A man sitting at a table, using his smartphone.

Becoming a virtual company will help your organization operate more efficiently.

The very concept of a virtual company is a sign of the impressive digital progress achieved by a few brilliant minds — and mountains of R&D investments. This transition from brick-and-mortar spaces has closely followed the related move from tangible goods to digital. Companies that dealt with digital products naturally saw benefits and cost savings by simply digitizing the traditional office environment. Makes sense, right?

While digital products like movie rentals have few, if any, downsides, virtual companies maintain certain legacy components that don’t necessarily thrive in those same digital environments — namely, us pesky humans. Simply put, there are some obvious disconnects that can occur when employees try to work together without physically being together. It’s kind of like trying to maintain a long-distance relationship. There’s a special connection that happens when people collaborate face-to-face that tends to get lost in translation in digital or remote environments.

That being said, you don’t have to break up with your virtual strategy just yet. Here are some helpful tips to get your users over the proverbial hump and into a thriving digital workplace.

Bridging the Gap

Let’s take a quick second to set the record straight on digital communication. Is in-person communication and collaboration a great way to get stuff done? Of course. If it wasn’t, digital communication wouldn’t be trying so hard to emulate it. But that doesn’t mean virtual companies can’t bridge the gap and work just as effectively.

With this in mind, it’s often easy to neglect the fact that digital collaboration affords benefits that traditional methods simply can’t compete with. For example, virtual companies employing digital collaboration platforms may enjoy the fact that their hard work — whether meeting minutes, presentations, or discussions — can be automatically made available to every participant, and even archived for future reference. Subtle features like this streamline the act of collaboration and facilitate enhanced productivity.

Even something as elusive as company culture can be communicated through digital means. Culture, after all, is built by people simply being themselves. With the use of videoconferencing, social collaboration software, and, yes, even emojis, users can let their unique personalities shine through despite miles of physical separation. The key is to make it easy and seamless to communicate just as you would in person.

Is It Really Worth It?

When you really stop and think about it, much of the work that is accomplished in a brick-and-mortar organization is done with the use of digital tools. Be it a desktop, smartphone, or tablet, the modern engine of business relies heavily on the virtual realm. By eschewing the physical limitations of traditional office environments, virtual companies are able to better integrate these digital strategies into the very fiber of their organizations.

Oh, and you may have heard of the cost savings, too. For some organizations — typically those that produce digital goods — much of their office infrastructure is already in the cloud. For these folks, there’s some obvious cost savings by simply eliminating that rent check every month. Others may, however, have a less clear-cut path to the virtual office. Organizations more entrenched in physical infrastructure will need to weigh the potential cost savings of cloud services against their current systems.

Cost savings can be a misleading barometer, too. Moving to agile, cloud-based phone systems, for example, can let users integrate their digital tools of choice with other platforms like a CRM to stay connected to the heartbeat of the company regardless of location. Cheaper? Potentially. More efficient? Almost certainly.

Ultimately, life as a virtual company can be every bit as successful and productive as a company with a brick-and-mortar office. All you need is a bit of cloud ingenuity and a team willing to commit to the mobile lifestyle. Cat memes aside, working in a virtual environment may even be the most efficient way to actually get work done. And hey, if you still can’t shake the need for physical collaboration, just send a “telepresence” drone like the one featured in SiliconBeat.

Find out how Vonage Business can work with your organization to boost virtual collaboration.

About Joe Hewitson

With a degree in applied computing technology and over a decade of experience in the IT and software development industries, Joe Hewitson has his finger on the pulse of cloud technology. From developing communication applications for the cloud to deploying VoIP solutions in enterprise environments, he’s seen it all. The one thing Joe loves more than staying on the cutting edge of cloud and VoIP technology? Writing about it.

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A man standing in front of a blackboard, talking on a mobile phone.

Moving to the cloud saves IT valuable time.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of IT projects, especially when you’re handling everything on-site. From server maintenance to end user troubleshooting to VoIP or PBX systems oversight, technology experts are long on tasks and short on time to get everything done.

