Using Internal Chat for Your Business

Internal chat apps have quickly become a must-have communication tool for businesses. If your business communications are still centered on email, or your team is using personal Skype, Google Hangouts or social media accounts to chat internally, it’s definitely time to get a team chat app.

I saw this article on the Broadview Networks blog. Since I am seeing a lot of private chat apps come out with various providers, I enjoyed the read. It was written by Nicole Yeager. Nicole is the Marketing Communications Specialist for Broadview Networks, a top 10 UC cloud provider in the nation, where she enjoys writing about the latest technology and cloud products businesses can leverage to maximize productivity, improve security and reduce costs.

Chat apps build a stronger working relationship amongst your employees, especially if your business operates in different locations or employees are on-the-go. The ability to chat in real-time increases productivity and builds a forum for your employees to feel comfortable sharing ideas.

Chat allows employees to share information effectively, while minimizing the disruption of work environments.  Employees who use chat are able to instantly engage with colleagues while on calls with customers or in meetings. As we all know, our email inboxes are inundated and emails typically cannot be answered immediately. Chat, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to send a brief message and provides a quick and easy method for others to respond.  Employees are able to successfully communicate at the touch of a button–eliminating the time needed to run messages across the office.

Team chat apps are perfect for customer facing and sales departments and improve the quality of service. Employees who are on calls with customers can seek assistance from their colleagues in seconds to provide more prompt and accurate service to their customers.

There are plenty of chat apps on the market to choose from, but it’s important that the platform you choose meets all of your needs and works across all platforms, anything less is sub- standard. For the best user experience and to accelerate adoption, make sure your chat app works on desktops; either as a standalone app or from the web or both, as well as having apps for Apple and Android phones and tablets. Broadview’s MyOfficeSuite application offers a unique integration of an entire communication platform: online presence, click-to-call extension dialing and company-wide chat functionality in one and is available on nearly every device you own.

Whichever chat application you choose, be sure that it offers cross-platform functionality to unify and simplify your communications across departments and your entire organization, no matter which device your team is using. This will allow you to keep you communications in one place for optimal efficiency and connectivity.

 

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5 Pain Points Found in SMB VoIP Deployments

Sometimes small and medium-sized businesses focus too much on cost and not enough on deployment details.

In deploying VoIP, small and medium-sized businesses often experience pain points in five critical areas, Adtran found in examining its Custom Extended Services deployments. The troubles crop up for a variety of reasons, from poor equipment choices to shoddy installation work.

Is Somebody Managing the Switch?
Large enterprises may take managed networks for granted, but to many SMBs the concept of a managed switch doesn’t take hold until comparing a $119 stripped-down appliance lacking in features and performance to a fully managed switch appliance costing $1,000 or more. Throw in Power over Ethernet (PoE) and associated costs, and many SMBs will ask, “Why should we pay so much for a switch?”

In the answer to that is an old problem: value-added resellers (VARs) installing cheap retail solutions. While these “trusted” partners initially may garner kudos for providing low-cost deployments, they aren’t really helping their customers in the long term. Unfortunately, issues will eventually surface for any number of reasons, including when customers attempt to deploy VoIP, call recording, or a local server supporting voice recognition. Trying to troubleshoot a LAN without managed switches is akin to chasing your tail — and this can become very costly as VARs bill for time and material.

When installing managed switches back in the mid 1990s, we used to tell customers they had 10 days to cancel their orders. None ever did, because the managed switches resolved the target issues; business owners place value on solutions that address their problems.

During this same era, we had arguments with plenty of IT and non-IT people about ripping out hubs and replacing infrastructure with managed switches. Today, the argument spills over to managed vs. non-managed, with the inaccurate but deep-rooted perception that a switch is just a switch.

Got Enough Capacity on That LAN?
Insufficient bandwidth certainly impacts SMBs with streaming video requirements, but a sluggish switch is going to bog down performance for low-bandwidth applications, too. An unmanaged switch is going to allow havoc to occur on that customer network, and the ability to isolate core problems greatly diminishes.

When these off-the-shelf unmanaged switches are uplinked to other retail appliances, problems compound. “A switch is just a switch” — well, no, it’s not. This argument from the IT perspective isn’t only lame, it is ill founded. How much backplane bandwidth a switch supports matters just as much as which features it includes.

Making cost the key consideration is where many SMBs err. They shouldn’t be evaluating on price alone, but factoring in considerations such as productivity and ability to operate on a network with a degree of consistency. A user experience that involves constant rebooting as a “fix” is not a good one. A managed network can boost productivity, streamline business processes, and improve customer relationships.

