A man sitting outside at a cafe, using his mobile phone and laptop.

Virtual training with a cloud-based classroom is a great way to keep your team’s skills sharp.

You want your team to be up-to-date on the latest technical skills, leadership methods, and industry trends. However, your budget is limited, and you simply can’t afford to pay for expensive travel and registration fees for all of your employees to attend conferences or seminars.

Thankfully, you now have another alternative: using an online classroom for video-based virtual training. With cloud-based technology, you have a variety of options, including video, online collaboration tools, and a hybrid of the two to offer training. Your team can interact with each other and the trainer using whiteboard, poll, or chat features.

Virtual training gives you access to many more options. You can even set up the training based on your company’s schedule, so you don’t have to worry about having a team member gone the week of a product release because it’s the only time the course is offered. In addition to saving significant funds, the sessions can be recorded and other team members can listen to at their convenience.

Here are four ways to use a virtual classroom at your business:

1. New Employee Orientation

It’s important that all new employees are onboarded and welcomed to the company so they have the information they need for first day on the job. However, this can be challenging, especially for small companies where a single employee may start on any given day. You can use a virtual classroom to create video and instructions from all the appropriate experts and employees, and then have the new employee complete the training at their leisure. This results in less downtime, and your employees need only present their portion once for the camera, instead of each time a new person joins the company.

2. Customer Training

You land a great new client that requests training for its employees on your product. It used to be easy — just send a team member to hold a session in the company’s conference room. Yet with today’s global and distributed workforce, it’s likely the customer has employees working virtually and/or in satellite offices. Virtual training allows your company to create customized training for all the customer’s employees — no matter where they are located — at a fraction of the cost. Companies that were previously unable to offer customer training due to travel and scheduling expenses can now include this as an important feature for new customers.

3. Sessions by Outside Experts

You found the perfect motivational speaker or perhaps the best technical expert on a new software program. However, your employees are not all located in one building — or even the same time zone. You can use a virtual classroom and hire an outside expert to provide training for your distributed workforce at a fraction of the cost of flying everyone to the same location, not to mention the hidden costs of lost productivity.

4. Employee-Led Training

Sometimes, the best experts are your own employees. By using a virtual session, employees can lead a class for others on their area of expertise. And if you send one employee to a conference or training, that team member can lead a session to teach the material to colleagues. Virtual training allows you to deliver the same information to your remote workforce, as well as give employees the option to take the interactive and video training at a time that fits with their work deadlines.

Using a virtual classroom dramatically increases your ability to provide training for your employees and support customer training. By providing virtual training through a cloud-based virtual classroom, your company can boost revenue, productivity, and employee satisfaction.

For more information on the technology needed to start a virtual classroom, contact a Vonage Business representative.

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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What is CPaaS? It’s a communications platform that can give customers the best experience.

The cloud has been an undisputed blessing to modern IT. From seamless scalability to simplified deployment, it’s never been easier to do more with your infrastructure. However, one vastly underrated aspect of the cloud is its near-limitless supply of additional acronyms.

Really, pick any combination of uppercase letters, stick “aaS” on the end, and you’ve got the newest cloud technology. Seriously, though, the sheer number of acronyms floating around these days is nearly impossible to keep pace with. Fret not! The following are answers to some of your most burning questions surrounding one such acronym, including, “What is CPaaS?” and, “What makes it different from UCaaS?”

Knowing Your CPaaS from Your UCaaS

First and foremost, it’s important to decipher these conveniently ambiguous acronyms. CPaaS stands for communications platform-as-a-service. Unsurprisingly, it’s simply a cloud-based platform. But wait — don’t we already have one of those in unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS)? Well, yes and no.

CPaaS and UCaaS share the same cloud foundation while being delivered over both public and private IP networks. They also make great platforms for businesses of just about any size. But those similarities — and the fact that they both find themselves in the communications field — pretty much mark the end as far as common ground goes.

