May 2013

Cloud Telephony

Be Ready for Cloud-Based Telephony

By: Marie-Claude Veillette

As the world moves into the “cloud”, telephony is making its way there as well. When the time has come to upgrade their communications platforms, more and more small and medium sized businesses are ditching their conventional hard-wired PBX system in favor of cloud-based unified communications solutions.

Some are looking at phone services that are delivered through the Internet as a way to cut their costs and reduce the complexities associated with unifying communications over multiple offices. Others see these as an opportunity to offer their employees more flexibility as they can stay connected to a virtual phone system and be available for customers no matter where they are located. Cloud-based systems also allows users to forward calls to a cell phone, landline or computer and download voicemails through email.

From an IT perspective, the use of virtual phones can be less demanding as users are often able to manage their own phone accounts. Setting up a new system or transferring your existing lines to a cloud provider can normally be done in a single day with everything ready to go. There is no need for wiring or complex infrastructure. The only requirement is the availability of an internet connection of sufficient bandwidth and the assurance that your current network is adequate in handing the speed and quality of service required for voice communications.

What to Look For

To ensure call quality and reliability, you need to make sure to choose the right cloud based system provider. In order to do that, have a look at the service level agreement before signing up.  Demand guarantees regarding the provider’s reliability and the quality of service to which you will be entitled: who are they, where their data centers are located, what kind of support they provide to the organization and the end users, what guaranties they provide in case of issues, how the system can be scaled as the company grows, who will take care of the training, etc. While you generally need less equipment with cloud-based systems, verify if the phones are included in the pricing, the initial fees and if the system is designed to easily be used without much training.

Go for a provider that has good reputation and not necessarily for the big brand-name provider. Take the time to read customer feedbacks and industry experts’ reviews. Choosing a vendor that is promoting low rates is tempting, but be sure there are no hidden fees. Try to concentrate on providers willing to offer your business a full package including all-inclusive monthly costs, meaning unlimited calling and faxing and all the functionality expected from a business phone system for both in-office as well as mobile and remote employees.

Mobility should also be a consideration: You will want to look at capabilities offered through mobile device access and ensure that those capabilities allow employees to be productive while on the go, all without compromising your company’s brand and professionalism. Some providers also allow for administration of your company’s entire deployment over a tablet device, a plus for off hours IT administrators.

It’s also important to note that most cloud based telephony providers can offer call and usage reports that go well beyond those generally available with traditional phone switches. Make sure to ask for sample reports and verify that those will provide enough detail and insight for your organization.

While redundancy and disaster recovery capabilities are also one of the promised benefits of a cloud solution, you should still inquire with the provider on the location and availability of their data centers and what their archival plans are for such things as call data, auto-attendant scripts and voice recordings.