You Really Think Your Cabling Infrastructure Is Ready?
In some cases, Adtran found that SMBs thought their cabling infrastructures were ready when they weren’t. It would find, for example, that materials in use were not appropriate for the type of job or environment. With such errors comes problems like reverse polarity; in general, shoddy work on cabling infrastructure can end up costing an SMB in repairs and lead to lost revenue and even lost customers. Yet, it’s totally avoidable.

portable

Sometimes I find cabling infrastructure that’s not just not ready, but a mess of old and new layers of cabling added in over the years. Different contractors touching the cable plant coupled with bad work or inferior or misaligned products spell trouble.

One of my favorite cabling anecdotes involves the men’s room of a certain establishment — its telephone connections are vulnerable and the work is shoddy. Even more importantly, who would hang a network interface over the men’s room door?

How Much Value Is in That Low-End Solution?
Customers cite the benefit of being able to log in to their IP/SIP telephone sets from anywhere in the world, but when it comes to logging into their LAN infrastructure locally or from any other location there’s a gap. Unmanaged LANs are troublesome and carry security and other risks. On the other hand, a managed switch can help an SMB meet compliance mandates and lock down the network and endpoint assets.

Many retail locations utilize low-end Wi-Fi to serve customers; however, these often uplink to unmanaged switches and a poorly secured LAN. These companies are putting themselves at risk and, when security issues arise, they disconnect and abandon the Wi-Fi. They utilize off-the-shelf products and, again, trusted partners or IT staffers throw in low-cost solutions that result in high-end problems.

The value of logging into a telephone is highly overrated; how often do employees really need this capability, and what are the real benefits of providing it? If the answer were to save on expenses for moves, adds, and changes, then I’d question that because most phones in most SMBs remain static for years or at least until there’s a turnover. Even then, some SMBs simply don’t manage or pay to manage these changes, and many users simply don’t care so long as they can utilize the desk phone for what they want to accomplish.

Got the Right Power?
Adtran found switch ports suffering damage and other issues caused by the use of local power supplies for endpoints. This timeless problem is completely avoidable, too. Local power bricks create the potential for a wired lightning rod of sorts. Investing in a centralized managed PoE switch that is power protected and backed up with an uninterruptible power supply pays off.

These issues are real, but some SMBs with whom I’ve engaged head on at times don’t fully understand the need to address them and the benefits in doing so — until they experience low latency and high availability after deployment. Adtran offers free pre-sales engineering services, including heat mapping for Wi-Fi deployments, and this should entice the many if not the few SMBs that move from off-the-shelf appliances and step into solutions that managed PoE switches offer.

Adtran has incorporated power protection into its Netvanta 1550 series switches to prevent damaged ports from the numerous transients that occur on LAN infrastructures. LANs and local power infrastructure married together equate to increased risk and loss from local power disturbances. Unless you mitigate those risks you will continue to have losses.

The was originally published on NoJitter. As a service to our readers-I thought to repost it here. Matt Brunk did a good job writing about this. Here is the link to the original post! http://www.nojitter.com/post/240170322/5-pain-points-found-in-smb-voip-deployments

 

Don’t Make these 5 Cloud Migration Mistakes

Don’t Make These 5 Cloud Migration Mistakes

The cloud has many benefits that countless businesses are taking advantage of today. But this convenience and efficiency doesn’t happen with a snap of your fingers. A smooth and smart cloud migration takes preparation. Here are five mistakes to avoid when moving to the cloud:

1. Assuming All Clouds Are Equal

Just as your business brings its a unique set of goals and requirements for moving to the cloud, each cloud provider has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. You can’t assume that a solution working for another business will automatically work for yours. There’s a wide array of providers and cloud services, so you need to choose the best one to fulfill your needs. You will go about the transition differently than the company next door.

Additionally, there are different cloud options, and you need to know which one(s) you want. Does your business need a private, public or hybrid cloud environment? Are you a small or large organization? Do you need IaaS, PaaS or SaaS? Different workloads mean different clouds! It’s definitely worth your business’ time to evaluate the options and make the most informed choice. The decision to move to the cloud isn’t just a yes or no one. It’s all about the “how,” “when,” and “which.”

2. Not Doing Your Homework

Yes, you have to do some work first!

Businesses commonly think that the first step to the cloud is searching outside the organization for a provider, but this skips a crucial personal evaluation.

Instead, you should first look inside your organization to identify your own needs, current environment and spending, usage, and hopes or expectations for the cloud. Only then can you move on and thoroughly research and identify providers that suit your business.

The perfect provider is one that lines up with your needs and goals. To determine this, reach out to multiple providers and be prepared to ask questions. What exact security measures do they have in place? Can they meet your compliance needs? How involved are they? What’s their specialty? The answers to these types of questions are key.

3. Moving Too Fast

It’s okay to start small! In fact, we recommend it.

Faster doesn’t mean better. There’s a difference between proactivity and rushing. In fact, moving too fast will likely result in unpreparedness. Take time to consider what makes the most sense in the cloud and be prepared from the get-go.