CPaaS is primarily focused on enriching customer communication channels. It acts as a platform for businesses to combine the reliability and back end of proven communication services with their own customer applications through the use of APIs. For example, you could use a chat app API to integrate messaging platforms that your customers likely already use, like Facebook Messenger or Viber, into your own mobile offering. Simply put, CPaaS lets developers program the entire breadth of real-time, cloud-based communications platforms into their own applications to give customers the best experience available.

So, in a nutshell, CPaaS is a back-end communications platform with APIs that allow you to present it to front-end offerings. Think chat, voice, and video capabilities embedded in your customer-facing applications. In contrast, UCaaS is a platform for internal channels that unifies communications into a consistent experience regardless of device or location.

Why You Need to Know About CPaaS

Now that you can confidently answer the question, “What is CPaaS?” there’s yet another question you may be asking: “Why should I care?” It’s a great question indeed. A recent article by Customer Experience Insight described some communication expectations your customers likely have. To summarize, its research shows customers want communication that is personalized, consistent, always-on, and that preferably comes in as many channels as possible.

This is exactly why you need to know about CPaaS. When it comes to communication, especially mobile communication, customers simply expect more — more options, more reliability, and more accessibility. You get the picture. CPaaS provides all of the above with a back-end communication infrastructure, presented “as-a-service” from a vendor, that is then tightly integrated with your own app offerings through extensive APIs. CPaaS is a great tool for companies looking to go global without breaking the bank.

CPaaS is a useful technology for businesses of all sizes. If you have an audience that has any expectations when it comes to communication, CPaaS is worth exploring.

Contact Vonage Business to learn more about how cloud-based communications can aid your company.

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 in a suit is sitting at a nice restaurant, enjoying wine with another person.

With a cloud-based CRM, you can provide better service to retain long-term customers.

The secret to a successful business is pretty simple: have loyal, long-term customers. And if you aren’t using cloud-based CRM technology, it’s likely you are losing potential long-term customers. Harvard Business Review found that landing a new customer can be 5 to 25 times more expensive than keeping an existing one. It’s easy (and enticing) to focus on new customers, because it’s such a great feeling to land a new account. However, it’s essential to maintain strong relationships and provide excellent service to current customers to build their loyalty.

Technology makes it much less time-consuming to keep your customers happy. The secret is knowing what they want and then automating the process of giving it to them. Cloud-based CRM technology can be integrated into other communication tools your business uses (like your phone system), allowing you to predict and deliver targeted, holistic marketing strategies for clients and prospects alike.

Find Out What Your Customers Want

You probably think you know what your customers want as a whole, but the trick is finding out what each and every customer cares about. Before you start going through your customer database and frantically trying to figure out the puzzle, stop. Breathe. You already have your answer in your CRM software — how they shop, what they buy, when they shop, and which discounts or coupons they use.

By using a cloud-based CRM tool, you now have real-time information updated automatically from all sources, such as salespeople, your customer portal, customer care associates, and in-store employees. Your team can use CRM technology to log notes directly into the system during the interaction as well. And, your employees can access it from any device and location. By integrating with your phone system, you can also reduce the time it takes to contact your customers by using click-to-dial and automating call logging.

Give Your Customers What They Want

Getting the information is the easy part, but taking it to the next level is where you turn casual customers into lifelong fans. Because you’ll have each customer’s data easily accessible, you can take what you know and create customized, delightful experiences.

For instance, say a customer at your spa always gets a 60-minute massage once a month on Friday and will occasionally treat herself to a pedicure. You also know she always books her appointments using a mobile app and has never once logged onto your website. Instead of giving her a discount on a facial or a service she has never shown interest in, you give her a discount for a combination pedicure and massage for next month through a mobile app notification. Even better, if you notice she misses a month, you can use that information to flag an associate to give her a call to check on her and offer to set up an appointment.

And when she calls to cancel last minute? You know it’s her calling, because your phone system recognizes her number, as it’s integrated with your CRM. You know her appointment is today at 2, and you’re happy to let her know that her preferred manicurist is free next week at her regular time.

It’s easy to think that technology makes customer relationships less personal, but if you use the tech-generated information to meet and exceed the expectations your customers don’t even realize they have, the result is a personal relationship between the customer and your company.

Visit Vonage Business to learn more about the difference you’ll see with cloud technology.