However, for many organizations, moving to the cloud changes the game. With more tedious tasks handled automatically or by trusted third parties, in-house IT leaders find themselves with an unexpected luxury: the ability to slow down for a minute and consider their next move. Given that it’s such an unfamiliar sensation, you’d be forgiven for coming up blank on ideas for new tasks or long-term goals. Thankfully, you can get started with these six tips to help you tap the time-saving benefit of cloud tech.

1. Get Strategic

As noted by the Wall Street Journal, transitioning to cloud technology often shifts IT workers into business analyst and architect roles. While this comes with growing pains — IT experts are the best at what they do by virtue of specificity — it also offers big advantages. For example, moving to the cloud provides the ideal framework for implementing big data solutions to help manage and evaluate the huge volume of information generated by your organization every day. Less time spent on tedious tasks yields the ability to consider best-fit big data solutions.

2. More Time? Teach!

How much do front-line staff and executives know about new cloud workflows? Are they struggling with large conceptual issues or specific app-based tasks? With a break from typical IT maintenance and break-fix issues, IT can consider initiating a cloud learning program that helps end users discover how to maximize performance by leveraging cloud services and how to avoid potential issues posed by anytime, anywhere access.

3. Change the Conversation

What services has your business already moved to the cloud? What else is worth switching? For example, it’s often worthwhile to consider upgrading your existing VoIP or PBX system to a cloud-based alternative after you’ve established a foothold in the cloud. Not only does this dovetail with many cloud-first mandates, but hosted VoIP solutions also let you easily connect mobile, desktop, and remote devices, in turn making more time for IT to focus on other line-of-business (LoB) objectives.

4. Get Schooled

Do you know everything there is to know about the cloud? Are you familiar with up-and-coming industry trends like software-defined networking (SDN), containerization, and hyperconvergence? With less chance of your internal IT environment crashing and burning at a moment’s notice, this might be the ideal time to consider going back to tech school and picking up some new skills. That time provided by moving to the cloud offers the chance for IT pros to ramp up both organizational and total career value with training.

5. Go Big

According to Computerworld, the advent of reliable and ubiquitous cloud technologies has prompted a shake-up in many businesses. For example, The Weather Company — parent organization of The Weather Channel, Weather.com and Weather Underground — has tossed out the name “IT department” in favor of simply “technology.” IT experts are encouraged to think like a next-gen startup rather than a legacy division. Instead of simply “aligning” with business goals, the idea here is to think big and discover ways to empower new business objectives and devise long-term strategies. It’s part of the larger impact of moving to the cloud; the nature of IT is shifting away from a complete technology focus to include strategy and innovation.

6. Connect Everything

Of course, more time also means a chance to streamline existing processes and adopt new solutions that make your company more agile, robust, and adaptable. Here, it’s worth considering business cloud services such as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), which provides the ability to use any application on any device at any time, or cloud backup services that ensure your critical data is never in danger, even in the event of a disaster. Another option? Take things all the way with infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and leave the hardware management to someone else.

Are you moving to the cloud? Consider streamlining your tech environment and implementing new upgrades. Your calendar just might thank you.

Need a little help? Connect with a Vonage Business consultant today and make the most of your time.

About Doug Bonderud

Doug Bonderud is an award-winning freelance writer with a passion for technology and innovation. His ability to create compelling, thought-provoking and timely content helps empower the voice of corporate vision. From UCaaS to VoIP to cloud computing, Doug has experience covering all aspects of evolving digital environments and their effects on both people and policies.

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Adding improved social media tools to your holiday wish list will improve customer engagement.

So, maybe Santa didn’t squeeze down your office chimney to drop off productivity software and new gadgets that will help your company take charge in 2017. But who says that’s the only way to get your dream office technology? Why not make this the year you act on bringing better efficiency to your digital office?

