CLOUD TELEPHONY: THE WAY AHEAD?
The soaring popularity of cloud telephony during the pandemic is forcing many organisations to review how they invest in telecoms. While the workplace is changing, communication remains, as ever, a key foundation for success. As working patterns evolve, a cloud phone system seems to be the perfect flexible solution for businesses across the board.
Already light years ahead of the traditional old landline phone system, cloud phone technology is even beginning to expose some weaknesses of on-premises business VoIP phone systems too.
What exactly are the benefits of cloud telephony, and is it the right phone system for your business?
WHAT IS CLOUD TELEPHONY?
The ‘Cloud’ refers to a global network of servers, software and databases that are accessed via the internet. It’s that great, intangible entity that’s all around us, as long as we are online, from where we download music and videos, follow directions on a sat-nav, and send out emails with large attachments.
A cloud phone system is one in which calls are made through your internet connection, rather than via the traditional ISDN copper landline network. Unlike most traditional analogue systems, and many VoIP-based platforms, cloud telephony is always hosted off site. All calls are routed through a connecting network of secure data centres in remote locations, managed by a third party provider.
Anyone in your organisation can be granted full access to the phone system, from any location, just as long as they have an internet connection.
As well as calls, you can also send files, videos and messaging from the same system, and potentially integrate your cloud telephone service with your CRM, email and other office productivity apps. Businesses that store all this data in the cloud free themselves from most of the costs associated with on-premise, traditional PBX systems.
These cloud systems are also easily updated. Automatic software updates are managed by your VoIP provider, saving having to do it yourself if you run your own on-premises platform.
IS CLOUD TELEPHONY THE SAME AS VOIP THEN?
Not quite, though it might seem that way because both are internet-based phone solutions, and the terms are often used together.
However an important difference is that with cloud phone systems, there are never any geographical barriers.
While cloud telephony uses VoIP (voice over internet protocol) and works like a conventional PBX system, it is located in a data centre, not your workplace. With cloud-based phone solutions, the technology goes with you wherever you are. All the features of the phone system are accessible online. You can even take your desk phone home with you, plug it in to your home router and it will be just as though you were still working from the office.
By contrast, on-premises Business VoIP systems are often tied to a single point – an office for instance. Their connection to the main phone network is usually via proprietary telecoms hardware, such as an in-house server. Yes there are some costs, but by and large these systems have up to now worked pretty well. One possible failing is that by their very nature, they can only be managed from that same, single location. This drawback of an on-premises phone system became only too apparent to many organisations at the start of lockdown.
It’s one of the reasons why cloud telephony emerged as a clear winner during the pandemic.
WHAT ARE THE OTHER ADVANTAGES OF A CLOUD TELEPHONE SYSTEM?
Offering outstanding value and versatility, cloud phone systems offer many benefits:
Cost is probably the single biggest factor behind the growth of cloud telephony.
The prospect of getting a state-of-the-art phone solution, without any of the management headaches of running it, is bound to be a tempting proposition. When that includes free calls, multi-advanced features, almost unlimited flexibility, and minimal Capex spend, it’s easy to see why SMEs in particular are clamouring for the cloud.
Cloud phone systems are cheap and simple to set up. You only buy what you need. Unlike traditional or on-premises VoIP platforms, there’s no investment in hardware. Cloud phone systems do not need expensive servers, or controlled temperature environments to house them. They do not need to be regularly maintained, nor is there a requirement for a dedicated IT professional to configure the platform. With cloud telephony, everything is covered through your licensing agreement with a hosted VoIP provider.
Businesses tempted by the cost savings of cloud telephony are frequently surprised by the ease of getting started. As long as your employees have an internet connection they can download smartphone apps or software, to turn other devices like computers, laptops or mobiles into softphones. In theory you don’t actually need normal phones to run a cloud phone system – ideal for SMEs on very limited budgets.