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 woman using a smartphone while sitting at her desk.

Some companies may be reluctant to change, but enterprise cloud solutions can make a big difference.

At first, the cloud may have seemed like a lot of hype and just another technology for enterprises to spend money on because “everyone else was doing it.” You know, like mobile, the internet, or social media. Of course, all three of these today are vital tools for enterprises to increase productivity, raise brand awareness, and better engage with customers. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a business surviving in the digital age without a website, Facebook page, or mobile app.

Though enterprise cloud solutions have also become indispensable to organizations seeking to be more agile while saving money, some businesses are still hesitant about moving to the cloud. After all, a cloud migration is a lot more complicated than building a website or even managing employee BYOD devices, right?

Not really. The truth is, moving IT processes, data storage, and communications systems to the cloud is much easier than many business decision-makers believe. Conversely, the longer a business waits to move to the cloud, the harder it is for it to compete in the digital economy. Businesses that still haven’t jumped on the cloud can put themselves at a competitive disadvantage. For example, enterprises with on-premises legacy phone systems and contact centers struggle to meet the requirements of digital-savvy employees and customers.

Enterprise workers today demand the ability to do their jobs from anywhere and using any device. They want the flexibility to remotely collaborate and communicate with colleagues from their homes, to join video conferences on their smartphones, and to access Salesforce on their laptops during a client meeting in the field.

The High Costs of Resisting the Cloud

Legacy communications systems simply can’t support these critical functions. The end result can be lower productivity, frustrated employees, and higher turnover. According to the Future Workforce Study 2016 from Dell and Intel, 42 percent of workers ages 18–34 are likely to leave a job because their employers provided substandard technology. That percentage is likely even higher among workers whose jobs require constant use of technology, such as call center agents.

Likewise, older, in-house communications platforms can’t scale to handle data and service requests from the growing number of mobile users who want real-time service and the luxury of communicating with customer support via phone, online chat, messaging, or any other digital channel.

However, cloud-based communications systems are flexible and scalable and allow enterprises to satisfy the productivity needs of a mobile, remote workforce, the scalability and cross-channel functionality of a busy contact center, and real-time service requests from mobile customers.

In addition to enabling a business to compete more effectively by leveraging the most advanced digital technologies, moving communications virtually to the cloud eliminates the need to replace expensive on-premises PBX equipment. The result can be an efficient transfer of capital expenses to operational expenses, or even an overal cost reduction.

Migration and Support Made Easy

Enterprise cloud solutions today are available to organizations of all sizes. The key is to partner with a provider with deep experience and roots in cloud technology to provide support throughout the process. A provider with an enterprise cloud backup service can store data in multiple geographic locations, enabling businesses to maximize uptime, even during and after disasters.

Moving to the cloud may appear daunting to some businesses, but even the most ardent cloud holdouts are beginning to realize that the alternative — falling hopelessly behind the competition — is somewhat more daunting. The right enterprise cloud solutions can lift any business that chooses the right partner.

Is your enterprise ready for the cloud? Contact a Vonage Business consultant today to get started.

About Chris Nerney

Chris Nerney is a technology writer who covers both enterprise and consumer technologies. He has written extensively on cloud computing, unified communications, enterprise collaboration, VoIP, mobile technology, big data and analytics, data centers, converged systems and space technology. His writing has appeared in Computerworld, CIO.com, Data-Informed, Revenue Cycle Insights, Network World, ITWorld and many other technology publications, including enterprise whitepapers. Chris lives in upstate New York with his wife and three children.

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Three men and a woman in an office, reviewing a contract.

What is cloud technology? It’s a seamless way of managing your data, without all the hardware.

You’ve probably heard about the cloud. As noted by Small Business Trends, 93 percent of organizations are currently using cloud services, and 80 percent are following a cloud-first strategy. The solution offers huge potential to streamline SMB practices and drive ROI, but it also comes with huge hype that makes it hard to sort out what should be a simple question: What is cloud technology?

