Chris Potts, Marketing Director at Buckinghamshire based reseller ANT Telecom, examines the impact that a loss of telephone services can have on a company and how telephony can play a major role in delivering efficiency, productivity and customer loyalty. But if companies are to deliver the promise of unified communications, telephony must be integrated into companies’ data networks and business continuity plans, rather than the languishing as the poor relation of IT strategy.
Maintaining business continuity is widely acknowledged as a priority for all professional organisations. In the digital age, where business communications are carried out across a variety of channels, the dependability of a company’s telecommunications infrastructure is vital to its long-term well-being. As a consequence, the ongoing development and implementation of Disaster Recovery plans that prepare companies for unexpected technical failure are both important and commonplace. But does corporate attention on Disaster Recovery place a disproportionate focus on IT resilience and maintaining the data network? With the telephone still regarded as the primary business communication tool, why is it that many companies still fail to integrate telephony into their Disaster Recovery plans? The financial and operational implications of telephone outage on business performance are huge. Conversely, the integration of leading-edge telephony systems into companies’ wider data networks not only offers major efficiency and productivity gains, it is also simple to implement and highly cost-effective. Building redundancy and resilience into your telephony system is therefore critical. That way, if the unexpected happens or disaster strikes, your IT department is off the hook – but your phones don’t have to be.
Caller waiting: counting the cost
The potential impact of a loss of telephone service on businesses is significant. During the course of a typical year, most companies experience temporary failures in their telephone system. In more severe cases – often brought about by extreme weather, roadworks or terminal equipment failure – organisations can find their staff unable to get into the office meaning that business grinds to a halt. Although the cost to individual organisations is largely unquantifiable, the absence of telephone communications can have a considerable effect on efficiency and productivity and, even more damagingly, a detrimental impact on customer service, brand reputation and, of course, sales revenues. But in the mobile age, the situation is totally avoidable if telephony is made an integral part of the data network – bringing office connectivity to all employees regardless of their location.
With such a lot at stake, companies could perhaps do more to ensure that business continuity strategies pay due consideration to telephony. Primarily, a change in culture may be required.
In the past decade, as the trend towards downsizing has gathered pace, responsibility for business telephony has shifted from the traditional Telecoms Manager to companies’ IT departments. But some IT staff still consider the telephone system to be separate from the data network and believe its management falls outside of the IT remit. As such, IT departments often fail to take a strategic approach to implementing telephony systems that match business needs. This means that many companies are not only exposed to the catastrophic implications of telephone downtime, they are also failing to recognise the added-value that leading-edge telephony systems can provide as part of a unified communications approach.
Perhaps another reason why many businesses fail to lavish the same attention on the humble telephone system as they do to other aspects of IT infrastructure is the perceived reliability of telephony. The telephone system rarely fails. But this apparent reliability risks an organisational complacency that can hold back business progress and, worse still, inadvertently perpetuate inefficiency. Crucially, when telephony does fail, the knock-on repercussions are severe. The importance of stitching it into your disaster recovery plan is therefore critical. But why wait for failure before taking action?
Companies typically invest in telephony every seven years. The drivers for change are common; most notably when a service level agreement has expired or extra capacity is required. But, with the impact of downtime so severe, building resilience and protection should be reason enough to consider making improvements.
Better connected: benefits of telephony
Beyond the obvious benefits of strengthening disaster recovery, updating the telephone system provides a great opportunity for companies to take advantage of additional functionality that can have a powerful effect on business performance. Telephony goes well beyond the traditional switchboard.
Today’s systems are designed to support the emerging challenges of the modern business environment. In an era where mobile technology is facilitating a rapid increase in remote working, telephony systems must also adapt to the rising incidence of employees bringing their own mobile devices to work. How are businesses ensuring that this practice is integrated into their telephony systems to deliver seamless communications? Likewise, in a global economy, videoconferencing is becoming an increasingly accessible and cost-effective way of managing internal and external communications ‘virtually’ – reducing the expense of business travel and improving organisational productivity.
Moreover, telephony systems that are integrated into the data network can provide powerful informatics to help companies manage their customers more effectively. Customer Relationship Management tools have become a key component in nurturing effective client relationships – but telephony can also play its part. Most old telephone systems rarely allow businesses to monitor in-bound call activity so that they are able to identify and process calls from key customers quickly and efficiently. This inability can have a negative impact on the customer experience and lead to poor customer retention. But this is wholly avoidable. Modern telephony applications can generate real-time data to help improve customer contact and empower employees to process calls intelligently. This allows management to monitor call trends, resource call centres optimally and manage operating costs more efficiently.
An engaged tone
To maximise the opportunities, companies could benefit from taking a more strategic approach to the development and management of telephone systems – and integrate telephony into their wider unified communications strategy. This will require greater collaboration between IT and stakeholders across a company, to identify business requirements and departmental needs – and establish how telephony can play its part in helping to meet them. More effective engagement between IT staff and individual departments can lead to the development of holistic telecoms systems that respond to authentic drivers for change and meets businesses’ strategic objectives. In addition, companies that recognise the benefits of partnering with a trusted telecoms advisor to help identify key business requirements and develop solutions to address them, will ultimately be better-placed to succeed.
But irrespective of companies’ specific strategic needs – and the functionality enhancements that can help to deliver them – the most fundamental business requirement is that of business continuity. Resilience is not an option, it’s an obligation. In an increasingly mobile marketplace where the value of effective communications is high and the importance of customer service is even higher, the price of telephony failure is significant. Unnecessary and avoidable telephone downtime can have a highly destructive influence on organisational efficiency and productivity, as well as a negative impact on brand reputation, customer retention and long-term profitability. As global businesses cry out for robust disaster recovery plans and unified communications powered by sophisticated technologies, the traditional telephone could, quite literally, be well placed to answer the call. The decision to invest in telephony solutions that are aligned with modern business needs can no longer afford to be put on hold.