Of course, this may not seem so easy. With so much to choose from in a cloud-based, software-driven world, what makes the cut and what’s left out in the cold? Here’s a look at top tech to consider as a new year’s gift to your business:

1. The Cloud

If you’re making a wish list — presumably checked twice — you might as well put the big one up top and ask for the cloud. And since you’re the proverbial Santa in this scenario, good behavior isn’t the determining factor you have to consider — budget and your current tech landscape make all the difference.

Why You Want It: As noted by Netwise Resources, SMBs are shifting to the cloud not only for improved access, flexibility and automatic backups, but also to address issues such as compliance. And this isn’t like the toy every kid asked for but only with the right brand name — a host of big tech companies and niche providers now occupy the market, giving you more options that ever before.

Watch Out For: This isn’t the kind of gift your employees will put down after a day or so of use and just forget it exists. Instead, you may face the opposite problem — crowd sprawl — as your staff members use this new tech for everything but forget to turn off compute instances. Keep a close eye on this popular present to prevent overspending.

2. Converged Communications

Next up on any office technology wish list should be converged communications. To put it more simply, you can just write, “New cloud-hosted phone system.” Why? Traditional phone systems and onsite PBX have a hard time competing with hosted solutions that offer Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) connections, integrated mobility, and cloud integrations that tie the phone system to business applications employees use every day such as Salesforce, Office 365, and more.

Why You Want It: If you don’t keep up, you’ll be left behind. SMBs must now compete on a global scale and stay on pace with enterprise offerings, which means they’re increasingly using cloud-based communications tools that function in real time.

Watch Out For: Overspending. Sure, you could ask for all the Hot Wheels cars, every track, and every add-on pack, but you’d never use them all at once — most items will just end up collecting dust. The same goes for a small-business phone system. Buy what you need up front and add on later. Your post-holiday budget will thank you.

3. Social Solutions

Do you want to get more customers? Do you want to keep them? If so, put better social media tools on your wish list. Consumers aren’t satisfied with daylong response times or form-letter emails. If they have questions, they expect answers immediately, and their first stop is often social media. This means you need better social media engagement apps that can track sentiment, analyze trending data, and provide actionable insights.

Why You Want It: It gets you out of the reactive social media rut where you’re only using Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms for damage control.

Watch Out For: Metrics that don’t make sense. Either invest in local staff training or get on board with a reputable third-party provider that can help identify key metrics and map out the most direct route between social statistics and long-term ROI.

The holidays have wrapped up, and your company was good all year — you deserve something nice in 2017. And since you’re buying, wrapping, and opening this gift yourself, you can be sure you’ll get the office technology you want.

Give Vonage Business a shout if a new phone system is the first present on your list.

About Doug Bonderud

Doug Bonderud is an award-winning freelance writer with a passion for technology and innovation. His ability to create compelling, thought-provoking and timely content helps empower the voice of corporate vision. From UCaaS to VoIP to cloud computing, Doug has experience covering all aspects of evolving digital environments and their effects on both people and policies.

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Woman walks in a mall with multicolored shopping bags.

The benefits of cloud computing includes providing a customized experience for retail startups.

It used to take deep pockets, lots of investors, or some rich friends to start a company. And, contrary to popular belief, much of the investment required to make the new company run was for servers, software, and other techie stuff, not beanbag chairs and pingpong tables.

However, one of the benefits of the cloud is that this is no longer true. According to CB Insights, the cost of launching a startup has decreased from an average of $5 million in 2000 to $5,000, due in no small part to cloud computing. Instead of having to buy everything, startups can now leverage virtual services and buy previously expensive software from cloud providers.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of startups are big fans of the cloud, and retail is just one industry that is benefiting from the cost savings, increased sales and improved customer service that is enabled by cloud computing. With retailers struggling to get customers to leave their treasured computers and come into their store, retail startups must heighten the in-store experience for their customers.

One of the most frustrating parts of shopping in a brick-and-mortar store is not knowing the price of an item — not to mention the embarrassment of making it to the register and having your purchase announced over the loudspeaker in a muffled drawl. According to BizTech Magazine, furniture and electronics retailer NFM uses a combination of in-store beacons and cloud computing technology to combine inventory management and digital price tags.

