One of the questions we are regularly asked by clients is whether they should move to a cloud-hosted phone system.
People are often sceptical of progress, how’s this for a prediction in 1876? “The telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
Those words were written by a Western Union employee and, as forecasts go, it was pretty awful.
Not quite as bad though as one by the chairman of IBM, Thomas Watson, in 1943, who said “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
Not only has the telephone stood the test of time, it has continued to evolve and adapt to new technology. The convergence of telephony, IT and the cloud is one recent development that is having a big impact on how phone systems are hosted.
Traditionally, a company’s telephone system was a private branch exchange (PBX) located in a small room full of wires. But the cloud has opened up a new possibility; cloud hosted PBX systems. Below we look at the pros and cons of each.
Hosted phone systems are usually charged on a monthly per-user basis. This can appear pricey when compared to a private PBX. After all, once you have bought your PBX there is no further cost until you have to upgrade the hardware or pay for additional software. If only life was so simple.
What happens if your PBX fails or there are compatibility problems that mean your software has to be upgraded? What if there is a spike in staff numbers and the system has to be expanded at short notice? This could entail unexpected capital expense the business isn’t prepared for.
When there are no unforeseen events, your own PBX can seem better value. But hosted systems can be budgeted for with certainty and aren’t prone to unpredictable costs.
All businesses go through peaks and troughs. Hosted systems give you the flexibility to add or remove users when required. This is not always the case with physical PBX systems, where you may be limited by capacity or delayed by the need for complex programming. Another cloud hosting advantage is that it doesn’t matter where your new users are located. They could be at different offices or even at home and they can still be added to the system.
One big challenge for some companies is integrating telephone systems across several locations. This can involve trying to dovetail disconnected systems of different ages and capabilities, even manufacturers. A hosted system overcomes this. Every location is effectively on the same system and upgrades happen simultaneously. One way to deal with this problem for companies with multiple locations, is to phase into the cloud. Locations can be added as a PBX reaches the end of its useful life.
Technological progress never stops. Hardware and software upgrades are unrelenting as products continue to rapidly improve. Therefore, keeping in line with industry standards can be a challenge. You may be able to get by using old hardware, but this can lead to software compatibility issues. You need to keep a keen eye out all the time to make sure you are not being left behind.
Hosted PBX systems take this headache away. You never need to be concerned about your hardware becoming obsolete and software upgrades are included in what you pay.
As we wrote about in our blog, BYOD – the good, the bad and the risky, BYOD has become unstoppable. Employees are demanding the flexibility that smartphones and tablets offer. And, they expect a seamless transition between their devices and their equipment at work. This poses huge challenges for IT departments.
Most people upgrade their smartphones every couple of years, which means there is a constant battle to support employees’ devices.
Hosted providers use the benefit of economies of scale to offer solutions to common compatibility issues. This has resulted in cloud-hosted systems being the especially popular with companies that have embraced BYOD.
If you have your own physical PBX you will need someone on hand to maintain it. This gives you support as and when you need it, which can be comforting when you have a problem.
Against this, you have to balance issues such as whether the person responsible has sufficient time (if they are also doing other things) and technical expertise, as well as what happens if they are on holiday or off sick.
By contrast, a cloud-hosted system will be maintained and supported by the provider. They will have the technical expertise to deal with outages, carry out software upgrades and deal with compatibility issues.
It’s a fact of life that things go wrong. To ward against this, some companies spend huge amounts on things like fault tolerant infrastructure, dual-powered cooling equipment and multiple independent distribution paths.
That way they are protected if something happens beyond their control. But this isn’t practicable for many companies.
With a cloud-hosted PBX, part of what you are paying for is reliability. It’s the provider’s job to monitor the equipment and take the necessary precautions to make sure your systems keeps humming along, day in, day out.
It’s in the nature of disasters that they are hard to predict. The chances are you won’t be affected by one. But you might. If you are, and your business is flooded or destroyed, your phone system could end up be under water or somewhere in the rubble.
Not so if you are hosted in the cloud. Your system and settings are all set up and ready to be reconnected, as and when you are ready.
To discuss our range of PBX telephone systems, virtualised PBX and hosted telephony, please call us on 0800 316 7566.