Presence technology boosts productivity, Gartner research shows

Recent research by Software Advice, a Gartner company, demonstrates that presence indication can provide a noticeable benefit in productivity. The full article drills down into a number of intriguing conclusions:

  • 21 per cent of respondents report that presence technology moderately or significantly boosts staff productivity.
  • Over 80 per cent feel that presence either isn’t distracting at all, or is only minimally distracting.
  • 75 per cent of respondents list decreased call/e-mail volume as a top benefit of the technology, and 66 per cent say it improves question resolution times.
  • Nearly every respondent (98 per cent) reported some level of benefit from presence technology, with many reporting they’ve noticed multiple benefits.
  • Below are some of the charts generated during the survey.

    Significantly More Employees Report Productivity Increases Than Decreases


    Distractions Caused by ‘Available’ Presence Are Minimal for Most Employees


    Top Benefit of Presence Technology Is Reduced Amount of Calls and Emails


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Planning for Unplanned Growth

Unexpected growth is generally a great problem for most businesses, but it can produce several growing pains for managed services and IT providers supporting those companies. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken by MSPs to help effectively respond to a client’s unexpected surges in business.

First, it’s important to establish infrastructure flexibility. In other words, look for solutions that minimize or eliminate the need to expand physical infrastructure, as the time requirements for new third-party installs can be a serious constraint. When dealing with growth-oriented companies, consider data solutions that have room to accommodate a realistic future surge in business, without overpaying for current needs. Also, aim for data packages that scale up on demand without the need for on-site visits – for example, Internet data services that can be scaled remotely. This is possible with a number of technologies, including fibre, Ethernet-over-Cable, and even DSL. Note that you should always confirm availability first, as it can vary based on the client’s physical location.

Next, seek out services offering instant scalability that you can easily manage on your clients’ behalf. For example, with cloud-based phone service as an example, you can sign your client up on a plan that allows you to add capacity for more phone lines at a moment’s notice. Generally, you can do this directly online, when logged into the account and authenticated as an admin. Also, avoid services that require a lengthy order process. For larger or more complex accounts, you may need to contact the sales rep who looks after your client, but the turnaround on the service item addition should still be no more than one business day.

It’s also important to build strong relationships with dependable contacts once vendors are selected. During growth, no matter how organized you are or how streamlined the provider’s online ordering process is, there will inevitably come that moment when you realize your client needs something unusual that doesn’t “fit the mold ” and they will need it quickly. When that happens, it’s critical to have a relationship with someone in the vendor’s organization who can occasionally sidestep typical processes in the interest of client satisfaction.

Security is of course one of the primary considerations when business expands. In addition to updating operating systems, checking third-party software and establishing best practices throughout the organization, make sure that data security accommodates growth. This can be achieved through managed Internet services that offer private-layer networks and encrypted traffic. While they may come with somewhat of a premium, the improvements in privacy and security will be worthwhile to your client, particularly in risk-sensitive verticals like legal, healthcare and government.

Lastly, here’s a personnel management tip from experience. Ask your client’s decision maker for a direct line of communication either to them or to whoever is designated as “point person” for growth cycles. Deal only with this person when accepting changes and setup requests, which fly in rapid succession in an unplanned growth scenario, and you can avoid having to field requests that come from junior staff without management approval. You’ll have enough to manage without having to undo your hard work.

Carl Watene is the Vice-President of Sales and Channel Development at Easy Office Phone, where he manages the company’s Dealer Program and oversees all sales and marketing initiatives. Watene holds extensive experience with major telecom and data providers in directing sales teams, creating training systems and running marketing campaigns.

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Five Myths in Cloud-Based Phone Service

We were recently featured on Business 2 Community in a piece on common myths in the cloud-based phone service industry. You can read the piece at the Business 2 Community website.

The full article text is also below.

In light of the FCC’s open discussions on the end of traditional public phone networks, many businesses will have to consider if switching to a cloud-based communications system is the right decision. Cloud-based communications is becoming increasingly mainstream and businesses will benefit from adapting now, rather than scrambling to catch up later.

