Business Phone Systems? Don’t Trust Just Anyone.

When it comes to business communications and modern phone systems, there are plenty of options to consider–so many that it can get overwhelming (See: Looking for a New Business Phone System: 10 Terms to Know). As a business owner, you are making an important investment in your future and the future of your employees. How do you choose the right phone system, and perhaps more critically, how do you choose the right communications provider? To answer the first question, check out “Mitel Business Phone Systems: Which One is Right for You?“. To answer the second question read on.

Top 5 Qualities to Look for in a Business Phone System Provider

1. Confident and knowledgeable about the products they sell. Many business communications companies leave it entirely to the consumer to research, compare and learn the ins-and-outs of a new business phone system. These companies act like little more than a middle man for phone system manufacturers and place little stock in the products. Choose a provider that loves what they do and is passionate about what they’re selling.

2. Offers reliable ground support. What’s the use of spending a great deal of money on a new phone system if installation and user training is disjointed and sub-par thanks to a provider headquartered across the country or even overseas? System installation, training, maintenance and repair should be a breeze for the client. Choose a provider that is geographically close and makes IT support top priority.

3. Provides knowledge and expertise in the broad spectrum of business communication issues. These days, a company’s communication strategy is anything but simple. The phone system is tied to the Internet service is tied to the cloud is tied to the private network is tied to the cabling.….you get the picture. Choose a provider that understands and is able to address the complex mechanics of the latest advancements in information technology.

4. Understands local challenges and circumstances facing your business.  Much like using a communications company with on-point ground support, we recommend joining with a local or regional company to manage your communication needs. Choose a provider that knows what you’re up against and can integrate that knowledge into its technology recommendations.

5. Is as invested in your company’s success as you are. Pretty self-explanatory. Choose a provider that does more than drop a phone system in your lap and collect their money. Choose a provider that wants to see your company grow, evolve and come out on top.

At BCS Voice and Data Solutions, our mission is “to provide our clients consulting, hardware, and services that maximize the value and effectiveness of their business technology,” and to do so with the previous five qualities constantly in mind. If you are in Hampton Roads, Virginia or the Mid-Atlantic region and are in the market for a new business phone system, unified communications solution, or IT support and outsourcing, contact us today.

Image: freedigitalphotos.net

The Three “H”s of VoIP Productivity

You may turn back the clocks this weekend, but that doesn’t mean you should turn back the clock on your approach to business communications. Technology in this industry is always changing, and falling behind could mean the difference between efficient productivity and lagging progress. VoIP and virtualized IP environments, for instance, have been adopted in recent years by the higher education, hospitality and healthcare fields. All three industries utilize IP communications to simplify once cumbersome processes.

Higher Education

Colleges and universities are full of bright minds, great ideas and data…a great deal of data. Rather than risk the loss of vital scholarship and student records, schools are widely transitioning to virtualized environments.

From Mitel: “A virtualized, IP communications environment enables educational institutions to run multiple operating systems via one physical machine—all of which can run on multiple servers. This way, if a blackout suddenly sweeps campus, the school’s IT administrator can access the central, physical machine via a remote server to ensure that all documents, projects and important files that were opened can be kept safe and restored.”

Hospitality

Last year we wrote about the success certain hotels have had with the implementation of VoIP technology. As the rise of mobile phones devalued hotel phone systems, hospitality managers transitioned to VoIP systems which allow users to make calls at a lower rate than the mobile provider’s. Read the full post here.

Healthcare

Efficiency and accuracy are important, especially when it comes to caring for people’s bodies and health.  This year, Cibola General Hospital in Cibola County, New Mexico,upgraded their Internet, data storage and phone services to a VoIP based system. Cibola General is one of many small hospitals that have grown to recognize the value of cutting edge communications technology. According to Rick Smith, the IT director at the hospital, “We’ve dramatically improved performance with built-in redundancy, which means there are two points to get to the same data backup system…If we put in a whiz-bang system but the nurses and doctors can’t use it, then it’s of no value.” (Cibola Beacon).

We agree with Mr. Smith that IT is nothing if it’s not user-friendly. That’s why BCS is proud to offer extremely intuitive Mitel IP Business Phone systems, innovative VMware virtualization solutions and more. Call or contact us today to learn more about how VoIP can add value to your enterprise.

