You may have heard terms like cloud computing, cloud services and software as a service. In plain language, they mean accessing technology products via the internet and paying a predictable recurring fee, rather than paying for expensive hardware and software which need to be upgraded every few years. Such services offer a lot of advantages of cost and convenience. And the type known as cloud telephony can be particularly useful for small and medium-sized businesses.
But while some cloud services, such as Salesforce.com’s hosted CRM application, are well known, cloud telephony is less so. A recent Fonality phone survey of Australian SMEs in fact found that only 32 percent of respondents had heard of the term. About 56 percent of survey respondents, however, had previously used some sort of voice over IP, or VoIP, to make business calls. That is a positive sign, because cloud telephony uses VoIP technology to deliver phone service from equipment owned and operated by the provider. It eliminates the need for businesses to buy their own equipment such as key systems or PABXs (private automatic branch exchanges). Calls are delivered to and from the business over IP connections such as the internet, rather than over traditional phone lines. Companies pay a monthly fee per user for the service, which includes inbound and outbound calling as well as powerful call-handling features.
From little things big things grow
These features let small companies seem like big ones. Auto receptionist, dial-by-name, music on hold and call forwarding, parking and screening are just the beginning. Collectively, these features give SMEs call handling capabilities formerly available only to large organisations. Although this benefit is hard to quantify, it may in fact represent the greatest advantage of cloud telephony. As such, it contradicts the common belief that VoIP is only about saving money. That belief is a relic of the era when the only form of VoIP most people encountered was cheap or free internet calling via Skype.
Unify the office with home and field workers
One of the most attractive aspects of the various call handling features is the ability they offer to unify physically separated staff. Because the service is delivered from the cloud, the location of the employees doesn’t matter. They can make and receive calls anywhere, whether at home, in internet cafés, in hotels while travelling, or in remote offices. Calls come in to a single number, and get routed to employees wherever they are. To callers, it seems as if they are all in one place.
Even more helpful is cloud telephony services’ ability to deliver calls to mobile numbers. This is especially important to SMEs, which often run their businesses almost exclusively from mobile phones. Because mobile numbers are clearly identifiable as such, this can give customers the impression that the company doesn’t have a real office. Cloud telephony, by contrast, gives businesses a landline number for all their calls. And it turns mobile phones into extensions of office phone systems.
Cloud telephony also lets employees communicate better among themselves as a single company. They can call each other by dialling extensions, or by using an onscreen click-to-call interface if they’re at their computers. They can transfer calls to one another the same way. In addition, they can also set up free conference calls on the spur of the moment. Traditional conference calls, by contrast, are expensive and inconvenient. They typically require reserving a conference bridge with an outside service, at a cost of many dollars per hour.