However, companies are still holding back due to hesitations stemming from inaccurate perceptions. Unaddressed, these misconceptions can be costly for businesses.

Below are five common myths debunked in cloud-based phone services and security:

“Voice quality might be affected” – Digital phone service can actually deliver considerably higher quality and fidelity than a traditional landline with a suitable Internet connection. Voice reproduction is also much more accurate and lifelike.

“The technology is less secure” – Companies can rest assured that conversations are actually much more secure on a cloud-based phone system as all voice data can be encrypted using compatible hardware. Additionally, with a private Internet connection, the path those packets travel along is also secured, making interception and decryption virtually impossible. By comparison, a traditional landline would be considerably easier to tap.

“Scalability is a limitation” – Cloud-based phone service is in fact vastly more scalable than on-site systems. There is no need to install a physical private branch exchange (PBX) box on company premises, which makes the initial deployment rapid and simple. Similarly, adding capacity as a business grows is painless as cloud-based providers can activate additional lines remotely and within minutes. Flexible device and software options also enable businesses to easily integrate new, remote or part-time staff into their communications ecosystems.

“The cost of switching is expensive” – Getting started with a cloud-based service is actually very cost-effective. Without the need for an on-site hardware PBX, companies can experience a potential initial savings of thousands of dollars. Initial setup is also less costly – most cloud providers ship hardware pre-programmed and ready to plug and play, and work time to install the phones is minimal. Additionally, the majority of today’s legacy phones can be used with a digital service if a company obtains analog-to-digital adapters, which are very cost-effective compared to purchasing new phones. Finally, with desktop and smartphone apps, companies can reduce or even completely eliminate the need for new hardware.

“This technology will be obsolete in a few years” – IP technologies are now well-established components of the telephone network, and will soon become the mainstream standard. As noted, the FCC recently voted to begin testing the deployment of IP networks in place of existing copper-based infrastructure. Communications will soon reach a point at which the adoption of IP technology will no longer be optional.

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Considering Cloud-Based Service? Here are a few tips for when to make the switch.

Many small businesses today are making the switch over to cloud-based business phone service due to its cost-effective, scalable and flexible features. But how do businesses know when it’s time to make the switch? And what do organizations need to be aware of before making the move?

Small Business Opportunities recently ran an article covering the telltale signs. Read the complete piece at:

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Mitigating Risks in the Cloud (Interview)

Moving services to cloud-based models presents numerous business advantages. Flexibility, scalability and cost savings are just a few of them. However, there are also security considerations to bear in mind when you shift responsibility for mission-critical systems. In this interview, CEO Adam Simpson lays out some tips for ensuring you’ve chosen the right provider for your needs.

In this Q&A, Adam Simpson, CEO of Easy Office Phone, a provider of cloud-based business phone service, discusses current cloud risk concerns. This Q&A has been edited for length, clarity and editorial style.

Could you talk about some of today’s cloud risk concerns, particularly in terms of cloud vs. on-premises software?

When you put your data … in the cloud, it makes it more accessible to you — but it also means you have cloud risk concerns that you have to consider.

Adam Simpson,
CEO, Easy Office Phone

Adam Simpson: Let’s say that you’ve got an email server. Perfect example. You put that server behind your firewall. You can access it internally, and you can open it up to the Internet so that you can access your email remotely. Of course, there are security risks in doing that.

The other option is to put your mail server in the cloud. When you put your data … in the cloud, it makes it more accessible to you — but it also means you have cloud risk concerns that you have to consider. Those would be the security risks of the cloud service provider.

So what you’d want to know [is] what kind of security measures they have in place. Some of the threats that you would generally encounter could be [distributed denial of service (DDoS)] attacks, data loss, data breaches, insecure [application program interfaces (APIs)] and the like. So when you’re going into the cloud, instead of worrying about your own security behind the firewall, you need to worry about cloud provider security.

Cloud service providers generally have more resources than you do to implement security, to monitor security and to implement best practices. If I’m a customer and I have systems behind a firewall, I’m relying on my own IT staff to make sure that that firewall is secure, to make sure that it’s kept up to date with the newest software, to monitor it for any security breaches.