Image: freedigitalphotos.net/stockimages

This Halloween, Avoid Network Downtime

 

network downtime

Forget the boogeyman and the little vampire asking for candy at your front door. Few things are more chilling for a business owner than the prospect of network downtime and the costs associated with it. According to Continuity Central, the top causes of network downtime include, in order:

  • Hardware failure. Listed as the cause of a whopping 55% of SMB downtime. Corrupted cabling, power surges and other hardware problems are often unexpected and tend to stop business in its tracks.
  • Human error. We all make mistakes, but when those mistakes happen in the context of business there can be serious repercussions. Causes 22% of network failures.
  • Software failure. Viruses and outdated software (among other technical maladies) constitute the cause of 18% of network crises.
  • Natural disasters. While Continuity Central emphasizes that natural disasters only “comprise a mere 5 percent of actual causes of downtime,” many business owners know firsthand how devastating natural disasters can be. They are perhaps the scariest of the risks because they are most out of our control.
Network downtime costs businesses countless dollars as owners must compensate for disrupted processes, productivity losses, reputation management and even litigation.

 

So what steps can you take to ensure things stay up and running with minimal risk of network operations failure, no matter the cause?

  1. Inspect all critical hardware periodically. This means checking for frayed wires, replacing old equipment and keeping an eye on the Storage Area Network (SAN) for any signs of problems. When it comes to cabling, it may be worth it to call a structured cabling expert like BCS to ensure that cables are organized in a safe and beneficial way.
  2. Build an internal IT department or outsource tasks. The best way to minimize the risk of human error is to make sure that the humans using the technology are well-trained in its complexities. Depending on the nature and size of your company, you may prefer a specialized internal IT department or outsourced managed support. Keep in mind that even the most skilled staff is bound to make mistakes, but doing what you can to combat human error is better than doing nothing.
  3. Be proactive about software updates and continually investigate emerging technologies. Software updates often include important security fixes and efficiency improvements. Delaying or failing to update puts your entire infrastructure at risk of malware, viruses and general continuity issues. Accordingly, avoid getting complacent with applications that just aren’t “working” as well as they should and instead keep one eye open for potential alternatives.
  4. Prepare as best you can for natural disasters by creating an IT Disaster Recovery Plan. Much like working to prevent downtime caused by human error, avoiding downtime resulting from natural disasters is all about planning. Having an IT disaster recovery plan on hand can make the difference between simple data restoration and rebuilding the network from the ground up (read our advice for creating such plan here).
  5. Invest in 24/7 network monitoring. Detect problems before they make a costly impact with professional network monitoring. BCS offers remote management of each device and application in a network, self-healing automation for instant resolution of network issues, virtual machine management and more.
The prospect of network downtime is frightening, but it doesn’t have to get the best of you. Do what you can to plan ahead and let BCS do the rest. Call or contact us today.

The Risk of Relying on Consumer Cloud Storage Services

Stephen Pritchard of ITPRO believes that the consumer cloud is experiencing a crisis of confidence and that this has implications for businesses who elect to use certain cloud storage services. In reference to the Google downtime earlier this week and other recent consumer cloud shutdowns (Amazon/Netflix and Microsoft in particular), Pritchard says,

“Companies are increasingly allowing, or even relying on, the use of services such as Google Drive, or Microsoft’s Office365….If businesses use these services to store documents, or instead of desktop software, even a short outage can cause a real loss of productivity. If companies build business processes around services such as Google Drive, the impact reach[es] even further.” (ITPRO)

Even if the company doesn’t officially adopt consumer cloud storage services like Google Drive and Microsoft’s Office365, individual employees often find them convenient for easy document storage and collaborative work on a project-by-project basis. The use of these services by employees may seem harmless (or maybe a little reckless), but as we saw with the Google server issues on Tuesday, the unpredictable nature of the consumer cloud has the potential to stall important office operations.

Best Cloud Storage Practices

We don’t mean to shed any suspicion on cloud-based data storage as a whole, but rather to emphasize the superior security of enterprise-class cloud services, which can be tailored to the unique needs of each business. When it comes to the cloud, you really do get what you pay for. A business that deploys an enterprise-class cloud storage service on a private network enjoys far less risk of downtime and increased efficiency (especially when paired with 24/7 network monitoring).

It seems obvious that companies should refrain from depending on the consumer cloud storage services , but the issue presents a more nuanced choice for IT strategists: Should use of consumer cloud services be prohibited in-office on an individual basis? The challenge in answering this question is that it is nearly impossible to remove such services entirely. Instead, as Pritchard recommends, “…companies should look at improving their in-house IT to make it more attractive, or else invest in enterprise-grade cloud services, and promote their use.”

