Altus UC - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
Which features are important to me?
Sometimes too much choice is overwhelming, but on this point it is important to take some time and understand which features and functionality are available in the market and select those which are important to you and your company. Virtually all systems, premise-based or cloud-based, have a comparable core feature set that includes making and receiving phone calls, conferencing, transferring, voicemail, etc. Overall, the functionality of legacy systems is fairly limited compared to those which are cloud based. Many cloud based solutions have applications and soft phones for personal mobile devices, tablets, and desktop computers, turning any one of these devices into an available endpoint within the business communications ecosystem. Beyond the core telephony features and mobility, are features that fall under the umbrella of “unified communications” things like instant messaging, presence, video calling, conferencing, and web meetings. More and more companies are wanting to move away from point solutions for these newer types of collaboration (like WebEx or Google Hangouts) and get that functionality from within their core communications platform so they don’t need to deal with multiple disparate applications. Other advanced features include things like Contact Center functionality or application integrations with other common business systems like CRM and many cloud providers offer these things as well, but there is a lot of variability in terms of the quality of the integrations across service providers.
Will the system grow with my business?
Successful businesses invariably grow, change, and evolve through time. You want to select a communications solution that is flexible enough to scale with your company, whether up or down. Legacy PBX systems are notoriously inflexible in this respect, locking you into a platform with a certain number of port that dictates how many employees you can add without changing systems. Often you need to either purchase an upgrade to a larger platform or pay a technician to update your software capacity just to add more employees or tie in another location. By way of contrast, most cloud-based unified communications providers can easily add additional users, sites, or features. Some cloud based providers even let you reduce the number of users you are paying for on-demand, so you only pay for what you need and avoid excess capacity.
What about my mobile workers?
A company in today’s economy, operating with employees, sales teams, and remote workers spread out across all sorts of locations, should look for a system that ties all of these people together into a single business communications ecosystem. Workers, for their part, want to be able to conduct business on any device and across any type of network. A legacy PBX can sometimes call forward a particular employee’s calls to a mobile device or home number, but other than that the functionality is somewhat limited. For many workers, once they leave their office they lose connectivity to their business phone system. On the other hand, most cloud service providers offer thin clients and downloadable apps which extend the business communications ecosystem beyond the traditional desk phone in a corporate office to all kinds of devices and network connections. With the right solution your company can operate as a single, cohesive unit, and enjoy all the advantages of mobility and working from remote locations. Employers like that these mobile apps allow employees to maintain their business persona (and business caller ID), even when the employees are making and receiving communications on personal devices.
Is the phone system reliable?
In today’s market, you should demand that your phone system be working virtually all the time. It has been over 100 years since the advent of telephony, and companies around the world have rightfully come to expect high levels of availability from communications service providers. While legacy PBX systems have a track record of reliability, they are vulnerable to downed lines, weather-related interruptions, and hardware failures. Many cloud providers have dramatically improved the overall reliability of their platforms over the last decade as the technology has matured and bandwidth availability across the country has rapidly expanded. A reliable cloud-based system will be hosted in multiple carrier data centers with redundant components such as power and cooling, and remain in operation even if an end customer’s site experiences a network outage. Make sure that your cloud service provider is using enterprise-grade software and hardware in tier I data centers, and not cutting corners with open source software running on a single server in some private office. A weather event or carrier outage should not put your business communications on hold.
What does the install / deployment look like?
Call flows within a business can often be complicated, with multiple auto-attendants, hunt groups, and call trees frequently required within the same corporate environment. This is particularly true as you move upmarket toward the enterprise. Make sure that your business phone provider has expertise in these areas and will provide you with the support you require. For many years the traditional model has been that a business customer sources a premise-based PBX system from a communications vendor in their region, and then that vendor sends a technician onto the customer site to install and configure the system, and also to do whatever training is required. Some cloud providers take a similar approach, and will set all of these things up in person as part of a white glove implementation. Other cloud providers deliver their solution 100% remotely with no salesperson, voice engineer, or support technician ever setting foot on the customer site. These providers often rely exclusively on self-help videos or online quick reference guides, and to the extent there is any live human support it is often from off-shore call centers. Either approach can work, but again, make sure you know what you’re buying.
Publish Date: March 2, 2016 5:00 AM
Compared to traditional phone technology, the essential infrastructure and method of communicating are distinctly different with hosted VoIP
Why is it that in a world where technology is evolving at an ever-increasing rate, that most business today still rely on phone technology that has been around for generations? Business phone service has for decades been delivered over the public switched telephone network (PSTN) via either an on-premise private branch exchange (PBX) with trunks connected back to the local telephone company or via plain old telephone service lines (POTS) – the same kind of thing you used for residential service until you realized that your mobile phone was sufficient for that. With the on-premise PBX model, which has been the industry standard for companies of any meaningful size, all of the switching, routing, and call flow decisions happen within the PBX on-site at the customer. Purchasing and maintaining the PBX is expensive, and when it goes down or a line is cut, the business is completely without service.
