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Networking & Communications

Top Tips: How to get more out of telephony

15-04-2015-five-ways-to-get-more-out-of-telephonyJames Passingham is founder, CEO and Technical Director of independent communications systems integrator, Foehn.  A graduate in software engineering, with more than 20 years of IT and networking experience gained through working with some of the world's leading organisations, James is an expert on modern telephony systems.

James shares his top tips on getting more out of telephony.

Telephony goes back a long way and over the years there have been numerous small and large technical developments that have shaped the way people and businesses are able to communicate.  There have also been several major step changes, one of which - in the mid 1990s - was the introduction of Internet Protocol (IP) telephony that uses the TCP/IP protocol popularised by the internet to transmit digitised voice data.

IP telephony is the overarching description for technologies that use internet packet-switched connections to exchange voice, fax, and other forms of information that have traditionally been carried over the dedicated circuit-switched connections of the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

Since its early days, IP telephony has evolved significantly from what many people initially regarded as a poor cousin to the PSTN and established telephony systems and equipment.  Although IP telephony offered some attractive advantages, such as avoiding long distance call charges, the quality and robustness of the technology was not in the same league.

Today, IP telephony is at a point where it not only has all of the bells and whistles of traditional telephony systems, but its attractiveness is enhanced by lower costs and unrivalled levels of flexibility.

Call time on ISDN with SIP - Introduced in the late 1980s, ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) is a set of communication standards for simultaneous digital transmission of voice, video and data over the traditional PSTN. Prior to ISDN, the telephone system was a way of transporting voice traffic.  The key feature of ISDN is that it integrated speech and data, adding features that were not available in traditional phone systems.

ISDN has become a legacy technology and businesses failing to replace it become increasingly disadvantaged in terms of service quality, business agility and profitability. 

The modern alternative to ISDN is SIP (Session Initiated Protocol), a highly flexible IP-based solution with several distinct benefits, including far shorter installation lead times, fast scalability, higher redundancy in the event of any network failures, geographically independent numbering and much lower costs.

Traditional telecoms providers are not fans of SIP because it cannibalizes their old yet lucrative ISDN and PSTN services.

Move into the cloud - Cloud computing has had a revolutionary impact on businesses because it offers clear benefits over traditional approaches to IT implementation and management.  No up-front capital outlay is required, less maintenance is needed and integrating and deploying new technology is faster and simpler.

These same benefits apply with IP telephony. No capital outlay is needed to install and configure an on-site PBX.   Pricing is attractive with ‘pay-per-use’ and lower call tariffs.   And there is inherent flexibility as extensions can easily be moved and added quickly through a web interface.  And companies no longer need to have circuits managed – they can simply plug in phones as required.

Not only is IP telephony a more attractive option financially, it comes with a host of features that enable companies to appear larger and do more.   For example, if calls need to be answered promptly and professionally, even the smallest business can have an auto-attendant answering service, music on hold, call queuing, voicemail and the ability to forward to any other number, including mobiles.

Open the source - Proprietary vendors have been a dominant force for many years serving their own Intellectual Property (IP) owned IT and telephony solutions to customers.  The proprietary model is driven by a supplier’s own agenda and in many instances customers become locked in to undesirable situations and contracts.  The IP rights exist for the supplier to exploit and are often protected by stringent and restrictive licensing.

The Open Source approach is different, driven by collaborative need, interest and opportunity.  When taking the Open Source route, such as the Asterisk platform, companies can make significant savings in license fees, scaling up or down with limited financial penalties and also reduce deployment spend and cost per agent.

And with cross-platform integration, companies can integrate their voice platform, CRM and legacy systems.  There is also greater service agility as companies have immediate control over their dial plan, IVR structure, call distribution and messaging.

Consider your IT and telephony as one - Traditionally, IT and telephony have been kept apart by companies because they came from different stables and were apples and pears in terms of the technology being deployed and used.   As a consequence the two have been handled differently and the way they support a company and its strategy has been mutually exclusive.

As telephony eventually joined the IP age, there has been a faster convergence of IT and telephony that now makes it absolutely logical to have them both under one roof and singularly supporting the objectives of an organisation.   For example, companies can enjoy getting the benefits of IT and telephony integration by having a geographically independent number. 

Deal effectively with disasters - Disaster recovery is an important aspect of a company’s operation and often a business will need contingency plans in place to deal effectively with unavoidable risks.  For example, the extreme weather conditions that affected many parts of Britain during the 2013 winter season left many companies reeling as they had to contend with flooding, loss of power and complete displacement.

By moving to IP telephony, companies can have in place highly effective contingency plans because there is no reliance on physical equipment that sits at a company’s premises.  If problems occur, systems can quickly be reconfigured and calls re-routed to ensure that business critical processes continue unaffected.  This can be achieved, for example, if employees work from home, at remote locations or whilst on the move because they are seamlessly connected via the internet.

This approach can be a very effective way of ensuring business continuity that would otherwise be affected if using the PSTN.

Telephony has been around since the 19th Century and historically speaking is the grandfather of ICT (Information and Communications Technology).  Yet only in the past decade or so has its true potential come to the fore as IP telephony has made its mark on organisations throughout the world.

What I’ve shared with you in this Tops Tips piece are just a few ways that companies can get more from their telephony systems, including the adoption of SIP, an open mindedness to Open Source, and an appreciation that IT and telephony are actually now in the same stable.

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