If your business is currently relying on consumer cloud storage services for data storage, don’t wait until major downtime hurts productivity and revenue to research your options for enterprise-class cloud services like VMware’s Private Cloud. And if a dated IT infrastructure is leading employees to opt for consumer cloud services, consider an upgrade.

Call or contact BCS to talk to IT experts about your company’s cloud options as well as network monitoring services and outsourcing. We are your IT department (if you want us to be)!

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

All About Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

The pros and cons of VDI. Is it right for your business?

First things first, let’s talk about VDI basics. An acronym that stands for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, VDI is a functional outflow of the client/server computing model. When enabled on a network, programs and applications on multiple computers connected to the private network deploy from the same central server.

VDI allows remote workers to access the virtualized corporate desktop from their own PC, laptop or mobile device as if they were working in-office.

BCS works with industry leader VMware to provide VDI services to our clients. This partnership puts clients at an advantage because VMware helped pioneer VDI as we know it today (they even coined the term!)

Here are the Top 4 pros and cons of VDI:

1. Pro: Supports Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) with less security risk than the traditional computing model.

Con: Requires the acquiring of new skills and knowledge on the part of the existing IT department or outsourcing to a VDI vendor.

2. Pro: Facilitates greater control of employee desktops while allowing for limited personalization on the employee’s part.

Con: Tasks IT staff with the sometimes difficult task of managing a hybrid desktop environment.

3. Pro: Greener and more efficient than traditional computing models. VDI preserves the life of hardware while simultaneously allowing hardware upgrades that are independent of the desktop image.

Con: Efficiency depends on skilled deployment of VDI and close monitoring.

4. Pro: Easy to make network-wide software updates. Instead of updating each physical desktop one-by-one, VDI allows IT staff to make software changes across the network with the click of a mouse.

Con: Because of the uniform nature of the desktop image, the user-experience may feel impersonal.

Most all of the “cons” associated with VDI deployment can be avoided by trusting a virtualization specialist like BCS Voice and Data Solutions to manage the service. Call or contact us today to learn more about VDI and other VMware virtualization solutions.

Images courtesy of: freedigitalphotos.net

Looking for a New Business Phone System? 10 Terms to Know.

When on the hunt for a new business phone system, navigating the waters of technical jargon can be exhausting, limiting and just plain frustrating. Whether you are thinking of investing in a cloud-based solution, a premise-based solution or even one of our used business phone systems to pair with your existing infrastructure, we’ve compiled ten key industry terms to help guide your search.

business phone system

  1. Auto attendant- a virtual receptionist that can run a phone system even in the event of network downtime. Directs callers toward their desired extensions and often has the capability, if the desired party is out of office, to direct said caller to the extension’s mobile device (see “mobile twinning”).
  2. Cloud-based business phone system-  Also known as a hosted phone system or hosted PBX (private branch exchange), a cloud-based business phone system stores all communications data wirelessly in the cloud. Requires subscription to a cloud-based VoIP PBX service like Mitel AnyWare and generally has fixed monthly charges on a per-user basis. Usually managed via a graphical user interface. (See: 5 Ways Hosted Telephone Solutions Can Help You Do Your Own Thing)
  3. Hosted PBX- See Cloud-based business phone system.”
  4. IP address- Internet protocol address. A series of numbers assigned to each device on a network. Can be either dynamic or static (fixed).
  5. Mobile twinning- A phone system’s capability to direct a call from a user’s desktop phone or softphone to his or her mobile device.
  6. On-premise PBX- Traditional Private Branch Exchange analog technology with hardware and connectivity maintained on site.
  7. On-premise IP PBX- Uses on-site SIP trunking to make calls and otherwise communicate over the Internet (VoIP). Communications costs vary month-to-month based on usage.
  8. SIP Trunking- Stands for “Session Initiation Protocol.” Acquired through an IP service provider, SIP trunking allows companies with IP-PBX phone systems to place calls outside of the office environment over the Internet.
  9. Softphone- Generally a Unified Communications client, a Softphone allows the user to place and receive phone calls from the desktop of their PC, just as they would from a desktop phone unit.  (See our recent product profile on Mitel’s MiCollab Client Softphone)
  10. Unified communications- Refers to the strategic integration of phone, instant messaging, video conferencing and other communication channels over the Internet through the private network.

Call or contact BCS to talk to an expert who can answer your questions about bettering your business’ communication potential. We’ll offer you advice, perspective and, most importantly, solutions.

 

image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Mitel Product Spotlight: MiCollab Client Softphone

Through our partnership with telecommunications leader Mitel, BCS is proud to offer the finest and most innovative business communications products available on the market. And since we see more remote employees add their talents to the workforce everyday, we wanted to draw attention to Mitel’s MiCollab Client Softphone: the perfect solution for “road warriors” who want to stay seamlessly connected to the corporate network wherever they are.