For SMB owners with limited time and interest in becoming IT experts, it’s easy to take a pass on the specifics and avoid the cloud altogether. The problem? Staying competitive means embracing tech that takes your business to the next level. Here’s what you need to know about the cloud — without all the hype:

The Cloud, Uncomplicated

So, what is the cloud, exactly? US-CERT suggests thinking of it like email. Your basic email provider handles the sending, receiving, and storage of your messages offsite. You don’t need servers and IT professionals to manage your email account; you simply use the service. The cloud works the same way. You rent space in a public or private cloud and use it to run whatever applications and services you need. Public means you’re sharing the space with other virtual tenants but pay less overall; private offers your own space at a higher cost. Many SMBs leverage the cloud for accounting and payroll software, e-commerce portals, or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems that let them record calls, implement voice recognition systems, and seamlessly connect with customers and employees around the world.

What You Need to Know

Let’s say you make the jump to the cloud. What do you need to know about using this technology? First up, it’s seamless. You log in and use applications as if they’re stored on local computers. The difference? Data is automatically saved and backed up in the cloud, meaning that if you experience a local server failure, your files and records aren’t gone forever.

It’s also worth understanding cloud price structure. Typically, you’ll pay a monthly fee for specific services — in the case of cloud-based VoIP, this could be paperless faxing, call recording, and mobile integration — and you’ll often have the ability to access more resources on-demand. This feature comes with a commensurate uptick in price but lets you handle sudden traffic spikes to your website or accommodate new business growth. You also need to familiarize yourself with cloud features specific to your deployment, such as how you start and stop call recordings, how you play them back, and how you delete them when they’re no longer needed.

Big Benefits

Sure, some cloud benefits may be more hype than helpful for you, but opting for the cloud offers solid advantages for SMBs, including the following:

  • Virtual Management: All servers are offsite, meaning there’s no need to install or configure complicated hardware.
  • Seamless Upgrades: Software upgrades and performance updates are all handled automatically.
  • Easy Support: Troubleshooting can be handled over the phone or via email, since all physical hardware is at the provider end.
  • Lower Costs: In the case of cloud-based VoIP, for example, you don’t need to install or upgrade any phones or systems onsite, often making the cloud cheaper than in-house alternatives.

What is cloud technology? For SMB owners, it’s a way to get more, pay less, and not worry about the technical complications of having new hardware onsite. You don’t need to become an expert to reap the benefits. Find a provider you trust, negotiate a solid SLA, and start leveraging the cloud to enhance the reach and ROI of your small business.

Considering a move to the cloud? Contact Vonage Business today and get started!

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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A woman holding a mobile phone is speaking to a man holding a cup of coffee, standing outside.

By working virtually, employees can enjoy more flexibility, and companies can improve retention.

If you don’t have a policy for employees working virtually (at least some of the time), it may be time to reconsider.

For instance, say your best employee comes into your office to tell you that her spouse got a job on the West Coast and her last day is going to be in three weeks. Or, say that after a two-month search for a new employee with extremely specific skills — and a slew of bad interviews in the process — you find the absolute perfect employee. However, he lives in Alaska and has no desire to commute every day by bush plane. Or, perhaps you get a call tonight from an employee with a long commute who wants to turn in his notice to spend more time with his small kids.

It used to be that the only real option in these cases was losing the employee. This meant lower retention rates and increased costs for hiring and onboarding, which can be significant. ZaneBenefits reported that a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey found that the cost of replacing an employee averages out to six to nine months’ worth of the employee’s salary. Then, add in increased recruiting costs, as well as the opportunity costs for not having the best of the best on your staff.

However, technology has made working virtually an attractive concept for both employees and employers because it grants a whole new level of flexibility. Employees not within driving distance to the office can continue to work for the company, and local employees who need more flexibility can continue working remotely. Technology not only makes it possible, but also makes it an efficient choice in terms of productivity, to the point that you may not even realize the employee isn’t in the office.

Keeping in Touch

One of the biggest concerns with working virtually is communication. Can the team collaborate? Will it be hard to reach the employee? Unified communications allows your team to stay in touch with the remote employee regardless of location and device. This technology seamlessly forwards calls to the team member’s device, whether it’s to a home landline or a mobile device. You can also use the chat feature enabled by this technology to talk in real time as the team works together on projects.

