19.07.16

Three Words of Advice for Changing Your Phone System

This month Foehn is publishing a ‘Top Tips’ guide to help the growing number of public sector organisations that have made the decision to move to a cloud phone system and want to ensure they get the most out of the financial and business benefits on offer. 

But what if you’re one of the hundreds of IT managers in the wider public sector that haven’t got that far and continue to stare at a clapped-out, Neolithic system knowing it needs replacing but thinking ‘Where on earth do I start?’. 

To help you break loose from this telecoms purgatory, James Passingham, chief technical officer at Foehn, offers three fundamental mega-tips worth considering before you get into the detail. 

Mega Tip 1: Get Your System out of the Office! 

The rise of hosted, managed and cloud systems, where the system is owned by a third party that offers access charged on a ‘per seat’ pricing model, has gained huge popularity amongst businesses that prefer to put their money to work in the P&L rather than incur capital expenditure. 

At the same time, you may hear suggestions that the extra-low interest rates of recent years have made outright purchase a better deal. Proceed with caution here. Remember, it’s not just hardware you’re paying for. Consider the cost of upgrades, maintenance and depreciation – all additional costs that a hosted pricing model normally includes in the monthly payment. 

Furthermore, hosting facilities at data centres employ the latest, state of the art network security, anti-virus software and data backup that normally require large upfront costs. The data centre building will also offer far greater protection and environmental control than your office, ensuring the physical protection of equipment, all backed up by business continuity systems and ‘redundancy’ to support disaster recovery.

Also, a hosted VoIP phone system will often include a service level agreement from the provider to ensure your communications run trouble-free. That said, the chances of technical problems with a hosted system are small because the equipment is always maintained at the highest, most up to date specification. Similarly, the system is managed by a trained and experienced support team, something that can be a challenge for a cash-strapped, business IT department. 

A hosted system also keeps you in control, usually equipped with a management console that lets you change configuration of the system, add or remove users, assign features to specific employees and monitor performance. In this way, you gain the upside of ownership, with management and control of services, but you don’t inherit the downside costs. 

The advent of the cloud as a reliable, secure and technically viable environment for application service delivery has taken hosted communications to a new level. Whilst delivering all the benefits of a hosted solution, the cloud is all about providing access to high performance applications and delivering on-demand services anywhere on any devices. The impact of the cloud on communications has also resulted in an explosion of productivity-boosting applications that use the versatility of the cloud to make integration simple. 

In this way, a cloud phone system gives you access to a platform that bristles with innovative features and integrates with the new exciting applications that appear on the market daily. This latent ability of the cloud to drive innovation is demonstrated well in the rise of cloud Contact Centres that have capitalised on the versatility and agility of cloud services to provide a vast array of features, such as scaling of contact centre resources to meet market conditions, integrating customer data with VoIP calls and linking multiple features to improve the customer experience. 

It’s exciting times in the cloud, with providers of cloud phone systems and contact centres building on their key advantage – ease of integration. For example, WebRTC is a feature that assists voice connection through web-based services. This is just one of many developments that are driving the latest trend to deliver voice communication from the application rather than from the device. 

Without doubt, cloud services are driving the development of VoIP for both telephony and contact centres. The good news for the public sector is that the cloud also offers the most affordable and flexible platform. The owner-managed, on-site PBX from the big-brand vendors may still be a valid solution for a minority of organisations but the tangible advantages of cloud and hosted alternatives are powerful. 

Mega Tip 2: Use G-Cloud – it works! 

G-Cloud has matured dramatically over the past 12 months, gaining greater attention and wider acceptance in the public sector community. That’s despite a few criticisms. 

For example, claims that sales through G-Cloud have been dominated by just 30 of the 650 participating businesses are probably correct. Less publicised, though, is the fact that many of those 30 companies are small to mid-sized businesses. Somewhat unexpectedly, the big multinational IT providers don’t monopolise the top three positions and, in fact, they only make a showing at fifth on the grid, thanks to IBM. 

In the past, around 40% of market share in the public sector has been in the grip of a half-dozen big players, including IBM, but times have changed. Reports suggest that these suppliers account for just 20 per cent of the services listed on G-Cloud and a smaller percent of the total contract value of deals purchased through the Digital Marketplace. 

When taking into account that G-Cloud was conceived to give the SME a level playing field, to allow competition with the big players for a share of the public sector pie, these results demonstrate success of the first order. No doubt IBM and others will be scoring with government deals outside G-Cloud, so it’s all the more reason that we should celebrate the disproportionate success of the G-Cloud SMEs. 

