17 May 2017

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Hosted PBX: The Benefits of Cloud-Based Phone Service

Business Phone Service by Tom Collins

The time has come to upgrade your PBX (Private Branch Exchange) system and move to the cloud. Cloud-based PBX systems are being rapidly deployed across all business sizes and segments and the benefits are transformative.

If you're ready to jump onto the cloud bandwagon, it's important to research and plan the transition. Risks of poor implementation include excessive downtime and unexpected outages during business hours. However, moving beyond a legacy PBX system doesn't have to be stressful and time-consuming. Follow these guidelines to ensure success.

Hosted PBX systems can open the door to significant advantages when it comes to the way your business operates. It’s a great way to modernize your company’s telecommunications with best-in-class features at surprisingly affordable rates.

While budget VoIP has a reputation for less-than-ideal sound quality, Hosted PBX systems have been a pleasant surprise for businesses - often surpassing the call quality and reliability of traditional on-premise PBX systems.

Call Quality and Hosted PBX

Historically, the primary reason business leaders were wary of hosted phone service was over fears of call quality. After all, this is a fundamental prerequisite for any voice-based communication – especially when you’re speaking on the phone. You need to have confidence that your words will be heard clearly and that you will hear all that is said to you.

Thankfully, cloud-based phone service has come a long way since first becoming widely available, and the sound quality is now often better or identical to that carried over traditional copper landlines.

To enhance our understanding of these obsolete pitfalls, let’s take a look at some of the key sound quality issues that were once common when using VoIP. Then we’ll drill down into what exactly has changed in recent years, both regarding the tech and in terms of the way providers structure their service, to make Hosted PBX a far more viable option than alternatives.

Problems of Outdated VoIP Tech

VoIP sound issues fall into three primary categories. Here’s what causes each of them and how to make sure you don’t encounter them.

Choppy Voice

If your bandwidth is insufficient, you are at risk of the dreaded “choppy voice,” whereby people complain that they can only hear every third word of your conversation. The fact is, even if this does happen to you, you may have sufficient bandwidth from a logistical standpoint, so don’t rush too quickly to blame your Internet Service Provider or too much traffic on your network. Rather, first investigate whether you have another high-bandwidth application, or more than one, hogging your voice bandwidth for their own purposes. Or, you may have contention on your LAN which results in your not being able to take advantage of ample bandwidth that may actually be available to you.

Using a service provider that specializes in telecommunications can help to ensure that you get the speed and bandwidth you’re paying for. A dedicated connection for VoIP can also go a long way. Once you have that additional connectivity, you will find that “choppy voice” is a thing most definitely of the past.

Echo

If you hear your own voice talking back to you while you are speaking on a VoIP system, or you hear feedback the person with whom you are speaking, then you could be facing one of several possible culprits. The most common causes of echo are acoustic interference, electromagnetic interference and faulty equipment. Thanks to advances in VoIP technology, this is typically no longer an issue. Unless you’re using outdated or inferior hardware, the echo effect is highly unlikely to make an appearance.

Jitter

This is where we can notice most evidently the extent to which audio streaming technology has advanced. When the packets of data arrive out of order, you experience an audio jitter. Today’s VoIP systems are supported by network buffers that collect and re-order the packets with more accuracy than older solutions, which solves this problem effectively.

Newer systems that use advanced packet-sequencing technology should help mitigate those jitters. Having the right Quality of Service (QoS) parameters in place can mitigate jitter. 

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The Quality of Hosted PBX

Over the past few years, each of the disappointing aspects to older VoIP systems has fundamentally been eliminated, as the technology itself has improved. In tandem, superior VoIP providers have begun doing business in different ways, with quality guarantees now built into service plans.

Bandwidth Just for Calls

Dedicated bandwidth is now widely available and at reasonable rates. This ensures that high speeds, maximum bandwidth and low packet latency rates remain steady, regardless of spikes to usage.

The Throughput You Need

Thanks to the prevalence of bandwidth being delivered over dedicated fiber to corporate telecommunication networks; hosted voice is now just one component of a whole slew of available tools. Today’s killer UC (unified communications) solutions are powered by smart dashboards that aggregate faxes, texts, chats, emails, voice calls, video calls and screen shares. It all works seamlessly thanks to the higher throughput levels of today’s networks.