While there is something special about face-to-face communication, it’s still possible to get that experience with body language, tone, and facial expressions, even when the employee is working out of a coffee shop. You can start a video conference call with just a few touches of a button, and everyone can talk in (almost) person. Your remote workers can join team meetings by video as well.

Working Collaboratively

When you think of working remotely, you may immediately be filled with dread at the thought of emailing drafts and crises arising over version control. However, cloud solutions make this a non-issue. Remote workers can access the cloud network just as if they were sitting in the office next door, using all the same version control tools as every in-office worker. And accessing the tools and software needed to perform their job is no longer a hassle, or even an extra expense. By setting up virtual networks, remote employees can log on to their screens and have the exact same setup as their in-office colleagues.

The main reason working from home is becoming more accepted and common these days is that it is a win-win for both the employees and the company. Your employees get the flexibility they need and are much more likely to stay for the long-term. And your company gets or retains access to the right employees, regardless of their mailing address.

Speak to a Vonage Business consultant to learn more about using technology to enable working remotely.

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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Two men and a woman in a conference room, viewing laptops.

If you don’t understand the business language of the cloud, here is a cheat sheet.

Tech jargon is a slippery slope. Use too much, and you confuse — or worse, bore — your audience. Use too little, and you can’t have an effective conversation about the digital workplace.

The cloud still confuses many people, even those who use cloud services every day. Still, if you ask the average person to define it, you can practically see the cartoon question marks hovering above their heads. Throw in a few related terms and acronyms — such as SaaS, IaaS, SLA, and VoIP — and eyes start to glaze over.

However, these terms are important parts of today’s business language. For teams to effectively and strategically use cloud technology, they must be able to communicate about it. This means everyone in the organization needs at least a basic understanding of cloud-oriented business language — including the decision-makers who adopt cloud-based solutions, the leaders who deploy and integrate them into workflows, and the end users who rely on them to work from anywhere.

As more small and midsize businesses undergo a cloud migration for the first time, which terms do their teams need to know to professionally and confidently discuss their new tech tools?

What Is the Cloud?

We talk about “the cloud” as if it’s a place or thing, which leads to such questions as “Where is the cloud? What is the cloud? Is it over us right now?” Really, the cloud is just a metaphor for the internet. In simplest terms, it means storing and accessing data and software via the internet, rather than your hard drive or a local server.

Cloud Migration

No, it’s not a storm rolling in, nor is the internet heading south for the winter. Cloud migration simply means transitioning some or all of a company’s data, applications, processes, or services from onsite servers to the internet for on-demand usage.

Cloud Storage

You know that scary-looking room with all the interconnected computers only the IT team is allowed to enter? That’s a local server. And with the cloud, it’s unnecessary. Instead, business data gets saved on remote servers that can be accessed via any internet-connected device.

There are three types of cloud storage:

  1. Public: A third-party server where users share resources and pay per use
  2. Private: A remote but privately owned server that is implemented within the corporate firewall and controlled by the IT department
  3. Hybrid: A combination of public and private cloud storage, where highly sensitive data is kept on a private cloud and the rest resides on a public cloud

IaaS and SaaS

Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) refers to self-service, pay-per-use storage space, networking equipment, and services.

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) refers to third-party business applications that are accessible via the internet. This includes bookkeeping software, project management programs, word processors, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and any other business programs that teams use to share and utilize information.

API

An application programming interface (API) is a set of computer codes that help different software — or different components of the same software — play nice together. For instance, if you wanted to link customer information from your CRM platform and your accounting program, an API could help them “talk” to each other and share data.

VoIP

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) refers to a phone connection that takes place via the internet, rather than a landline or cell tower. Cloud-based VoIP service is becoming particularly popular among businesses with remote workers or call centers, as it enables employees to use the business phone system from anywhere.

SLA

The term “service-level agreement” (SLA) is fairly self-explanatory. It’s a contract that spells out the level of service a vendor agrees to provide, including the quality and accessibility customers can expect. This important document also explains the vendor’s privacy protocols, which can be a critical consideration, especially for businesses that handle sensitive data.