We see this problem a lot with small businesses. For instance, we’ve had lots of small businesses who have decided to run a phone system, an Internet-based phone system, behind a firewall.

What invariably happens is that they have to make it accessible to the Internet and then they get hacked. They get hacked because they’re not keeping up on software patches, which is basically a weekly exercise that you have to go through. You need to make sure that you keep up on newest software versions and best practices for security. Unless you’re an enterprise, that’s a lot of work.

What best practices should people keep in mind about cloud risk concerns when moving into cloud environments?

Simpson: The first, I would say, would be to consult experts who can recommend secure cloud application service providers … that have implemented proper security that has been tested. Also, those experts will be able to tell you, either through the cloud provider or themselves, what type of encryption and security measures need to be implemented in your own organization to use those cloud services.

So for instance, when you’re offloading your security and data to a cloud service provider, you’re basically not worried as much about understanding security in your own environment. You need to make sure that they are implementing proper security in their environment because that’s where the data is stored now.

Most companies are now sharing data with employees outside the office, so cloud services make sense for them. So when you go to a cloud service provider, you want to ask them what best practices and recommendations that they can recommend to you as a customer to implement in your own organization in order to use their services securely.

You also want to ask that cloud provider security questions such as: ‘What kind of security practices does your organization have in place to protect security? Have you ever had a breach? What do you do as [an] organization to protect my customer data from being breached?’ It’s really important that you know that. It’s the same as if you bought some software … to install on a computer behind your firewall — you would ask: ‘Is this software secure? Is the data encrypted? How many users access it from the Internet?’

You’re shifting that responsibility from your own network out to a third party, so you have to really know that provider and make sure that they have the best practices in place as well.

What, specifically, should companies be looking for in terms of cloud-provider security? What exactly do they need to know?

Simpson: You want to know that they have strong encryption techniques in place. You want to know that they actively monitor security breaches and implement best security practices. Encrypting data inside the cloud, for instance, would be a good one.

You also want to know about the facility they’re housing this stuff in. Is it a secure facility? Can insiders or employees gain access to it? You want to know who can access that data and how can they access that data.

You also want to make sure that they have APIs and that they have protection for data loss. That’s important, because you want to know what kind of backup systems they have in place in case the data was ever destroyed or removed in some sort of security breach.

The last thing I would want to know about is: What kind of protection does the cloud service provider have in cases of things like denial-of-service attacks? Because when you go to the cloud, if it’s a cloud that’s not on a private managed Internet connection that only the customer can access, you basically have to worry about hackers who could attack the … cloud offering as a whole and take down every customer that’s connected to it. So you want to know how they protect against that.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the benefits of a cloud provider is that they have the resources and the staff to invest in security and monitoring. But for a small organization or a medium-size organization, that’s a very costly thing for them to implement inside their own organization. Companies spend a lot of money doing that and they’re not always successful at it.

What are some of the security threats that people should be watching for in terms of cloud-based or Internet-based telephone calls?

Simpson: With voice over IP technology, you want to make sure about the user credentials that you use, [for instance,] if you install it on a laptop or you install the application on a cell phone. You want to make sure you keep user names and passwords secure, so you don’t want to send them through email. You don’t want to share them with other employees because, otherwise, somebody else can get access to them.

The other thing is, as I mentioned with voice over IP, is that having a private managed Internet connection from the voice over IP provider is very helpful because it allows the provider to implement security on that voice connection. It means they can encrypt the data … so nobody can eavesdrop on that voice call.

Some voice over IP offerings in the marketplace go over [the public] Internet, rather than over a private Internet connection, like traditional landlines would go over a basically private connection. [In such cases,] the only way to listen to a call would be to actually physically wiretap it. A private Internet connection makes it very difficult to eavesdrop on calls. So when [your phone calls] are going over the Internet, you have to be concerned about the voice provider as to whether those calls are encrypted, or do they go over public Internet space where they could be eavesdropped on.

Another thing is recording calls. A lot of voice providers offer features such as being able to record calls, so you want to know how … those recordings are secured and where they are stored.