With hosted VoIP technology, the communications traffic is routed over the internet, as opposed to a legacy phone line, to the service provider’s platform in the cloud
Instead of a company’s voice traffic traveling over a local phone company’s network via the PSTN, that traffic is routed over broadband internet to the service provider’s switching infrastructure in the cloud. For the communications service provider it is far more efficient to operate this cloud infrastructure as opposed to multiple premise-based PBXs at each customer location, and this results in lower costs to the customers themselves. Beyond the cost savings, however, is the ability to enhance the feature set beyond mere telephony by moving to an all-IP transport network. Things like video, chat, and web meetings all become possible within a single, integrated communications system. Moreover, because cloud based phone systems operate in data centers with redundant components (like power and HVAC) a customer will still have access to their business communications platform is available anywhere, on any device, across all kinds of networks, which provides inherent business continuity advantages compared with traditional systems.
Publish Date: March 2, 2016 5:00 AM
Here are three technological changes that network planners must take account of as they evaluate their enterprise communications as it relates to their WAN.
This one isn’t new. The use of public cloud services has rapidly moved to center stage over the past few years. For almost a fifth of companies, cloud delivery has already become the preferred delivery mechanism, and nearly four out of five CIOs say that public cloud is at least a “viable” delivery option next to traditional on-site or private could deployment models. Industry experts believe that 30% percent of enterprises (that’s enterprises … not the SMB) are already using public cloud services such as Salesforce, Office 365, or Dropbox, and this number continues to grow rapidly. In light of this, network planners need to plan for the internet to become a permanent and integral part of their WAN. Emerging technologies such as Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) are useful mechanisms to aid in this process.
Internet of Things
The pundits tell us that soon every device we own — and nearly every object you can imagine — will be connected to the Internet. This might be a bit of a stretch, but certainly the concept of the digital business model is here in earnest and here to stay. As more and more sensors are embedded into physical objects, they must communicate across both LANs and WANS. Network architects and planners must account not only for the additional volume of traffic, but also make sure they can deliver the necessary performance levels to support the new business models.
Like Public Cloud, Mobility remains at the forefront for network planners. Unlike consumers, enterprises today make only limited use of mobile applications. While “mobile-ready” is a given for most network planners, more and more architects and CIOs are seriously considering the drive to “mobile-first”. Network design, therefore, must take an outside-in approach as opposed to the traditional inside-out approach that predominated for so long. The proliferation of mobile devices within the enterprise is set to continue, and this trend has a serious impact on the LAN edge. The wireless LAN, as opposed to the wired LAN, is therefore increasingly important. We see more and more companies deploying wireless LAN across all of their physical office space.
Publish Date: February 2, 2016 5:00 AM
Work is an Activity, not a Place
Gone are the days when almost all employees made the daily journey to a communal corporate office, working from 9 to 5. As the work itself has expanded beyond the boundaries of a 40 hour work week, so have the places where employees conduct work from. A research report from Frost & Sullivan showed that more than half of all the employees in North American work outside of a traditional office at least some of the time. Whether from a hotel site, a customer site, or a home office, work is taking place everywhere at all hours of the day. Heightened concerns about work-life balance are adding to this trend of the virtual office, as employees seek to manage their personal obligations and work obligations without undue interference either direction.
Employees Demand Simplified Communications
According to the Brookings Institute, Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. These people have grown up with a variety of easy-to-use, ubiquitous technology at their fingertips, and they expect it to be easy. It’s not just that they’re especially tech-savvy or comfortable on mobile devices, it’s that they don’t know of any other way to operate. Working in concert with others is far more important than it ever was before, and these people have grown up collaborating in a myriad of ways. Furthermore, as more ‘older’ generations of workers experience immersive experiences with video calling (ie., facetime) and similar next-generation technologies outside of the corporate context, these people are also demanding advanced communication tools and solutions within the business environment. And, above all, these tools must be easy to use and intuitive. Nobody – young or old – is going to pick up a manual to read about a new communications platform.
Collaboration & Productivity Tools for the New Reality
To be successful under this new reality, your company must have the tools necessary to foster effective communication with co-workers and customers, even when these groups rarely see each other in person. These collaboration and communication tools must run on any device, over any network.
