Everywhere you look there seems to be a continued explosion of technologies designed to connect us faster, to communicate more effectively or conveniently send increasingly huge files backward and forward in the blink of an eye. Yet if you sit back and think about some of the most frustrating service experiences you’ve had over the past year, they probably related to a voice.
Voice continues to be the most in demand application. The majority of services are still delivered this way. Not being able to connect to anyone, not reaching the right person, being bounced around to numerous people, important messages not being picked up, passed on or acted upon or not being able to hear properly due to poor line quality continue to be common complaints.
Having a quality system in place to manage voice interactions is important and managing the cost of telephony in all its forms is crucial. This is where technology like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has gained a lot of traction in the past few years.
Most people know VoIP is a way of using a broadband internet connection to make telephone calls. At its most basic is really just another piece of string connecting two proverbial tin cans. VoIP is cheap and saves money by eliminating toll calls but it doesn’t help you do better business.
In fact, a poor quality VoIP line can be very frustrating. It is common for small businesses that are experimenting with VoIP by using ‘consumer grade’ services such as Skype to experience echoing, dropouts and delays in the voice signal. In and of itself, VoIP doesn’t make it easier to offer a higher standard of customer service or eliminate clunky, time-wasting processes that bog your business down. To do that, you need to connect the sorts of things your business does over the phone (voice interactions) together with the processes that take place on your computer (data transactions). Chatting with VoIP gives you cheap calls, but it is IP telephony that will help you do better business.
It’s important to approach VoIP and IP telephony with your eyes wide open. There are many options, varying levels of investment and steps you can take to be sure that your business does not compromise the quality of your communications.
Spot the difference
Where VoIP is just a way of making individual phone calls digital and carrying them down an internet line, IP telephony digitises entire phone systems. This is an important distinction because IP telephony means things done over the phone can be integrated with all your data, such as business software applications like Outlook, customer relationship management (CRM), help desk and accounting packages.
At the big end of town, implementing IP telephony helps corporations to greatly reduce the delineation between communications and business process. Obviously there are real benefits involved but up until recently it has been tough to make a strong SME business case for IP telephony. The cost of hardware, software and the complexity of implementation along with the proprietary licensing and service models for business grade systems has put it out of reach. Further confusion has been created because of the increasing visibility of consumer grade VoIP products.
It is important to distinguish between business and home use. The quality and functionality of the consumer level options is still way below par for business purposes and they do not have suitable service and support models. You might be inconvenienced if you cannot make a personal call from home using Skype but if your business communications systems are not available, the damage can be considerable so it is prudent to seek out some middle ground.
Within the last few years, the open source community has emerged as a strong new contender in the IP telephony arena. Innovative solutions emerging from new entrants into the telephony markets have opened up the middle ground, making the technology, applications and benefits far more accessible.
‘Open source’ means developing systems, tools, applications and widgets with coding and programming resources that are freely available to anyone. Applied to commercial systems, this means there are lower overheads for the companies that develop in open source and no licensing fees for the businesses that use them. The result is IP telephony systems that have lots of great features and functions but are low cost compared to proprietary options.
No ongoing licensing fees means companies that specialise in open source must compete on service. So not only are the systems less expensive, open source vendors and their partners are very service-oriented, which lends itself well to working with SMEs.
Another specific benefit of open source is that it is ‘integration agnostic’. This just means that there are no inherent problems in trying to get open source systems to play nicely with other kinds of systems and software programmes.