However, the cloud isn’t just for startups: Larger, more traditional businesses can see the same benefits by moving to the cloud, especially in retail. During the cloud migration, consider using a company with a bring-your-own-broadband policy. This helps save time on phone installation, connects multiple offices, and supports both customer and employee mobility.

The following are four customer service benefits of cloud migration:

1. Customize the Shopping Experience

The possibilities are endless. Your sales associate can use a tablet to quickly determine that the shopper who just walked in purchased a blue blouse last week online. By offering a skirt and necklace to complete the outfit, your customer feels catered to and is more likely to buy the new items. Associates can also store information about a customer that other employees can access in real-time. For instance, if one associate learns the customer is shopping for a dress to wear at a wedding next month, the associate working the back of the floor can access this information. He or she can then provide the customer with personalized choices by combining this information with other stored tidbits, such as the fact that this customer does not like sleeveless dresses and her favorite color is blue.

2. Automate Processes to Allow More Time for Customer Service

Every minute your staff spends doing something other than helping customers takes away from the level of service you provide. That’s where brick-and-mortar stores can really differentiate themselves from online stores — with a real, live person. Cloud computing lets you automate operations processes such as payment models, employee time tracking, and product ordering. This gets your staff out on the floor, where they need to be.

3. Provide Better Service With Cloud-Based Communications

Your customers want to speak with an employee who can answer their specific questions, not be passed around to multiple extensions only to have to leave a message in an epic customer service fail. With Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), hosted in the cloud, you can configure calls via online portal to go to a variety of devices, not just one phone. This means your employees can be reached no matter where they are or what device they are using.

4. Scale Your Technology as You Grow

Your business may grow quickly, or you could choose to stay small for many years. Unless you’re Marty McFly, you simply don’t know what the future holds when it’s time to purchase technology. By using cloud technology for your operations, you can use the services you need today and easily expand or enhance them as your business grows. This means you don’t have to buy more hardware than you need or hardware you will never use. And, you won’t have to replace your hardware within a short time frame because it doesn’t fit your future needs.

The cloud is here to stay. By embracing cloud technology and using it to the fullest potential, both startups and mature companies can increase revenue by providing a personalized customer experience.

Contact Vonage Business for more insights on the benefits of cloud migration.

About Jennifer Goforth Gregory

Jennifer Goforth Gregory is a technology freelance writer specializing in B2B and telecommunications topics. She has written for national brands including IBM, Samsung, ADTRAN, Adobe, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Verizon, Costco and American Express. One of her superpowers is being able to translate technical speak from the experts that make products work into language everyone else can understand. Jennifer has a master’s degree in technical communication and lives in North Carolina with her husband and two kids.

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A hybrid approach can give your cloud communications the best of both worlds.

Cloud computing is no longer an outlier: According to Beta News, 95 percent of survey respondents said they’re using some form of the cloud. However, it’s worth noting that while 18 percent of companies rely on public services alone and just six percent use all-private solutions, the lion’s share — 71 percent — prefer hybrid cloud communications environments.

What’s the real deal with going hybrid? Do you end up with the best of both worlds — a centaur with strength of draft horses combined with human cognitive capacity, or some kind of cobbled-together creation that amounts to a wobbly horse head driven by tiny human stick legs? Here’s what you need to know:

Crashing the Party: Public, Private, and Hybrid Clouds

Public clouds are typically used for public-facing applications that need room to stretch in response to resource or traffic demands. They’re also ideal for smaller companies that don’t have the on-hand capital to spend on local hardware or those that love jumping on tech bandwagons to get their “I’m with cloud” T-shirt.

Private clouds, meanwhile, are excellent for consumer or corporate data privacy, while also giving IT professionals total control over their computing environment. Think of private clouds as the hipsters of up-and-coming tech — they’re solidly put together, but require a lot of upkeep and maintenance to keep running.