There you have it. The cloud really isn’t all that complicated — it just requires learning a new business language. Share this cheat sheet with your team to help them join the conversation.

To learn more about VoIP and other cloud business services, speak to a Vonage Business consultant.

Taylor Mallory Holland

Taylor Mallory Holland is a professional writer with more than 11 years of experience writing about business, technology and health care for both media outlets and companies. Taylor understands how enterprise mobility and cloud technology can reshape industries and provide new opportunities to streamline workflows, improve employee collaboration and reimagine the customer experience. She is passionate about helping business leaders understand the impact that emerging technologies can have on communication, operations and sales and marketing.

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Four men sitting around a conference phone.

Cloud technology can help you make the most of vendor management.

Imagine a world where your business had no access to outside vendors. Your phones (and–gasp! your internet) wouldn’t work. Your office wouldn’t be cleaned. Your salespeople wouldn’t be able to track their leads through customer relationship management (CRM) software. Not to mention that specialized support like graphic design, creative ideation, and industry-specific software could be majorly impacted. Your team wouldn’t be able to do their jobs, and your bottom line would quickly be affected.

Vendors likely play a huge role in your business’ productivity and expertise. However, vendors are only as good as your ability to manage them. Without proper vendor management, your business can lose not only money but the crucial services needed to keep your doors open and customers happy. Simply by using cloud technology for vendor management, your small business can see the following benefits:

1. Vendors Can Reach You When They Need You, Regardless of Your Location

It’s Saturday morning. Your IT service provider noticed your servers are down and needs you to make a decision on the best course to fix it. However, you’re enjoying a rare moment of peace with your kids at the beach. Instead of having to make sure every vendor has the phone numbers of key employees, small businesses using a cloud-based business phone system have a single contact number that reaches them across all devices. The best part is that the vendor doesn’t know whether you’re at your desk or sitting with your feet firmly dug into the sand, since your private information is not shown.

2. Remote Vendor Management Is a Breeze

When using non-cloud-based vendors, small businesses commonly run into the problem of needing specific information, but can’t access it as they’re at a client site or working from home on the weekend. You cannot move forward on accounting or follow up with a vendor if you don’t have access to the information you need. Solving an issue usually takes phone calls, time, and plenty of hair-pulling frustration.

However, if your company uses cloud technology to manage vendors, you could log right in and see the needed information in real-time without any delays or outdated information. This works across devices, too — whether you’re logging in on your tablet or smartphone, cloud technology helps you do your job.

3. You Can Collaborate with Vendors

Many times, your vendor isn’t just providing a service, but is working together with your team on a project. Sending emails back and forth can be cumbersome, and document versioning issues can cause your team to lose valuable time and work. By using many of the cloud-based collaboration tools and working together in a virtual war room that is stored on your private cloud, your team can be unstoppable.

Whether it’s mocking up building plans with a contractor for remodeling your space or rolling out a new IT project with your managed services provider, your team can work together in real-time using online chats, video conferencing, and document libraries. More importantly, this collaborative approach helps your vendor understand your company’s needs, which ultimately results in better service.

Does your vendor management make the grade? Connect with Vonage Business to find out.

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 man and woman talking outside in a city.

The right tech can help solve your small-business challenges.

An article about how technology solves problems? Isn’t that what it, you know, does?

Okay, so you have a point. Sort of. Why the qualification? The sheer number of business challenges that a healthy dose of technology can solve is downright astounding. Better, many solutions could have been custom-built for hurdles small organizations commonly face.

Here are four universal obstacles and how to get around them with the right technology:

1. Side Revenue Streams, and Why You Need ‘Em

Speaking of obvious things, businesses (or at least the people who run them) enjoy making money. It could even be said that most organizations exist solely for that purpose, or at least need the green stuff to continue running. Crazy, right?

As it turns out, technology is pretty darn good at helping you find new ways to do that, with a strong emphasis on the “new.” Collaborative tools and their ability to build productive business relationships are one fine example of this idea. Take the slew of B2B-focused food industry vendors that effectively add delivery service to any restaurant. Many organizations assume the legwork, risk, and back-end costs of making food portable, offering a low-investment (potentially) high-return path to a whole new market. And this comes without the infrastructure and human investment it would require to do the same thing on your own.