Quality of Service Standards

Hosted PBX providers offer service level agreements that stipulate bandwidth guarantees nowadays. Lapses in call quality just aren’t tolerated anymore. Business leaders know that, and every hosted PBX provider is motivated to establish and maintain happy customers.

Vendor Knowhow

Nowadays, call quality snafus only actually happen when a cloud-based phone system’s infrastructure hasn’t been deployed correctly. As long as you choose a reliable provider with a good reputation for setting clients up successfully, you’ll be in great shape.

How to Choose a Hosted PBX Provider

Without an experienced and reliable vendor, any project can be challenging. The popularity of cloud-based computing and PBX has made for an overpopulated and confusing marketplace.

How many vendors are required for top notch service? The answer?

Just one.

The Benefits of Unified Communications

By choosing unified communications provided by one vendor, the headaches associated with multiple contacts, teams, toll free numbers, and bills are automatically eliminated. Your business will benefit from dedicated customer service, streamlined infrastructure management, increased security, and better connectivity, making the move to cloud-based PBX infinitely simpler.

Now, take a closer look at your options.

Here are five items to ask every potential vendor:

  • Connectivity - Will your VoIP phones connect via a direct connection or a shared Internet line? A direct private connection is preferable for reliable service.
  • Security – What are your procedures for reduced downtime? What is the process for disaster recovery?
  • Commitment – How long have you been in business? Go ahead and ask for recommendations.
  • Cost Structure – What is the cost structure? Streamlined billing with simple clear scaling is preferred.
  • Implementation - What is your on-boarding process?

Stakeholder Buy-In

IT professionals know that change can be hard and having buy-in from critical stakeholders is important to rapid user adoption. Make your stakeholders part of the process and spend time listening to their needs throughout the process. A good place to start is with these groups.

Employees – Call center staff, sales, and production rely on their communications tools to be successful in their jobs. Have meetings that capture their unique needs. For example, call forwarding is essential for sales, while managing calls on hold is critical for call centers. Consider their workflows as you design your new system.

IT – A large factor in the shift to cloud-based PBX is the reduced overhead costs. This can sound scary to IT. Meet with them to explain their new tasks and how the hosted PBX will be administered. Freeing valuable employees up to work on more important IT needs is the goal.

Executives - The executive needs to support the move. With proven reduced overhead, streamlined costs, and better service, the move to cloud-based PBX should be easy to get behind.

Clients & Partners - The key to a smooth transition is open communication. Let clients and partners know and ensure there are no conflicting platforms to cause an unexpected delay or problem.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
― Benjamin Franklin

You've chosen a vendor and the team is on board. Having chosen a vendor with a successful track record of on-boarding, you can rely on them to conduct a thorough assessment.

The Hosted PBX Assessment

The hosted PBX assessment is the most important factor in a successful move from legacy PBX to a cloud-based system. Here is an overview of what should be included.

Expect an in-depth, thorough dive into all aspects listed below before developing the new system.

  1. Locations & Mobility
    1. Single site vs. multiple sites
    2. How many users
    3. Remote user needs
  2. Infrastructure
    1. Existing PBX review
    2. Voicemail setup
    3. Call Center needs
    4. Integration with other platforms
  3. Inbound and Outbound Calling
    1. Departmental requirements
    2. Restrictions
    3. After hours calls
    4. Phone call tracking and coding
  4. Existing Network
    1. Routers
    2. Firewall
    3. Bandwidth

In order to better assist your new service provider, some future planning and consideration will be required. You've gotten buy-in from the stakeholders, now it's time to keep them involved and use their feedback. Here are two considerations that require collaboration as you plan the move.

  • Educate Key Team Members - Rely on your provider, but education and training should not be overlooked. Any key personnel should know the basics of cloud-based PBX and be able to act as a bridge between the legacy and new system.
  • Plan for Growth - Growing businesses benefit from the scalability of cloud-based systems. Knowing how quickly you need to scale will help in the planning process.

After conducting the assessment and discussing needs and future growth with key team members, your provider will design an implementation plan.

Hosted PBX Deployment Plan

It's go time! Follow these steps for a smooth deployment.