Instant Messaging & Presence (“IM&P”)
– Makes it easy for your workers to “see” whether or not a co-worker is available, and to chat with each other.
Web Meetings & Desktop Sharing
– Users can collaborate in real time on documents or share their screen with others to discuss presentations, spreadsheets, text documents, whatever, via the web. Many companies are using web meetings to conduct sales presentations, management meetings, and a host of other things.
Mobility & BYOD
– Workers want to be able to conduct business on any device – whether business or personal – and across any network. Thin clients and downloadable apps extend the corporate persona and ability to make and receive calls to any device, like a personal cell phone.
– With more and more remote workers, audio conferencing is more important than ever, enabling multiple parties to discuss whatever they need to in real time. But while audio isn’t new, multi-party video conferencing is, and this is the fastest-growing segment of the conferencing market. Video adds the ability to read facial expressions and body language, facilitating deeper connections.
– Mobile workers need access to emails, voicemails, and chats in various formats across multiple endpoints, depending on where they are and what they are doing. Unified Messaging enables them to deal with all of these various modes of communications in a centralized manner.
To the extent you are able to deploy these types of newer tools in tandem with your core enterprise telephony platform, you will be able to achieve true unified communications and ensure that your company is well-positioned for what lies ahead.
Publish Date: February 2, 2016 5:00 AM
So you have weighed the Pros and Cons of legacy phone systems vs newer cloud-based phone systems and decided that your company is ready for the cloud, but now what? With so many different types of cloud phone systems to choose from in the market, selecting the right service provider for your business is a challenge. While you should definitely take costs, features, and other factors into account the two most important criteria for evaluating different cloud providers are #1 Platform and # Service Level.
Platform is Paramount
It pays to really understand the underlying technology – or platform – behind your cloud service provider. The platform determines the provider’s ability to innovate rapidly and drive the biggest impact for your business.
Some cloud phone system providers base their service on freeware code that has been available for many years on the Internet. It’s great for them because it is low-cost to develop and allows them to start their businesses up quickly. Unfortunately many of these freeware-based services have issues with quality, and more worryingly, security that ultimately could cost you dearly with a fraud attack. By contrast there are some highly industrialized platforms out in the market today developed by specialized vendors. They deliver superior features and functionality, reliability and a proven track record.
At Altus we rely on the BroadSoft platform. BroadSoft is used by hundreds of service providers worldwide and supports more than 10M users deployed. Make sure your service provider is using enterprise-grade technology and you won’t be left out in the cold when you move to the cloud.
What is the service provider’s approach to customer service? There are some big differences out there. Some cloud phone providers deliver their solution 100% remotely via the phone, web demos, and emails with no salesperson, voice engineer, or support technician ever setting foot on the customer site. These providers often rely exclusively on self-help videos or online quick reference guides, and to the extent there is any live human support it is strictly from off-shore call centers. Other providers take a more hands-on approach, allocating more resources to in-person support from experienced people.
Call flows within a business can often be complicated, with multiple auto-attendants, hunt groups, and call trees frequently required within the same corporate environment, particularly as you move toward the enterprise. Make sure that your service provider has expertise in these areas and will provide you with the hands-on support you require. Some cloud providers have experienced teams and will set all of these things up in person as part of a white glove implementation. Other providers will ship you the phones and leave you to install them. Make sure you know what you’re buying.
Publish Date: January 21, 2016 5:00 AM
Top Six Reasons Companies are Moving Communications to the Cloud
Over the past three years the adoption of cloud-based phone systems has really accelerated. Multiple industry analysts predict the market to continue adopting these cloud VoIP solutions at a rapid pace, displacing legacy premise-based phone systems. This evolution is taking place across the market, with SMB, mid-size, and enterprise companies all adopting cloud communications. Gartner, Infonetics, and others are predicting market growth of 20%+ annually over the next five years.
What’s driving this shift? Could hosted unified communications be a fit for your company? Here are the top six reasons why other companies are making the switch…
Affordability + No Cap Ex
The last thing you want to do is spend thousands of dollars on a new phone system, only to turn around and be forced to purchase software assurance or enter into expensive maintenance contracts just to ensure that your brand-new system keeps working. With cloud phone systems, there is no up-front cost, only an affordable monthly fee with free software upgrades and all local and long-distance included. Not only is the cost of the system spread over time, but most businesses realize savings in excess of 30% compared to the total cost of ownership associated with premise-based PBX systems.
Dispersed Offices + Remote Workers
For years companies have struggled with how to incorporate remote offices and dispersed workforces into the corporate communications ecosystem, often ending up with multiple premise-based systems and no interoperability between locations. Cloud-based phone systems eliminate all of this hassle, seamlessly connecting multiple locations and remote workers into the same communications ecosystem. Call transferring, conferencing, and four-digit dialing are immediately available to all.