2. Your Experience, Improved

If the digital era has taught us anything, it’s that customers crave positive customer experiences (CX) above all else. Do a good job with it, and you’ll build a rabidly loyal base of customers in no time. More, providing a CX that stands against larger, enterprise-level competitors rides high on the list of small-business challenges. When the “other guys” have a marketing and development budget that matches a small country’s GDP, you know you have a tough row to hoe.

Technology can help in more ways than one here. Going back to its collaborative nature, a simple internet connection can — wait for it — connect you with skilled, affordable graphic designers who are willing to work on an a la carte basis, giving your business access to a new visual identity without a massive investment on your part. For companies with a little more capital to spare on the customer experience, loyalty programs can be purchased as configurable products, opening the door to bonuses on the customer’s side and invaluable data on yours.

Then, there are the simple things, such as a responsive and active social media presence, which any company can provide with a little savvy. These are just three ways to bump up your experience with technology — as hokey as it sounds, the sky truly is the limit on this front.

3. Cut That Overhead! Cut That Overhead!

If you’ll forgive the reference to a decade-old commercial, there’s no question excessive overhead costs are among the biggest small-business challenges around. And while some companies may feel the need to inflict mutiny-worthy measures to lower overhead — such as removing the free coffee that is the lifeblood of your organization’s productivity — there are much nicer ways to get your operational costs down.

Savings, thy name be the cloud. While making the move to cloud business systems does require some upfront investment, the list of overhead-slashing cloud tools is so long we’d be hard-pressed to name them all in 100 articles. For instance, a company worried about excessive document usage could move to a cloud-based generation-and-storage system, which makes the creation of and access to critical papers such as invoices and contracts far easier than the days of fax and copy.

4. Grow That Business! Grow That Business!

Okay, we’ll stop now. However, the fact is that many owners and decision-makers spend so much time caught up in the day-to-day aspects of their business that they don’t have time to focus on the whole “long-term growth” thing. This is what experts like to call a serious problem.

Here’s where cloud integration comes in again. Doing a good job of it takes a smart road map, some capital, and a long-term vision to make it work. However, if you do it right, oh boy. By tailoring your operations to the mobility-enhancing, process-simplifying strengths of cloud apps, you can remove the dreaded time overhead from your already swamped schedule.

How nice would it be to manage inventory from all your locations from a single portal that can be accessed from anywhere? How much more time could you spend on the business (as opposed to in it) if you could delegate critical tasks to trusted employees, all while keeping near-omniscient oversight? These are the things the cloud can do for you if you’re willing to embrace it properly. Better, they’re just the start.

Of course, small-business challenges are always going to be around. Unsurprisingly, your skill in handling them will play a major hand in how your business thrives. Technology may not be a panacea, but it does provide many ways to address your problems head-on — and, if you’re lucky, may even lay a path to your very own Scrooge McDuck-style money vault. Either way, that’s something worth pursuing.

Cloud integration isn’t just for the big fish in your pond. Contact Vonage Business to learn how it can transform your business.

About Evan Wade

Evan Wade is an author and editor from Carmel, Indiana. As a veteran tech writer and lifelong tech enthusiast, he focuses his writing and research on communication, mobility and security. Alongside work with leading cloud technology providers and industry news sources, Evan has extensive sales and end-user marketing experience, giving him a unique view of the individual’s relationship with technology — and how organizations can realize huge benefits from it.

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A man uses a tablet in an office.

With cloud collaboration, colleagues can edit a document at the same time, regardless of locations.

In case you haven’t noticed, the cloud is sort of a big deal. This business tool, tech concept, and marketing buzzword has become an omnipresent force in companies and consumer markets everywhere. Few technologies would leave an apocalyptic wasteland behind if they vanished off the face of the earth tomorrow, but there’s at least some chance the cloud would.

That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Cloud collaboration and communication tools are inherently social in nature, and if a device facilitates communication of any kind, cloud technologies likely serve as the backbone and provide most of the vitally important features.