You can take a test drive by moving a non-critical application to the cloud that will still make a positive business impact, like a collaborative tool. Once you’re comfortable, confident and more experienced, it’s easy to repeat and eventually you can start taking bigger steps.

This calculated pace allows you to learn more about the cloud as you go, and drives consistent, positive change across your business.

4. Thinking It’s All or Nothing

Just as you don’t have to migrate all at once, you also don’t have to move all functionality to the cloud. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing! Some applications will make sense in the cloud while others might not be worth it. Always weigh the pros and cons of moving tools and resources into the cloud. Choose whatever makes sense for YOUR organization, and then you can develop the perfect cloud solution.

It’s helpful to prioritize the applications and tools that need to be moved, while considering if the move maintains cost efficiency, usability and security.

5. Not Doing Your Part

The relationship between a business and its cloud provider is an important one. While the provider obviously shoulders the majority of the responsibility, your organization still has to do its part.

You should have an internal team that develops your cloud strategy and ensures you are using the cloud in the best way possible for your business. It’s also important to communicate with your team and educate your employees on why the cloud move is happening. You might initially face resistance, but by demonstrating the benefits of the migration, the team will be more willing to learn about the new cloud services. Involve your employees in each step and keep them informed – this ensures a smooth transition and builds trust.

Additionally, security is up to both parties. The provider will certainly have hefty security measures in place, but you can take steps on your end as well. Make sure your users are creating secure passwords and you have policies in place in regards to personal device usage and data access. Setting these expectations will help keep your information safe.

The VO- Virtual Office- Evangelist

What is keeping you or your clients from setting up a virtual office? Are you searching for the benefits and drawbacks? Here are some thoughts that I have gathered from a variety of sources and from my own experience to frame the conversation:

Work/life balance. Working from a virtual office (VO), combined with a relatively flexible work schedule often gives the employee a healthy work/life balance. Yes, I know that sounds cliché, but you get to wake up with your children, feed them breakfast, get them ready for school, and sometimes do pick-up or drop-off. Then up a flight of stairs and you’re at work. If your kids need something (and your spouse isn’t available for some reason), they know they can knock at your office door and if you’re not on the phone, they can come in for a short interlude of family time.

Why are you still in a cube? So, why aren’t more people working from home? As Dave Michels wrote in a recent CIO Collaboration post, many employees and employers don’t even pause to think if virtual office might be right for their situation. I agree with Dave that many people are missing out on a great opportunity. Many of our clients have done quite well with VO employees and perhaps this is not just because they have an open mind about these things, but because we sell many of the communications solutions that make VO successful, which brings us back to the productivity question.

Engagement. There was an excellent blog by Scott Edinger in the Harvard Business Review last month about how remote workers are as engaged if not more than those who work in the office. You should give it a read as I won’t reiterate his excellent points here, but suffice it to say that when the supervisor and employee are not in close proximity, they consciously work at their communication, resulting in more engagement. I have found regularly scheduled 1:1 meetings are crucial. I meet with all of my direct reports for at least 30 minutes every week. For the rest of my organization, I meet individually with them every other month. Sometimes we talk about work, other times about family or sports. What you talk about matters less than the fact that you are talking. Don’t make this your only opportunity to talk every week, but having time set aside makes sure you really connect.

Communication Tools. As Scott wrote in his HBR post, having the right tools are crucial to making that communication happen regularly. While you can get by with a solid audio connection, video is becoming a huge benefit for VO employees. I’m lucky in that at Prime we have a variety of tools to make working remotely successful. Here is a list of what I use (in addition to my standard desktop software):

  • iMeet video conferencing– a great tool for setting up your own personal meeting room for voice and video conferences -which also allows me to see who is on a conference call and who is speaking.
  • Plantronics CS351N headset with enough range to get to the kitchen for lunch
  • S-NET Glo-com software– for our hosted phones- we can chat securely, see who is on the phone and share one to one video.
  • Allworx Call Assistant– gives me virtual control of my office phones – just like a receptionist would have. I can see what anyone and everyone is doing.

Face Time. Another helpful tip that I’ll share is that whenever you stumble upon a colleague’s picture (LinkedInTwitter, internal sites, etc.), attach it to an Outlook Contact (see here). This way, whenever you receive an email from them, you will see their picture, making it feel more like a personal interaction. As an added bonus, when using an Avaya Flare client, those pictures transfer over, so you can see their pictures for phone calls as well.