A ‘softphone’ offers the remote worker all of the features and utility of an advanced business phone right from their PC’s desktop.

The MiCollab Client Softphone, in conjunction with MiCollab Client (formerly Mitel Unified Communicator Advance (UCA)) pairs with both Mitel’s MiVoice Business and MiVoice Office via a secure network, making it a fantastic choice for offices that are already equipped with those IT platforms. It “lets users record calls on their computer, add customized ring tones, and configure HID-compliant USB devices through an intuitive user interface.” And not only that, but the MiCollab Client Softphone goes above and beyond the competition with instant messaging capability and real-time knowledge of when colleagues are available for collaboration on the corporate network.

Some key benefits of the MiCollab Client Softphone:

  • Keeps remote employees connected 24/7, no matter how far they are from the office.
  • Serves as the perfect companion to preexisting Mitel Unified Communications platforms.
  • Supports Mobile Twinning for the remote worker on the go.
  • Offers features that are not readily available on basic business phones like instant messaging, presence information and visual voicemail thanks to the MiCollab Client.
  • Fits the needs of companies who have ten employees as well as it fits the needs of companies with thousands of employees. It can grow with the business.

Not sure if a softphone is the best solution for your company, but still interested in upgrading your phone system? If all of your employees work in-office, take a look at Mitel’s extensive assortment of traditional IP button phones and feature-rich IP application phones (We will highlight some of those in the near future.) You are sure to find one that suits your needs, and if you have questions, call or contact the IT experts at BCS Voice and Data Solutions. We are excited to help your business streamline communication.

Tips For Implementing a Telecommuting Program

When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced in February that Yahoo employees could no longer work remotely, the internet went up in flames with opinions over the change. Some applauded Mayer for her leadership decision while others saw it as a regression to a corporate ethic of long hours at the office and a disrupted work-life balance. We maintain that while a telecommuting program is not right for every company or every employee, it can afford a great deal of benefits across the board when implemented correctly.

Telecommuting in the U.S. grew 73% overall between 2005 and 2011 (Global Workplace Analytics, 2011). It is estimated that over 3 million American workers did at least part of their job from home in 2011.

Employers who run telecommuting programs report happier, more productive employees. Not only that, but telecommuting can help both businesses and employees save money by cutting transportation costs, office overhead and childcare expenses. It’s all part of the Work 3.0 culture we’ve discussed so thoroughly in the past.

Could  telecommuting be right for your business? Take a look at these guidelines for developing a successful program.

Realistically assess your employees’ personalities and working styles.

While remote work is friendly to many company roles across a multitude of industries, understand that it simply isn’t for everyone. The ideal candidate is highly self-motivated, inquisitive and a team-player while in-office. If one or all of your employees don’t quite meet that criteria, a telecommuting program may fall flat.

Evaluate the tools you need to succeed.

Paramount to any functional telecommuting program is high-level communication between remote employees and the physical office. This requires special equipment that will vary in complexity based on the size of your business and its unique communications needs.

Two of the more basic necessary components are Unified Communications and video conferencing ability (check out Mitel UC360 for an amazing synthesis of the two). Both UC and teleconferencing enable instant productive collaboration between in-office employees and their telecommuting counterparts. It can also assist you in keeping them accountable.

Design a telecommuting policy and set the ground rules clearly.

How long must an employee work in-office before they can take advantage of the telecommuting option? How will you measure their work-time, breaks and overall productivity (weekly status reports, network monitoring, etc)? Are you liable for any at-home accidents during work hours?

These are just some of the elements of telecommuting that you need to consider, set in stone, and put in writing for your employees. Provide a mandatory in-office training session for all employees where you set forth company-wide expectations for telecommuters. When everyone knows the rules, they will feel more motivated to be part of the team.

Periodically evaluate productivity.

Like we mentioned before, you must set a standard procedure for monitoring the work activity of remote employees. Along with weekly status reports, an advanced Unified Communications suite is your best bet for ensuring that things stay business-as-usual whether your employee is down the hall or at their desk at home.

Stay on top of network security.

When employees are no longer under one roof during business hours, special attention should be paid to keeping the network, be it cloud-based or premises-based, safe and secure. 24/7 network monitoring, encrypted file sharing and the aforementioned ground rules can help make sure that your information stays protected.

Don’t rush into it.