Here are a few ways the cloud is transforming businesses at all levels:

A Unified Experience

Speaking of buzzwords, the increasingly popular term “omnichannel” certainly fits the bill. There’s significant meaning — and utility — behind the buzz. This is especially true in the realm of customer service, where cloud-based CRM solutions allow businesses to remember everything about their interactions. You understand the tremendous power these tools hold if you’ve ever complained to a company on social media and followed up on the problem over the phone with little to no re-explanation.

And that’s just scratching the surface of what cloud collaboration tools can do to improve your customers’ experience. Being able to log and assimilate data from numerous disparate sources (phone calls, emails, social media, texts…) represents a longer memory for your business, an easier job for your service reps, and a quick way to score brownie points with customers themselves. As one Salesforce piece noted, this can be as simple as retaining notes and other customer information for long-term relationship management. For other companies, cloud-based tools can open the door to product improvement, opinion monitoring, and more responsive sales service.

In any event, the operative term is “collaboration,” working with customers and each other to provide faster fixes, better support, and a vastly improved experience. Consistency is now a baseline expectation in all business settings, and woe be unto those organizations that make customers explain their problem for the 10th time over the phone.

Consistency, Cloud Collaboration, and Your Business

However, don’t think collaborative tools are only useful on the customer’s side of the counter. Mobility, an ever-important concept in businesses both large and small, is built almost entirely on the back of cloud apps. Whether the enterprise mobile apps your office uses are off-the-shelf software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools or full-on, for solutions integrated with your communications system and with infrastructure to match, there’s a good chance the cloud’s social nature already powers a lot of your interactions with customers.

As with the customer experience talk up top, consistency is the name of the game here. Employees don’t want to use a different project or workflow management tool for every platform they work from. The sheer number of the average professional stares at on a daily basis would make managing communications a full-time job.

Cloud collaboration tools also do a great job with the “work” part of working, providing more consistency in the form of shared workspaces. Although you might not classify editing a document a coworker wrote as a social experience, using a tablet to make edits on a live document while the colleague writes away from her desktop PC — possibly while using a builet-in chat program — is inherently social, even though there’s no actual face-to-face time. This common example of collaboration-over-distance can also boost productivity, of course. When employees can perform important collaborative tasks anywhere, they don’t need to touch home base to implement that quick revision or provide key feedback.

Vendors: The In-Between

An injection of cloud collaboration can improve vendor relationships, too, effectively allowing independent companies to work as a single organization. Here, the social aspect of cloud apps largely comes down to the technology’s ability to bridge distances. Used to complement the usual slate of business-critical communication tools, such as conference calls and video conferencing (many of which operate in the cloud themselves), cloud apps can bring an entirely new dimension to collaboration efforts. Going back to the document editing example, it’s far easier to hop in a shared workspace with a colleague or vendor across the country than it is to relay needs or information by voice alone.

Shared access to other tools offer similar distance-closing benefits. The rise of all-in-one conferencing solutions, where participants log in to an internet portal and actively collaborate as if they were in the same room, is one example of this. A shared tracking and reporting tool that allows all parties in a business relationship to access the same data is another.

At this point, cloud technology isn’t a burgeoning set of solutions or just a high-potential way for businesses to provide consistent experiences — it’s an established thing. Even then, don’t call it old news. The cloud still has impressive tricks up its sleeve, and the majority of them come with the same goal of making operational inconsistency and even physical distance a thing of the past. Cloud technology does all this by providing the same experience and information to every user. If that doesn’t sound impressive, it’s only because we’re spoiled by all the cool things the cloud does for us already.

Let Vonage Business help you stay consistent and connected across your suite of cloud communications.

About Evan Wade

Evan Wade is an author and editor from Carmel, Indiana. As a veteran tech writer and lifelong tech enthusiast, he focuses his writing and research on communication, mobility and security. Alongside work with leading cloud technology providers and industry news sources, Evan has extensive sales and end-user marketing experience, giving him a unique view of the individual’s relationship with technology — and how organizations can realize huge benefits from it.

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