Even things like call records are important. A voice provider like us stores call records in a database for the customer so that they can access them from anywhere. You want to know whether that provider is using best-practice security measures in order to secure those call records and that user data that they’re hosting for you.

Let’s look into the future a bit. What do you see emerging in terms of cloud and Internet phone trends?

Simpson: First, the demand for managed Internet will increase significantly. As cloud-based phone service becomes the norm, the intersection between voice and data traffic will become especially important. Businesses will come to demand managed Internet service. Private Internet use will increase, too, as companies move to reduce cloud risk concerns, tighten security and protect data.

What do you see in terms of the bring your own device (BYOD) movement?

Simpson: BYOD will shift to ‘join our cloud.’ Although mobile devices are becoming more powerful, the world is becoming less device-centric. Companies are going to focus primarily on application, network and content environments that drive and enable a truly connected workforce. They’ll focus less on asserting control over specific device choices. Employees will find it increasingly simple to understand company procedures, get up to speed on internal systems and access shared resources.

Finally, what do you see on the horizon for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in terms of cloud computing?

Simpson: The cloud will make SMBs global and drive greater customer satisfaction. Time zones will become nearly irrelevant. Cloud technologies will enable SMBs to become truly global operations, able to serve clients 24/7 with local presence in numerous countries.

Read the original article at Search Cloud Applications.

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Managed Internet featured on Talkin’ Cloud

Channel-focused publication Talkin’ Cloud ran a piece on the launch of our own Managed Internet service, which delivers benefits such as a private network layer, optimized voice quality, and encrypted communications. See the whole article here.

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Meet us in Las Vegas!

We’ll be attending the Channel Partners Conference 2014 event in Las Vegas, from February 26th to 28th.

Come by booth 8009 to learn more about how our Partner Program and how it offers multiple revenue stream opportunities to your MSP business.

See you on the Strip!1402-vegas-channelpartners

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The Top Business Communications Trends for 2014

Here’s a forward-looking article from Easy Office Phone that ran today in Small Business Opportunities. In the piece, our CEO Adam Simpson lays out his predictions for some of the key trends in the Hosted PBX market for the year to come.

Top Business Communications Trends for 2014, from Easy Office Phone

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Preparing for Black Friday and Cyber Monday: Six Tips to Ensure Effective Business Communications Systems

Easy Office Phone is pleased to present tips for retailers to achieve business readiness for the holiday onslaught. By implementing the right tools and communications systems, retailers can ensure that business and customer care run smoothly during the year’s biggest revenue-generating season.

In today’s virtual world, businesses must mind not only the crowd, but also the cloud. One critical way to get ahead of the holiday blitz is by moving to a cloud-based phone service. As Black Friday and Cyber Monday quickly approach, companies must start preparing for consumer demand by making sure that customer care is top notch and that call centers are prepared to deal with increased customer requests.

“After the shopping bonanza comes the surge of customer returns and requests. While retailers focus heavily on marketing and merchandising products and services, many fail to have the foresight to strategically implement the tools needed to cover the entire shopper experience – from point of purchase to consumer care,” said Adam Simpson, CEO of Easy Office Phone. “It’s vital for businesses to have the proper communications systems in place to handle consumer demands efficiently and effectively. Moving to a cloud-based phone service will enable businesses to provide excellent customer care this holiday season.”

Easy Office Phone provides the following tips for retailers to ensure effective communications systems during the holiday shopping season:

1) Use call queuing
– Queues are a powerful tool for handling calls in an orderly and efficient manner. Call queuing allows you to distribute calls to multiple staff as calls arrive, and will also hold calls in priority sequence if all agents are occupied. You can easily change which agents belong to a given queue, and even offer call preference to your top performers using skills-based routing.

2) Set target service levels and measure results – Responsiveness is critical during peak shopping periods as consumers will gladly shop at a competitor if your team can’t get to them in time. Determine an optimum response time and the target service levels feature will report how frequently your targets are actually being met in practice.