Another common misunderstanding, this time from the customer side, is that G-Cloud is dominated by Central Government bodies, distorting the year on year growth statistics and hiding the fact that local authorities and the ‘Wider Public Sector’ are somehow excluded from the benefits. 

The reality is that G-Cloud is mandatory amongst Central Government bodies and this accounts for the strong participation. The government’s list of  ‘Eligible Public Sector Bodies’ shows that the benefits are there for all of the 30,000 plus organisations, comprising an extensive range of services that include around 1,850 charities,  2,200 housing associations, 1,240 GP Practices and even 1,620 churches. 

Diversity and inclusion are not issues with G-Cloud. Lack of participation by the smaller organisations is more connected with the G-Cloud procurement process. This has been recognised by the head of the Digital Marketplace who has committed to a full review of users’ core needs, as part of G-Cloud 9, to streamline the process and increase appeal to the wider public sector. 

Our experience is that G-Cloud is thriving and looks set to evolve positively over the next 12 months, and that’s coming from a business that has lived and breathed G-Cloud for three years. More importantly, though, that’s also the opinion of our public sector clients. They will all tell you that G-Cloud was instrumental in identifying Foehn as the perfect match for their requirements and fulfilling the procurement process quickly and painlessly. For the thousands of public sector IT managers under pressure to reduce spend, minimise headcount and streamline operations, G-Cloud is the spark that can set the transformation engine in motion. 

G-Cloud is working. It’s taking cost and admin away from government bodies, it’s giving small businesses a route into the public sector and, boosted by demand for open source solutions, it is destined to evolve into an innovative and exciting ecosystem for buyers and sellers alike. 

Mega Tip 3: Keep Your Options Open with Open Source 

Twenty years ago Foehn pioneered the use of the open source Asterisk platform for cloud communications and it is now proving to be one of the big criteria for supplier selection in the public sector. Since then, Open Source has become central to the G-Cloud Initiative and Government ICT policy which states that public sector organisations should procure open source solutions at every opportunity. 

It’s cheaper, it makes integrations easier and it doesn’t tie you into proprietary vendor technology – an important issue that complies with the needs of government to be impartial and capable of changing vendor, to the benefit of publically funded budgets. 

Importantly, software developers also welcome the efficiency of programming. Open source projects are not tied to standards and can require less coding thanks to existing code made available by both the community and the bigger participating vendors. Quality of code is better too. Independent scrutiny by members of the open source community outside the organisation means code tends to be of higher quality. Also, it is human nature that a developer, knowing the code is going into the public domain, is likely to submit cleaner code. 

Development support is excellent and always available so skills can be learnt quickly, adding a dynamic and exciting dimension to the developer’s work. For this reason, open source generates a level of engagement and passion amongst developers that, in itself, drives faster results, better quality and more innovative results. 

Key advantages of Open Source include:

  • Continuous innovation

New features are being continuously developed and introduced by communities and software releases appear on a regular and frequent basis.

  • Quality Control

Open Source code is continuously developed by a massive global community of developers and is tested by a far larger community than proprietary software ever could be.

  • Simple Integration

Open Source software makes integrations simpler. Because the software works with open standards, it can easily integrate into external components.

  • Tangible Value

Open Source can add enormous value to an organisation, providing a product that has lower total cost of ownership, is feature rich, and tightly coupled with business processes and business systems. 

Taking the next step

Cloud, G-Cloud, Open-source. Hopefully, these three fundamental considerations will resonate with the requirements of your central, local or wider public sector organisation and offer some guidance for improving communications and the services you deliver.   

So what’s next? Take a look at our ‘Top tips for public sector organisations moving to modern IP Telephony’. 

We also have a series of case studies and videos in our Resource Centre, where our public sector clients explain how they’ve been there, done it and have the cost savings and operational improvements to show for it.

Comments

Sushant Parasher   20/07/2016 at 07:40

Great information!! Heading off to tweet it!! With the ability to integrate your business and communication applications, the growing need of VoIP is increasing day by day. Since, VoIP services are cloud hosted, this allows SMB's to saves a lot and better employ their resources in best way. Not only it helps businesses in cost-cutting but also offers many advance calling features at very nominal rates. For more benefits of VoIP technology, check out the another blog here http://www.therealpbx.com/blog/pbx-voip/5-voip-specialties-worthy-small-businesses

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