How come smaller firms aren’t using new phone technologies?
Small businesses are missing the boat when it comes to VoIP and cloud-based communications services, and medium-sized businesses are not faring much better.
A report from ACMA from January this year found that just 28 per cent of businesses with fewer than 20 employees were making use of IP-based telephony, and 39 per cent of medium-sized businesses (20-199 employees) were making use of the technology.
Meanwhile, as many as 35 per cent of small businesses use Skype as a primary communication service, and Microsoft, for its part, has been aggressively pushing the idea of Skype for small businesses for a few years now.
Skype has merit as a communication tool. It’s obviously free at a basic level, and this alone attracts many start-ups looking to keep their costs down. But as the old saying goes, you do get what you pay for.
For instance, Skype doesn’t allow you to execute call flows between people. One of the most basic requirements of a business phone system, even for the smallest of businesses, is the ability to easily transfer calls between staff. Skype also lacks the ability to set up broadcasting or call pickup groups, which is a key feature for businesses that, for instance, want all the phones of the sales team tied to an important account to ring when that person calls in.
Despite this increasing awareness of Skype’s limitations, many small businesses also don’t realise that there’s an alternative to setting up a capex-intensive physical phone system. For many of these businesses there is still the perception that the only option for a fully-featured phone system is the traditional solution whereby the business would purchase a physical phone system and then pay to get someone to install it in their office. Then the business would connect the handsets into that system through direct cabling; a time and resource-intensive project if a small business takes off and adds staff rapidly.
But technology has come forward, and that physical system that used to reside on the customer’s premise is now able to be virtually created on a platform that’s sitting on the cloud. This is different to Skype in that it replicates the functionality and voice quality of a local, physical solution, but also offers numerous advantages over it. The business need only pay a monthly fee per handset and call usage with minimal upfront installation costs, removing the up-front phone system professional services costs out of their business, and as the business expands it’s incredibly easy to simply add more handsets and users on to the system.
There’s also no high maintenance costs when using a cloud-based telephony system, which is another cost that tends to hit small businesses hard each quarter or so. Administration tasks on the hosted phone system such as adding and allocating phone numbers to handset, editing users in hunt groups is easily performed on a web-based portal and take effect almost immediately.
The lack of maintenance requirements highlights a secondary benefit; there’s minimal downtime with IP telephony. If a standard system goes down it can be hours before the issue can be resolved – especially if you’re like most small businesses and don’t have a dedicated IT resource able to fix the problem on their own.
IP telephony is also worth looking into for any small business with multiple sites or remote workers. As the telephony system itself sits in the cloud it’s easy to set up in such a way that each of the remote offices function together seamlessly, and it doesn’t matter if the remote office is in the next town, or on the other side of the country.
Strangely enough, most small businesses are using cloud services in some manner – whether it’s the most simple (email), or for much more critical functions such as backup, applications or mobility. For whatever reason, cloud-based telephony is one that small businesses don’t seem to be overly aware of, but it is a technology worth considering as the kind of communication that it enables becomes ever more complex.
Lyncoln de Mello is the practice director communications and security, Brennan IT
This article first appeared at: http://www.smh.com.au/small-business/smallbiz-tech/smes-miss-voips-call-20140714-3bw17.html#ixzz37bRwR9nA