  1. Create a timeline with defined goals and dates. Every task should be assigned to an owner.
  2. Communicate. Every group of stakeholders should know when the deployment is happening, how it's occurring, and who is conducting the deployment.
  3. Educate. Training on all the new systems should occur prior to deployment. Don't risk downtime because the call center doesn't know how to transfer calls.
  4. Manage Risk. Your provider is a proven expert and will cover all the bases to ensure risk is minimized and the deployment is operational with zero downtime.
  5. Test. Deploy a test pod of users and ramp up calls and frequency to test bandwidth.
  6. Scale. Roll out the system and enjoy the benefits and amazing functionality of today's modern cloud-based PBX systems.

IT is an ever evolving field. Having the right partner will help guide you through inevitable change. Join the thousands of companies that have successfully made the move to the cloud and are already experiencing the benefits.

Atlantech has a seasoned onboarding team that has the experience, knowledge, and technology to make going beyond legacy a triumph and our Unified Communications platform simplifies deployment so your company can focus on the benefits of its new cloud-based PBX system.

Features vs. Costs for Business Phone Systems

Which type of business phone solution will allow your company to enjoy the best game-changing features without the need to invest beyond your means? Strictly from the perspective of cost-benefit analysis, how can you get more awesome functionality, maintain scalability and avoid lock-ins all at once?

If money were no object, you might sign up for every last feature available on your system of choice. In reality, however, you’re likely to want to evaluate the features available and weigh them against the resources at your disposal.

To keep it all in perspective, however, it’s also helpful to know how these decisions impact the long term. Which kinds of phone service technology allow you to scale up incrementally, as your business growth justifies further spending down the road, and what phone solution investments involve the least commitments to a particular long-term trajectory to your business?

Hosted PBX Features

Now that we’ve established that Hosted PBX is a powerhouse when it comes to scalability, features and value, let’s take a look at exactly what it can do. Again, the concept to remember here is that Hosted PBX costs are determined more by your company’s number of team members and sites than by the functionality you opt for.

  • Conference Calls

    Calls for three or more participants have long been available, even back in the days of “Ma Bell” and copper wiring being the only option. However, with Hosted PBX systems, in addition to VoIP-powered audio conferencing, you’ll have the option of web-based video conferencing, which opens up the possibility of screen sharing and whiteboarding. Recordings of conference calls and also copies of the shared documents can be archived.

  • Versatile, Dynamic Mobility

    Want your team members to remain seamlessly accessible even after hours while traveling or offsite? With Hosted PBX, mobile users can connect to the main system and leverage all features – just as if they were on a call inside the office. This means that you’ll have the flexibility to leave your desk with the confidence that you’ll remain reachable and able to handle whatever might come your way.

  • Usable Call Routing Menus

    Consider again that receptionist-of-yore analogy. A call center is part and parcel of any robust business phone system, as it means no particular person will be expected to route calls to the best recipient, nor to be the first line of defense to disgruntled callers. Let Hosted PBX’s virtual call center field your incoming queries, and you’ll know what you want to say when you call back. Just like that receptionist who covered for you when you punched out early that time.

  • Call Recording

    What was the consensus on the conference call about Q1 reports that you had this morning again? Did that supplier just threaten you? Sure enough, it can often be helpful to reference a recording of what was said. It also can be helpful when you are trying to recall the brilliant idea that is going to advance your business 100-fold. Hosted PBX systems can record calls – no fancy standalone gadgets necessary.

Cloud Talk

With Hosted PBX, because your service subscription fees are based on the volume of users and branches, as opposed to functionality, killer features like these are within your reach.

Whereas older models for business phone infrastructure involved major initial (CAPEX) and ongoing investment (OPEX), with Hosted PBX, you may even be able to use your existing handsets and VoIP switches and just pay for the bandwidth and features you need, when you need them. No proprietary hardware is necessary.

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be upgrading your business phone system. The options are many, and they continue to expand while costs continue to drop. Choose the system that is right for you, and modify it to suit your business needs as you grow. Here at Atlantech, we’re happy to help you make sense of your options, so if you’d like helpful advice, feel free to reach out.

 





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t-tom-collins

About the author:

Tom Collins (Twitter, LinkedIn) - is the Director of Enterprise Sales & Marketing for Atlantech Online. He has over 20 years of professional experience in the Internet Service Provider industry and is known for translating technology into positive results for business. A native of Washington, DC, a graduate from University of Maryland (degrees in Government & Politics and Secondary Education), Tom is also a five-time Ironman finisher.

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