New managed services buzzword: VOIP telephony
Telecoms services have evolved over the years to now fit squarely into the managed services model.
Who would want to be a traditional telecommunications provider to the business sector in the age of the Internet? Enterprise voice services have taken on a decidedly different hue over the past decade, on the back of the initial shift to least-cost routing, and now the advent of voice over IP (VOIP).
A September 2013 Gartner report asserts that the concept and adoption of unified communications services have matured sufficiently to be considered mainstream. Naturally, this applies to large enterprises, who are plentiful in more developed markets, although the scope for services from the big-name providers is significantly smaller in South Africa.
This characteristic has created a playing field ripe with opportunity for the smaller providers to tap into a business market keen to save costs using the latest Internet-based technology, but that does not require the full suite of unified communications services.
The market is so saturated with third-party providers, however, that it is difficult to keep up with who is doing it, and especially difficult to make the right decision on a potential telecoms partner. The relative ease with which VOIP providers can set up shop has contributed enormously to the choice businesses have when making a choice on a provider.
This is not to say all providers are created equal.
Look before you leap
Rob Lith of Connection Telecom says choosing the right service provider is the first step toward avoiding the frustration, cost and potential disputes from making the wrong decision.
After assessing and selecting a provider based on their track record, referrals and infrastructure, he says the business has to decide whether to go with a public or private hosted solution.
The private option is probably more applicable to large corporates, which have existing network infrastructure and capabilities, with added security and control benefits.
The public hosted option has cost benefits for the mid and smaller companies, as this model draws on the clear benefits of cloud-based solutions, including paying only for what you use and that system maintenance and upgrades form part of the contract terms.
A virtual PBX that is available under either of these models offers IT managers, and users themselves, a level of control and customisation that was previously not possible. Apart from the hardware savings the virtual PBX offers, there are also efficiency savings as companies are no longer reliant on technicians to set up or maintain the old-school switchboards.
Typical services that your telecoms partner should be providing through a virtual PBX include call transfer, call back, hold and speed dial, caller ID, voice mail and conference calling. Features such as the ability to record calls, security functions and the ability to transfer a call to a mobile phone seamlessly, call hunt, interactive voice response and remote extensions are now also standard with most systems.
Lith suggests that IT managers make a proper assessment of their potential telecoms partner, with a clear idea of where and what the savings are expected to be, and that suitable SLAs are agreed to up front.