As you can see, a telecommuting program brings with it a number of concerns and considerations that go beyond sending your employees home and hoping they continue to get things done. Take the time to plan, acquire the necessary technology and prepare your staff accordingly before jumping in.

BCS has the expertise and technology to facilitate a successful telecommuting program for your business. Whether you need Unified Communications, teleconferencing equipment or network monitoring, call or contact us today.

 image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Top 5 Ways Hosted Telephone Solutions Can Help You Do Your Own Thing

As a small business leader, we know that you don’t always (read: rarely) get to operate on your own schedule or make decisions that align perfectly with your ideal. That’s why a big part of our mission here at BCS is to bring you greater freedom in business communications with innovative things like Mitel AnyWare hosted telephone solutions.

Unlike premises-based IP business phone systems, hosted telephone solutions are closely managed and monitored off-site by experts and don’t require any expensive or complex hardware. We offer Mitel AnyWare hosted PBX to our SMEs and so many of these clients rave about the time and money they’ve saved as a result.

Here are the top 5 ways hosted telephone solutions can bring you freedom and help you do your own thing:

hosted telephone solutions

1. Choose your own phone system.

One of the greatest things about Mitel AnyWare is its compatibility with a wide range of IP-enabled phone systems. Mitel’s phones are a perfect fit with AnyWare, but you can likely use your legacy IP-enabled system too. This means that you are not required to purchase any extra expensive hardware in order to make the most of your hosted telephone solution.

2. Enable the UC softphone feature (if you want).

Want the world on your desktop? AnyWare works seamlessly with Mitel’s extensive Unified Communications suite, including the Unified Communicator Express Softphone, which affords you all of the feature-rich usability of a business phone right on your computer screen.

3. Be here…or there.

Much like the advantages that come with Softphone capability, AnyWare lets you take advantage of mobile twinning and auto attendant so you NEVER miss a call because you’re out of the office or the system is down. In this day and age, you shouldn’t have to be tied to a desk and you won’t be with a Mitel AnyWare hosted telephone solution.

4. Grow or shrink.

Your business may be small now, but what if in a few years it doubles or triples in size? Will you have to upgrade to a bigger, more complex, more expensive IP-based phone system? No, not unless you think it’s time for a change. The reason for this is AnyWare’s incredible flexibility. Add or subtract users as you see fit and it will only be reflected in a change in the fixed monthly fee. Which brings us to one of the bests ways in which Mitel AnyWare brings you freedom in business and in life….

5. Budget without guessing.

Rather than dealing with the stress of usage-based charges that fluctuate from month to month, Mitel AnyWare works for you for one fixed monthly fee. That way you will know what to expect and be able to invest confidently.

Go ahead and get excited about the freedom hosted telephone solutions can bring you. Call or contact BCS today to learn more about Mitel AnyWare hosted PBX and discuss your options.

Business Technology FAQ: What equipment does a VoIP business phone system require?

As a trusted hosted telephone solution provider in Hampton Roads, BCS is well-equipped to answer any question you may have about VoIP, Unified Communications, and more, because we’ve just about heard them all.

We get this one a lot from clients: “I understand that VoIP provides lower ongoing costs, but what equipment do I need to make it worth my while? How much do other system components drive up costs?” 

 

Here’s our answer:

First off, there are two approaches to VoIP — a premise-based system that doesn’t use an internet connection, and a hosted or cloud-based solution that does use the internet.  In either case you can use an IP-based business phone system.

 

Internet Connection and a Hosted or Cloud Solution

For hosted or cloud-based phone systems, a fast and reliable internet connection is its main requirement.  However, you don’t need to have a fast internet connection to take advantage of VoIP benefits within your office.  If you’re not sure if your network can support a hosted phone system, give BCS a call and we can perform a network analysis and help you select the best system for your current, and future, situation.

VoIP Business Phone System

If the situation calls for it, a business may not even need a phone system, since VoIP calls can be made from a desktop, laptop or mobile phone as part of a Unified Communications solution.

Newer systems are quite affordable, adaptable, and many are even more feature-rich than the leading analog-based business phones.  IP phone systems like the kinds Mitel offers through BCS grows with your business without the fuss of complicated installation and hardware rewiring.

 

Most of the costs incurred by switching to a VoIP business phone system pay for themselves over time, whether they are cloud-based or premise-based. With minimal ongoing maintenance charges, lower (or nonexistent) local and long-distance rates, and the flexibility of modern business phone systems, you’d be surprised how much you can save by upgrading.

Are you interested in discovering the VoIP phone solutions that are right for your business? Call or contact BCS today to learn more.