Hybrid promises both the sizzle and the steak — public scaling and private control — to provide a combination of flexibility and firm network boundaries. It’s also a middle ground between the cost scale of public vs. private options. Ultimately, hybrid looks to balance the benefits of outsourcing and in-house talent to create an adaptable best fit for organizations.

Do Me a Flavor…

While there’s no single way to use the hybrid cloud, a number of popular “flavors” have emerged, including the following:

  • Adaptable Apps: This is one of the most popular hybrid types. Organizations keep critical data close to their chest on private clouds but use public clouds to build out and scale up customer-facing apps.
  • Do-It-Yourself Duplication: Another hybrid cloud option sees IT departments creating duplicates of private stacks on public clouds and then linking the two with a secure connection.
  • Moving to Multicloud: Hybrid deployments also support the move to multicloud architecture, which has emerged as companies look to tap multiple public providers for specific services. Private clouds keep critical data grounded and provide a central link for various cloud services.
  • On-Premises Public Performance: Large-scale cloud providers are also looking for ways to move the public cloud into the private space by offering on-premises versions of public cloud offerings. The advantage here? Total control over scalability and performance. The downside? Big bucks to buy in.

Managing Migration

What’s the biggest barrier to cloud adoption? The easy answer is worry over granular control of data, but according to ZDNet, it’s more than that. Ultimately, the task of integrating and migrating legacy systems becomes a huge headache for many companies that try to tap into cloud communications or leverage scalable environments.

It’s here that hybrid cloud solutions really shine: By linking private stacks with third-party offerings, it’s possible to keep many legacy systems in place and link them to public services only where it makes sense. In effect, going hybrid lets incompatible legacy solutions age out in place, rather than trying to shoehorn them into cloud deployments or retire them before the business can fully absorb their loss.

It’s worth noting, however, that even hybrid migrations don’t happen in a vacuum. Companies must be prepared to tackle the gap between public and private services — the potentially confusing interplay along the edge of multiple service types, where apps may not work as intended and performance may be hard to measure. Overcoming this challenge means enlisting the help of an experienced cloud provider with a track record of providing reliable public services while also respecting the bounds of private networks.

This type of cloud migration partnership is especially important for companies making their first foray into the cloud. The right partner can not only provide necessary hardware and diverse service catalogs but also act as an IT consultant to suggest ideal migration strategies and ways to minimize the impact of new systems on existing architecture.

The bottom line? Hybrid clouds are on the rise as a way to tap the flexibility of public models and the control of private stacks. However, with multiple flavors and the need to integrate legacy apps while simultaneously leveraging new services, finding the right combination of variety and vendor is ideal to maximize hybrid cloud communication benefits.

Are you ready for the hybrid cloud advantage? Talk to a Vonage Business specialist today!

About Doug Bonderud

Doug Bonderud is an award-winning freelance writer with a passion for technology and innovation. His ability to create compelling, thought-provoking and timely content helps empower the voice of corporate vision. From UCaaS to VoIP to cloud computing, Doug has experience covering all aspects of evolving digital environments and their effects on both people and policies.

Linkedin  |  Twitter

From communications services to other crucial business needs, cloud technology is becoming an increasingly integral component of businesses’ day-to-day operations.

There’s a lot of thinking, strategy and technical design that goes into delivering a mission-critical cloud service like Vocalocity’s. Our Chief Technology Officer, Jonathan Alexander, offers some background on the tech behind the solution in the article “Designing business-critical applications in the cloud,” featured in the popular ECN Electronic Component News magazine.

In the article, Jonathan discusses a new generation of cloud system design patterns and best practices that are being used for communications services, as well as other popular cloud platforms, including Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

Explore the inner workings of cloud technology now.

About Aaron Charlesworth

Aaron oversees all marketing and product management activities for the company and is an accomplished executive with deep technology marketing experience. He has a proven track record in lead generation, planning and product management, qualitative and quantitative research, search engine optimization, and creative collateral development.

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