to-end performance.

Other things to look for are in-house software development skills. This is important for integration projects but also provides reassurance of an active innovation and development roadmap to support your system.

If the development skills are based on open source, then all the better. Open source projects are not tied to standards and can require less coding thanks to existing code made available by both the community and the bigger participating vendors. Quality of code is better too. Independent verification by members of the open source community outside the business means code tends to be of higher quality. Also, it’s human nature that a developer, knowing the code is going into the public domain, is likely to submit cleaner code.

Finally, look to the person at the top. Ultimately, the culture and “personality” of the provider company is a reflection of its leader. When that leader comes from the technical side of business rather than the commercial side, you know you’re getting a provider that’s passionate about its product, rather than its profit.

Find out more about the Foehn cloud phone systems, Voxivo, and what we offer as a cloud phone system supplier.


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