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.
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!
Smaller organizations thrive on simplicity. It’s a basic fact of business and a compelling reason why businesses across industries have made the switch from traditional branch exchange (PBX) telephony to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communication. When one option’s faster to set up, easier to maintain, and more affordable and feature-packed than the alternative, a company would be remiss not to explore the possibility of moving over.
VoIP technology brings numerous advantages to the table, and in many ways represents the next evolutionary step for small-business communication — not to mention a smarter, leaner take on the baseline tools organizations need to survive. Here is a look at those advantages and the impressive utility they display in SMB settings:
(Very) Basic Needs
To be clear, telephony is always a complex solution. The difference between VoIP technology and PBX falls in where that technology is hosted. In the old days, getting business phone service required lots of up-front cost, lots of up-front work, and (perhaps most notably) lots of wires. Once your vendor’s technicians came out, added the necessary back-end hardware, and wired every phone on the premises to it, you were ready to talk.
Now, let’s look at the hardware and infrastructure a business needs to implement when it embraces VoIP, thus moving all the “heavy” communication technology to the cloud:
- Computers, aka the laptops and desktops your organization already has
- Microphones for those computers, presuming they don’t come built-in
- An internet connection with suitably fast upload and download speeds
Realistically speaking, only that final point has potential to be a significant barrier to entry. However, even then, overcoming it is generally a matter of calling your business broadband provider and upping your speed package.
Of course, the point here isn’t to pick on PBX or even suggest it doesn’t have utility once it’s set up and ready to go. Instead, it’s to say that VoIP often works on the back of technologies businesses already use as a matter of course. Calling back to the need for simplicity, that’s a major difference — and one that’s definitely worth exploring.
Simple Scalability, Prime Portability
Another basic fact of SMBs is that they often occupy more than one location (and, for that matter, geographical region). Whether this distributed environment arises from natural growth or the business is designed that way from the ground up, VoIP technology makes maintaining a consistent presence across locations, states, and even countries a simpler affair with little of the complexity and cost that come with installing and managing a singular PBX across multiple locations.
For instance, take the act of transferring a call to a phone line in another location. Since VoIP systems can easily function as if all employees are together in the same building, a business’ clientele can have seamless access to the whole business, with the complex technical aspects and equipment handled and managed on the vendor’s side. Naturally, this lack of complexity can negate a great deal of hassle and expense when adding new locations to the network, a considerable advantage in times of growth.
Things work much the same way on the micro scale. Individual employees can use business VoIP apps installed on smartphones and tablets to place and receive calls from the company’s internal phone system. They can even do this from their personal mobile phones, if the business chooses to allow this functionality. For offices with mobile sales or support staff, this allows for further consistency of presence in a time where even the smallest businesses are expected to provide an impeccable customer experience.
Feature-Rich Telephone Use
However, individual and business-wide benefits don’t stop at VoIP’s elevated scalability and mobility. By consolidating communications into the computers employees utilize daily, SMBs can utilize a combination of intended features and naturally occurring side benefits that stem from this marriage of technologies.
One such benefit, the ability to engage in a call from a computer and simultaneously perform other tasks from the same device, is decidedly useful. You’ve likely seen this during web-based conferences, where presenters talk as they navigate to shared-screen web pages, draw charts, and perform other actions. How much harder would this be if the presenter had to cradle a phone to her ear with her shoulder at the same time? How badly would the call quality suffer if she handled the talking from a speaker phone?
Obviously, this simple advantage can equate to a big boost in productivity. That’s especially true for remotely distributed teams, members of whom may need to talk to colleagues while using both hands to operate the computers they’re working from.
In terms of intended features, remote teams may also see big benefits from intended features such as presence notification and VoIP call recording. For instance, leadership could use presence tools to confirm attendance before sending out invites and use the recording feature to capture another member’s technical advisement.
SMBs do best when their tools offer simplicity, flexibility, and utility. VoIP technology offers all three in buckets. In a business technology climate where innovation tends to come in small increments, the tech’s built-in features and ability to mesh with existing processes is perhaps best described as “deceptively disruptive” — a step or three toward better-integrated, more productive communications for every location in a company’s stable.