Mobility + BYOD
More and more employees are utilizing their own cell phones and tablets in the business environment, and companies are looking for ways to integrate these end-points with their communications infrastructure. Cloud based phone systems make each of these devices an endpoint.
Features + Functionality
Even if you’re jaded about technology, once you see all of the advanced features and functionality that are available from a cloud-based phone system, you’ll be seriously impressed by the impact it can have on your business. From computer softphones and mobility clients to video calling and web collaboration, the full impact of unified communications is at your fingertips the moment you decide to deploy a cloud solution.
Flexibility + Reduced IT Burden
Unlike the traditional phone systems that sit in a dark closet, hosted VoIP requires virtually no IT support or training to administer. You can quickly add users, enable features, or reassign stations – all through a simple web interface. The simplicity of the system and unlimited support from the service provider both reduce the burden placed on your IT staff trouble-shooting phone issues and getting your team up and running.
Business Continuity + Disaster Recovery
Lost calls and service interruptions result in missed revenue opportunities, damaged customer relationships, and unforeseen expenses. Cloud based communications offer inherent business continuity advantages compared with their premise based counterparts. Even if your company experiences a network or power outage at your business or office, all of the calls will be seamlessly rerouted to another device or location. Never miss a call and keep your business on the go.
Publish Date: January 11, 2016 5:00 AM
Understanding the Benefits of 4G/LTE
Mobile operators have been touting the benefits of 4G/LTE for some time. As more workers operate from remote sites and BYOD grows within the enterprise, it is important for all of us to understand that the benefits of 4G/LTE extend beyond speed.
Faster Does Matter
Most of the service providers advertise and market LTE, or 4G as it’s often called, exclusively around the benefits of increased speed alone, playing to the lowest common denominator in the consumer mind. If 3G was faster than 2G, then 4G must be faster than 3G, or something like that, because 4 is higher than 3. Rocket science. It is true that 4G networks can be around 10x faster than the 3G networks they are replacing, so speed is a real benefit of 4G. But focusing exclusively on speed misses some of the more subtle, but more important transitions.
The Shift to IP
Perhaps a bigger change 4G brings is the shift to an all IP (internet protocol) based network. Whereas previous versions of cellular networks were all circuit switched, LTE is all IP. This represents a huge shift in the architecture of mobile networks, and is the foundation for understanding why the benefits of 4G are much more than mere speed. Perhaps the best analogy I have heard is that 3G is like using a dial-up modem and LTE is like having home broadband.
Benefits Beyond Speed
Better audio quality – Circuit-switched networks only offer narrowband communications, which is why older phones sound like tin cans when you talk on them. With 4G, service providers can offer wideband audio services, which, when compared to the older services, sound far, far better. Once customers experience the difference in audio quality they will never want to go back to narrowband again.
Communication beyond voice – With an IP based network, true unified communications and collaboration become possible. Collaboration tools on mobile devices and things like presence, chat, and web meetings become common features that are part of the communications ecosystem. If your co-worker is busy, you can wait until they are off of a call. Video, likewise becomes more important, so expect to see more video meetings and conferences.
Network administration – An IP network is much less expensive for the service provider to run on a day to day basis compared to legacy networks. With circuit switching, once a call is established, the circuit stays in place whether someone is talking or not. IP networks are far more dynamic and share resources more efficiently.
Publish Date: January 11, 2016 5:00 AM
#1 UCaaS Goes Up-Market
The Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) market is experiencing exhilarating growth, with the overall market growing at more than 20% per year. We see the greatest growth opportunities in 2016 within the mid-market (100+ employees) and the enterprise (1,000+ employees). The SMB has been rapidly adopting UCaaS for several years now, but more and more large organizations are now deploying hosted solutions and looking to UCaaS to address their communications needs. With so many mission-critical applications already in the cloud, such as CRM, ERP and data storage, the initial fear around “will it work” for real-time communications has almost completely dissipated. There are too many good case studies and proven deployments in the mid-market.
#2 Collaboration Takes Hold
We will see more businesses looking for integrated collaboration tools that enable natural flow of instant messaging, phone and conference communications, video as well as desktop and file sharing – without the need for opening multiple applications and remembering multiple passwords. The collaboration tools have improved to the point where they are living up to the promise of being easy to use, and therefore, we expect adoption to increase dramatically. Companies continue to search for ways to rein in costs and increase productivity, and we see this as a win-win for employer and employee alike. Video, in particular, will grow and an outsized pace in 2016.
