In business, using the cloud for voice has many flavours, and each approach can mean different things to different people. It’s no wonder there’s so much confusion! Hosted PBX? Cloud UC? Cloud Voice? If you’re looking to upgrade your existing Voice system, or add one for a new business location, you’re looking at a Cloud Voice Solution.
What does that mean? A “Cloud Voice Solution” is an internet-based service where the Voice, trunking, and feature set come from your provider. Users consume the service on a mobile device, a PC softphone or an IP desk phone.
1. How long does it take to deploy the service?
We have all come to love the click-to-consume model, allowing us to get a new service up and running quickly without waiting months to use it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. Be sure to understand the deployment timeline of the Cloud Service in your particular situation. In the Voice world, getting a new circuit would often cause delays in getting your phones ringing. You might assume that with a high-quality internet connection your new Cloud UC service will be up and running in a few days or weeks. The truth is that a Cloud service can take just as much time to launch as an On-Prem solution. A word of caution: If you are looking to take your phone numbers with you, a porting process is necessary. In Canada, porting can take as long as three weeks, depending on your existing carrier.
2. What happens when you lose connectivity to the Internet or Cloud?
What happens to customers calling in? Can your staff continue to make calls if the internet is down? In some businesses, this uptime is essential, needing 24/7 operations. Understand your backup options! If you need “always on” operations, it may be worth considering a hybrid approach with a local gateway. This would allow you to keep some local analog lines in the event of an outage, and 911 even while the Internet is down. An alternative approach is to consider a backup or a multiple-Internet or WAN connection.
3. Support and Development.
Ask the provider: is there a project roadmap for this particular Cloud Voice service? Are there Research & Development resources dedicated to the vision of the product? Can I see this published online? If the answer to these questions is “no”, then this probably isn’t the product for you. The features and services we use in the future will evolve, and you will want to ensure that your solution does too. Consider the Conference Call. At one time, the host had to dial every participant one-by-one. Today, we call in and enter a PIN and everyone easily joins together. You’ll want to consider a solution that evolves with your business and isn’t outdated the day you sign the contract. Cloud Voice will evolve – don’t get stuck with a solution for yesterday’s internet.
4. Data Residency & Resiliency.
This is a show stopper for many organizations. Ask the provider where the main data centre is. Actually, ask twice! Many providers have locations in Canada for failover purposes, but run the main service from the United States. If you do a lot of call recording, this could have further implications. Many companies opt for a Cloud Voice solution to cut downtime in the business, so find out if the provider is hosting in diverse locations. If regulatory compliance is a concern, get to know how your solution satisfies the regulations–and don’t make assumptions. Lastly, find out if your business needs data to reside in a specific territory due to regulations or contracts. It may also be worth finding out what kinds of data fall into this requirement. Perhaps the Audio portion of the call can’t leave a territory, but system administration data (employee names and phone numbers) can. The key thing is to get informed. As Ann Cavoukian (former Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner) once said: “you can outsource services, but you cannot outsource accountability”.
5. Multi-Tenant or Dedicated.
If you want control over which features are available to your team, or when services are upgraded,you may want to consider a Dedicated Instance. This means that the service you use is yours alone, like running a complete on-premise system in the Cloud. Multi-Tenant solutions offer customization too, but on a shared service. With Multi-Tenant, customization is usually limited and you don’t have as much control over integration with other applications or services. For example, let’s say you added a new CRM solution that is specific to your industry. It’s not one of the big 3, but you still need to integrate this CRM so your staff will automatically see account details when they get a call from that customer. With a dedicated instance, we can perform an integration like this, but you won’t find that flexibility with a Multi-Tenant service. Be sure to ask questions about the model that the service provider offers, what levels of customization are available, and at what cost.
6. Contract Terms.
Most associate Cloud with SaaS (Software as a Service), where they pay for services they use only as they need them, increasing or decreasing services at will to align with your needs. It’s important to note that some providers only allow you to scale + or – 10% over any given contract, or require you to sign another 1 to 3-year term when you add services. This is restrictive and does not reflect a true Cloud or SaaS offering. Do you know where your business is going to be in 3 years? Unless you have a crystal ball, you should consider a contract term over 3 years carefully.
Last but certainly not least, the number one concern is Security. Thankfully, we have a simple formula to get this one right. Is the voice path encrypted? If the answer is no, then there is no reason you won’t get hacked. At BrantTel Networks, we’ve seen many Canadian phone systems exploited due to a lack of security in place. When you connect your Voice system to a Network, understand the risks and best practices. Don’t ever consider using a system over the internet without encryption in place. Ask your provider about what encryption will be in place and understand the risks. This sort of mistake comes at a real cost, too. Charges related to your compromised system are always your responsibility even if you’re using a Cloud-based solution.
As you continue to research your options and strategic approach to Cloud Voice, remember these 7 things and you’ll have a huge head start. The gains and flexibility provided by the Cloud are incredible, but not every solution is ideally suited to every business situation. Rather than feeling stuck based on a particular vendor, take the time to come up with a plan that is ideally suited to your needs. We can help! Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or would like insight on moving your business into a Cloud Voice solution.
Frank is the Director of Sales & Technology of BrantTel Networks, a Canadian Technology Integrator and Cloud Solution Provider helping businesses undergo a digital transformation to help them succeed. A Technology Enthusiast who has always been intrigued by how technology powers transformation & how it evolves the way we engage. Also a proud husband & father.