Is your phone system flexible enough to work with your team, or is it falling behind? Speak to a Vonage Business representative to see what VoIP technology has to offer.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. If you’ve ever worked in an office environment, this saying really hits home — despite evolution in form, many offices leverage fundamental technology to perform key functions and meet business needs. In other words, old tools and tech are prevalent in offices around the world, for better or for worse.
Here’s a look at six still in use today:
1. Faithful Fax Machines
You read that right. The “beeeee-owwwwww-chkchkchkchkc” sound that haunts your nightmares isn’t gone from corporate culture, it just took on a new form to meet emerging demands. While original versions of the classic fax machine came with a limited capacity to connect and no one could ever quite remember whether the paper was supposed to go in upside-down, print-first, or with a cover page to satisfy the wrathful gods of document dissemination, new iterations elevate the execution but keep the core idea.
Electronic fax solutions let you easily scan or select a document from your computer, then send it to a fax-specific phone number or email address. Either way, the document shows up in email inboxes rather than producing reams of poorly toned paper. Better still? No busy signal. Ever.
2. Dutiful Desk Phones
Ah, the desk phone. Where would Hollywood films about corporate greed be without these unwieldy telecom tethers for protagonists and villains alike to shout at and violently slam down? Here’s the thing: While the form factor has changed slightly to reflect new aesthetic expectations, most companies still outfit the bulk of their workforces with standard desktop telephones. It makes sense: They’re cheap, convenient, and easy to manage. Better yet? New Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) solutions make it easy for companies to shift from traditional copper telephone lines to digital alternatives, allowing them to easily add new lines, forward calls, and opt in mobile devices. Long live the desk phone!
3. Predictable Printers
Of course printers are still a thing. Despite pushes to eliminate paper in many offices, there’s always a need to have hard copies on hand. And honestly, some companies just love having rooms and rooms stacked with full-to-bursting file cabinets.
Basic office printing actually got its start in 1938 thanks to dry ink, static electricity, and flashes of light. Xerography (and eventually print juggernaut Xerox) was the result, and thus began the mad rush toward inkjet and laser printers used around the world. Today, high-speed, low-waste printers are the norm in most offices, but there’s also a real uptick in 3-D printing as this technology goes down in cost and has more viable uses than printing tiny boxes or random pieces of “art.” On the “that’s crazy” side of things, CNet noted that Dubai recently 3-D-printed an entire office building. Okay, guys, maybe settle down a bit?
4. Perennial “Post-Its”
In 1968, a chemist at 3M accidentally created a low-strength adhesive sticky enough to hold but weak enough to be repositioned multiple times. No one cared. However, a church choir member frustrated by too-slippery bookmarks changed everything. Today, Post-It® Brand Notes remain a huge part of office culture — beyond the classic canary-yellow squares, there are bigger versions, tiny tabs, and a host of Post-It paraphernalia. Do they really improve productivity and help meet business needs? Maybe! Are they everywhere? You bet!
5. Cameras and Calculators
No matter the office, no matter the business, you need a camera and a calculator. Pocket calculators are classic desk decorations, while cameras were typically kept by management for special occasions, such as the office holiday card or a bit piece in the local paper. And while film cameras (sorry, Kodak®) along with classic calculators have largely vanished from common culture, they’re not really gone. They’ve just taken on a new form: mobile devices. Every staff member now carries around a powerful computing device-and-camera in one, making it easier than ever to snap a photo or do the math while simultaneously sparking debate about the intersection of social discourse and business use. Speaking of which…
6. Mercurial Mobiles
According to Office Xpress®, the first business-related mobile phone call was made in 1973 from a Motorola® in New York City to Bell Labs in New Jersey. And for 30 years, mobile tech advanced largely outside the workplace — although thanks to the ’80s for those hilariously bad super-brick phones that C-suite executives in suspenders liked to shout into at fancy restaurants — until touch-screen smartphones went from science fiction to reality.
Now, companies are deep in the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) deal, trying to figure out where personal and business mobile use collide and where they should stay separate. No matter the ultimate answer, mobile is here to stay, and for many companies, that means rolling smartphones into a solid VoIP plan rather than trying to manhandle mobile into something resembling corporate compliance.
If you have an office, you’re likely using old tech and tools to meet current business needs. Fortunately, there are ways to upgrade these tried-and-true pieces of tech to improve your efficiency — and up your coolness factor.
Ready to learn more about implementing new versions of time-tested tech? Touch base with a Vonage Business consultant.