3) Use tracking and reporting tools – In addition to target service levels, use deep tracking and reporting tools to understand how your contact center teams are performing across a wide range of metrics including areas for improvement. Remember to make these evaluations in advance of the busiest days so you can make any needed adjustments without added pressure. Metrics can include: total number of calls, how many calls were answered versus abandoned, average hold time, average call length, and more. A good tracking and reporting suite will include the ability to easily export data to your favorite spreadsheet format.

4) Consider implementing “spillover” queues – Anticipate that at some point the influx of Black Friday or Cyber Monday calls will overwhelm your staff, despite their best efforts. The ideal solution is a spillover or backup queue that will receive those excess calls and pass them to a second group of agents who are standing by for this contingency. Additionally, if your business brings on staff on a temporary basis, and pays them based on calls taken, you can use the tracking and reporting tools from Tip 3 to ensure the accuracy of payments to these temporary agents.

5) Use your phone service provider’s Web interface – Companies with discrete product and service offerings may need separate phone numbers and call queues for each in order to handle requested volume. Use your cloud-based phone service provider’s Web interface to ensure that each product or service has a unique phone number, which points to a call queue staffed by appropriately trained agents.

6) Announce approximate wait times– Assume that your shoppers may not be patient enough to tolerate a reasonable hold time. Be sure to provide them with a rough idea of when they can expect to reach an agent. This feature is easy to implement through your phone service provider’s Web interface.

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Disaster Relief: Tips for Minimizing Communications Downtime During Natural Disasters

With hurricane season on the horizon and many businesses preparing for potential weather events, it’s crucial for companies to take steps to minimize any disruption in communications with employees or customers.

“In the event of a disaster, business owners have even more to worry about than most people,” says Adam Simpson, CEO of Easy Office Phone. “They have to take care of themselves and their families like everyone else, but they’re also responsible for ensuring their staff will be safe and their business will stay as close to 100% operational as possible. That means taking precautions to safeguard their communications systems.”

Easy Office Phone’s tips for minimizing communications downtime include:

1. Set a protocol: Well before the next disaster arrives, your employees should know exactly what you expect them to do if an event occurs. Develop a simple checklist for employees to follow and ensure every staff member has a copy. Do not allow for any confusion or uncertainty in the event of a disaster – you cannot afford it.

2. Assess your current business continuity plan: Determine which regular activities are mission-critical, and then apply worst-case infrastructure scenarios to see whether your plan holds up. For example, if your entire office building loses power, how can your staff continue fielding customer support inquiries?

3. Ensure your office phone service is virtualized: For most businesses, phone continuity is mission-critical. Cloud-based phone service greatly increases the odds that your main phone number will remain reachable and your clients will know you’re in business – even if a disaster takes your office entirely off the grid.

4. Obtain backup numbers from all staff: Because you can never be too prepared, be sure to develop a comprehensive staff contact list, including cell phone numbers, home numbers and personal email addresses. Some staff may not wish to receive cell phone calls outside of office hours, so your list should clearly note which numbers are to be called in emergencies only. It may also be helpful to implement a contact tree so all employees know who to expect an emergency call from, and if they in turn need to call someone else on the list.

5. Ensure key documents are virtualized: Ask your staff to develop a list of documents and files they regularly use and need access to. Implement a practice of backing up these key files to cloud-based storage on a regular basis. Remember, you may have only limited advance warning of an impending disaster – preparing now saves your staff from having to scramble at the last moment to decide which files are most critical, or worse, losing documents they may have saved locally if the power or servers unexpectedly shut down.

6. Tell your staff they can work remotely: Believe it or not, many employees will attempt to commute to the office even in extreme weather – unless you’ve told them otherwise. If your employees cannot safely travel to the office or office infrastructure is compromised, you need an alternative. Implementing a virtual private network (VPN) and cloud-based phone and email services will remove a great deal of pressure by enabling staff to access office files and emails from home, and make and receive calls from anywhere.

7. Set a point person: Although the above tips are crucial, implementing them does involve some work. As with most aspects of business, a clear leader is important. Designate a single trusted staff member to work through the steps – and do it now, so you have a chance to review and test your system well before you truly need it.

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