Of course, most businesses would probably wish to buy some VoIP-enabled desk phones for office-based staff. Even there, you can make savings. There are plenty of high quality, refurbished bargains out there with huge savings over buying new. Alternatively, ask your provider if your traditional systems can work on a cloud system. For just a few pounds you can sometimes get an adapter, fit it to the handset then plug it directly into the router or a phone socket on the wall.
As we learn to live and work with the pandemic still around, it’s essential for organisations to adapt to how their employees, customers or competitors wish to do business.
For example, if your business is invested in remote working, there’s no longer any requirement for prospective new employees to live within commuting distance of the office. Cloud telephony enables businesses to reach out to new areas for staff. Businesses can take advantage of talent from moreorless anywhere, knowing that their phone lines allow the same communication and collaboration just as though they were in the office.
For much of the Education sector, cloud telephony services proved to be the perfect answer when COVID-19 forced the closure of schools, universities, colleges and MATS.
If you are looking to expand your team, or you wish to open at another location, then the easily scalable features of a cloud phone system are especially attractive. You won’t need to run new cables to add a new employee, nor call your IT department to configure office phones and set up new extensions. Cloud systems enable you to do all of that instantly, just by tapping a few details in to a self-managed user portal. A couple of clicks and it’s done – it really is that easy. Updates to system software are automatic, and handled by your provider. You can grow your business with no downtime or disturbance to your everyday comms activity.
5. Unified Communications
Cloud calling means you can join the many organisations that are increasingly turning to their telephony to unify their entire business communications. But why stop at voice alone? Use your cloud phone system to integrate your other communication channels, and key productivity apps, onto a single platform. Add video conferencing, online messaging, file collaboration, chat, even your CRM. Software-based phone systems, such as cloud telephony, open up all kinds of integration possibilities. Nothing is off limits with the cloud.
6. Advanced Call Management Features
Phone systems of the past always included some features for everyday telecoms and switchboard requirements. Adding more advanced ones though could be tricky. Most of us still remember the dreaded call to your phone provider to ask if what you needed was even possible, let alone how much it might cost.
It’s all quite different with cloud telephony services. The software behind it usually includes all the most popular calling features, plus several advanced ones as standard, such as:
- Call forwarding – divert incoming calls to a different number
- Call recording – monitor or listen to calls to improve service
- Call routing – direct users to relevant virtual queues to help reduce wait times
- Voice-to-email – convert speech to text so absent staff never miss a call
- Auto-attendant – move callers quickly using automated responses from a virtual receptionist
- Audio and video conferencing – use your phone system for face-to-face meetings between remote users
- Ring anywhere – divert numbers to multiple devices so you always get the call you are waiting for
- Instant messaging – text-based information conducted in real time for faster response
- Call screening – identify and filter calls from unwanted or unknown numbers
Cloud phone systems are hosted across multiple data centres, so there is built-in network redundancy should any link in the chain go down. This is a much more reliable system than local on-premise systems, where storms or technical glitches sometimes lead to outages or service issues.
SHOULD YOUR BUSINESS GET A CLOUD PHONE SYSTEM?
Cloud telephony is quietly transforming the way organisations manage their business communications, and improving customer experience too.
Affordable and flexible, with unlimited opportunities to scale, cloud telephony is levelling up the telecoms playing field for businesses large and small. No longer the preserve of large corporations and multinationals, sophisticated phone systems are widely available to all companies – regardless of size.
The growing willingness to adopt internet-based business services, including cloud communications, makes it much easier than ever before for businesses to update their telephone systems.
Is it the right solution for you though? Who will give you a balanced view?
INDEPENDENT ADVICE FROM CLARION
As a leading independent provider of cost effective telecoms solutions, Clarion can find a business phone system to suit your needs. For more than 20 years, we’ve been helping private and public sector organisations, large corporates and smaller SMEs, to manage their telecoms. Let us help you weigh up the pros and cons of any telecoms solution. Ask for a free review of your current telephony today, and discover where the cloud might take you tomorrow.