Not for everyone. Don’t assume that a very productive employee in an office will remain so at home. VO is a great fit for experienced information workers that spend a good deal of time on the phone with others, especially if those others are geographically dispersed. If an employee is new to the role and/or need access to physical equipment or people, this won’t work. A certain discipline is needed in order to stay focused on work when there are increased distractions (family, television, video games, etc.) The individuals’ personality and work-type must match up to ensure the employee can continue to meet or exceed his/her objectives

The Office in Home Office. Yes, I know, you have a laptop, a smartphone, and a Bluetooth headset. That does not make you a one-woman-home-office. A coffee shop or your kitchen table while the kids play in the next room over will not be successful long term. Get yourself a quiet room with a door (ex. guest bedroom). The room doesn’t have to be office-only 24×7, but during work hours, nothing else should be taking place there. Besides, you don’t want to be the person on the conference call with the dog barking, or worse, “Daddy! I’m all done pooping and peeing!!” (Did I mention my Plantronics headset has a very handy mute button on it?)

Don’t forget your agents. While I have focused on my own experience as a knowledge worker using Unified Communications products, working from home is also a great option for Contact Center agents. I work with a telemarketing employee  of ours in Cleveland and I know that we value our home agents. She is more productive, works harder and better- which is the standard result for successfully deployed home agents. Kay Phelps,  has written a number of articles about these Home Agents, so please go give her a read.

In summary, if I were writing an online review of a product, I’d sum up Virtual Office as:

4OutOf5Stars Amazing, but not for everyonePros:

    • Great work/life balance
    • No commute transportation costs (gas, tolls, car, auto insurance/repairs, etc.)
    • Significantly reduced wardrobe expenses
    • No downtime needed between meetings
    • Positive environmental impact

 

Cons:

  • No after-work camaraderie over drinks
  • More self-reliance for IT and office supply needs
  • Discipline needed by the employee and those they live with

I know I’m not the only VO evangelist out there. So, let me know what you think. Living the dream? Did you try VO and it was a fail whale? Desperate to break out of your cube and into your sweatpants? Drop a note in the comments below.

 

Key Trends Redefining Unified Communications

Defining Unified Communications (UC) has always been a bit of a moving target. And that’s made many people wonder if they really need it.

In the beginning, UC often meant things like being able to see your voicemail and e-mail together on a PC.  Or having software you could put on your PC to control your phone and directory. The operative initials were as much PC as UC.

Now Unified Communications is being redefined. Mobile devices are a big part of what’s bringing about the change. Collaboration technologies are part of it. And so are improvements in the underlying communications infrastructure—IP, SIP, 4G and more.

Here is a quick guide to where UC is now and why these changes are making UC a smart choice for almost any business. Also, to see a good example of UC in action, take two minutes to watch this solutions video located on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gw_mwruTPVk&list=PL61568CCB0826DEE2&index=32&feature=plpp_video

IP and SIP: The “unified” part of UC has always been primarily about getting your phone and computer to work together using the Internet-based IP and SIP protocols. This made it possible to have your PC and your phone on one network. But the bigger benefit was that a phone call itself was now able to be handled as a digital file (i.e., like an e-mail.) Just as you can easily have one e-mail go to multiple addresses, you can have calls go to multiple devices and numbers: business phone, mobile and home phone. Just as you can have dozens of people on an e-mail chain, you can have dozens of people on a conference call—without having to use a conferencing service. Just as you can easily manage different e-mail accounts, you can have multiple incoming lines for different segments of your business—a key way to create a better customer experience.  The benefits are substantial. That’s why sales of IP-based business systems grow in the double digits every year and are a driving force behind the UC revolution.

UC Apps: Everyone loves their mobile phone, in part thanks to all of the mobile apps that are now available. You can use your mobile to check the weather, do your banking, find a movie, etc. Now you can also get a UC app. Avaya has one (see it in action at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq3duSQFU5o) It lets you tightly integrate you mobile phone and your office system: Manage your office directory. Set up conference calls. Make a call directly from a text. Getting the right app to marry your mobile phone to your office communications system is a major step forward for UC.

Collaboration: This is one of the hottest buzz words in business today. In fact, the terms “unified communications” and “mobile collaboration” are often used interchangeably. They are both all about bringing the right people together with the right information in the right context. “Presence” is a big part of this.  Having presence capabilities let you see at a glance who in your organization is available and how to reach them quickly.

Video: Today, anyone with an Internet-enabled device, a webcam and free software can make a video call to almost anyone else in the world. It’s estimated that more than a third of Skype-to-Skype calls now include video, with peaks as high as 50 percent during the holidays. This rapid spread of video calls in the personal, consumer market is driving the growth of video in business. Also, the SIP standard provides capabilities that simplify how video integrates and connects, opening the way to regular use of video with the same ease as voice and messaging communications. Businesses are also discovering that the smart use of video conferencing can give you new levels of flexibility in partnering, assembling teams and competing for top, full-time talent. For all of these reasons, video is becoming a larger part of the UC equation. We also have a service called iMeet on our website- that makes business class video conferences easy and extremely affordable.

We  have  a wide range of resources on our website www.primetelecommunications.com  that look at all aspects of UC—where it is today, and where’s it’s going.