#3 Bandwidth Build-Out
Although Google Fiber gets all of the attention, almost every major carrier has plans to deploy high-speed fiber networks, particularly in high-density markets. Many of the previously announced expansions from Google, AT&T U-verse and other service providers will come on-line in 2016. While we are already seeing capacity increasing and prices decreasing, as these projects complete we expect this trend to accelerate. Traffic is rapidly moving away from legacy networks and architecture towards an all-IP grid, which is increasingly utilized over-the-top. We think the public cloud deployment model will continue to gain traction in the minds of business customers nationwide.
Publish Date: December 18, 2015 5:00 AM
There is an undeniable trend of businesses increasing their home-based and telecommuting workforce
Over the past 10 years, the number of employees that work from home on a regular basis has grown by over 80%, representing over 3.3 million U.S. employees, or 2.6% of the total workforce. If you add part-time home workers to that figure, the number jumps to 20%, with Fridays being a particularly popular day for telecommuting. Businesses of all sizes are increasing their work-from-home workforce and for good reasons, probably the most important one of which is that employees love it.
During the recent Telework Week sponsored by the U.S. Government, average participants saved an average of 4.5 hours per week in commuting time by teleworking 2 days per week. If that was extended for a full year, those workers would save $4,500 in commuting costs and reclaim nearly 10 full days of their lives back from sitting in traffic. The telework trend is here to stay, and it is only accelerating, as there are just too many benefits to businesses and their employees.
Reasons Businesses are Increasing Their Remote Workers
Some of the business benefits that are cited by companies for embracing the growth in telecommuting include:
Productivity – According to a recent Harvard Business Review Article, some businesses are seeing more than a 13% productivity increase and lower turnover among home workers. Employees self-report being much more productive due to lower numbers of interruptions and fewer non-productive meetings.
Recruiting & Retention – Global Workforce Analytics says that 95% of employers say telecommuting has a high impact on employee retention. Providing work-from-home flexibility is high on the list of items key employees seek. Employees are asking themselves if they would rather be stuck in traffic or catching their child’s soccer game at 5:00 p.m. The company that offers them that opportunity to do the latter while trusting them to get the job done will differentiate itself both during the hiring process and also when it comes to retention.
Lower Real Estate Costs – More workers are telecommuting, at least, part-time means smaller offices and significant savings. Coinciding with the move to open office spaces, the increase in teleworking is triggering a projected reduction in square footage per employee by 33% between 2010 and 2017.
Improved Communications Tools – Five years ago there were a lot of managers who were hesitant about encouraging employees to work from home due to concerns about productivity and team cohesiveness. With the rise of Unified Communications, mobility, web and video conferencing and cloud-based business apps, those concerns have abated.
Publish Date: December 18, 2015 5:00 AM
Key Takeaways from BroadSoft Connections 2015
Fresh off our annual pilgrimage to BSFT Connections ’15, the altus team is pumped about what’s coming down the pike … here are four nuggets to help you Define Your Future:
#1 Enhancements & Upgrades
If you had to summarize the essence of Connections in just a single word that word would be “features.” Lots of new stuff is being pushed into the market. We saw the new customer admin and myphone portals, demoed the multiparty video, checked out Chrome integration with the collaboration bundle and learned about tons of other features and enhancements including SIP trunking, end user training and additional hardware for the cloud platform.
#2 Project Tempo
Broadsoft announced Tempo, a new initiative that they say will make unified communications simpler and workers across their platforms more productive. Tempo will integrate real-time communications and collaboration tools as well as cloud applications. A key theme of the dialogue is that Tempo will include contextual intelligence and enable employees and businesses to gain insights into how their unified communications (UC) technologies are being used and integrate such information as users’ conversations, social profiles and availability, according to officials. We think Tempo is awesome and can’t wait to see how the project develops, but some analysts believe that the technology is still a bit on the bleeding edge.
#3 UC Moves Upmarket
While hosted VoIP has been on fire in the SMB for several years now, one important takeaway from the conference is that mid-market customers (roughly 100 to 1,000 seats) are now ready to move their communications to the cloud. In fact, industry analysts are predicting the growth in the mid-market segment to be in the 30%+ range annually for the next several years. Altus has experienced this firsthand and was invited by Broadsoft to host a panel discussion at the conference about deploying in the mid-market.
#4 Rim to Rim
After three days of meetings, networking and taking in all of the latest UC features with the rest of the crew at the Arizona Biltmore, the altus team headed north where a couple of us hiked all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back out on the same day. Breakfast on the trail, lunch at Phantom Ranch, and dinner at El Tovar. What a trip!
Publish Date: November 17, 2015 5:00 AM