According to trends analysts IDC, IT strategies in Africa for the year 2011 will be characterised by technologies including the cloud and virtualisation. This trend is being driven in large by increasing availability and affordability of bandwidth, making hosted services more of a reality than ever before.
This combined with an almost insatiable appetite for ever cheaper and better quality communications is driving an increasing interest in hosted Voice over IP (VoIP) in the business world. VoIP has long been a technology of interest due to its ability to bring down the cost of telephony and provide greater flexibility, but with the additional availability of bandwidth in the African region, the prospect of running VoIP as a hosted service is now possible and no longer a pipe dream.
A hosted VoIP solution means that organisations in Africa can harness the advantaged of VoIP as well as all of the well known benefits of outsourcing a solution, from access to scarce skills, better uptime and easier management to the ability to incorporate a range of advanced features and functionality that may not have been affordable with a traditional system in place.
Benefit #1 – Lower Total Cost of Ownership: A hosted VoIP solution enables savings right from the onset as it is no longer necessary to purchase expensive ‘boxes’ or systems. All an organisation needs are VoIP-ready handsets and the hosting service provider will take care of the rest. The service provider will also manage both the phone and data lines, enabling further cost savings.
Organisations can obtain access to the most advanced technologies without having to invest large sums of money in hardware, making this an affordable option even for smaller businesses, and allowing them to access communications technology that was previously only available to larger companies.
Benefit #2 – Simpler IT support: Traditional phone systems are fairly complex and require a high level of skill to maintain. However a hosted VoIP solution removes this barrier to entry, as it uses a simple web interface and therefore requires very little IT support or training to administer. Users can be quickly added or deleted and additional features enabled by administrators from their computers through the intuitive interface, thus making additional support or staff members unnecessary. This in turn leads to further cost savings through simplified maintenance of the system as the resources can be allocated to other areas of the business.
Benefit #3 – Reduced Capital Investment: With hosted VoIP it is no longer necessary to spend large amounts of capital on expensive systems. Other than the actual handsets there is no investment required and no large capital expenses to depreciate over time. Hosted VoIP is an operating expense rather than a capital expense, so all businesses need to pay is an affordable monthly service fee to have access to a range of capabilities that can improve productivity and connect the business to advanced telephony.
Benefit #4 – Improved Business Continuity: Communication is at the heart of any modern enterprise and the last thing any business needs is for phone services to go down. Hosted VoIP solves this problem by incorporating failover systems that kick in should things go wrong. Because the physical box does not reside on the business premises but in a redundant and secure data centre off site, even if the building is affected by floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters the phones remain unaffected. A web-based portal enables users to quickly forward calls to cell phones or unaffected locations so that business can carry on without affecting customers.
Benefit #5 – Easy scalability: Hosted VoIP is a highly flexible solution as the number of employees on the system is not constrained, so expanding or reducing the number of users is a simple and cost-effective process. If resources become tight or the number of employees needs to be reduced this can easily be accommodated, and in times of growth it is quick and easy to scale up without incurring massive costs or disruption to the business. This gives organisations the ability to immediately make changes and scale up or down with fluctuating business needs.
Benefit #6 – Added functionality: A hosted VoIP solution gives businesses access to a wide range of functionality that can be activated on demand to suit the needs of any organisation. From HD voice to automatic voicemail forwarding and remote call following to phone systems integrated with Outlook or CRM systems, the potential for expansion is practically limitless. Hosted VoIP gives any size business the ability to access features and functionality that were previously only available to large enterprise because of cost constraints.
Benefit #7 – Automatic Upgrades: Outsourcing VoIP to a hosted provider means that businesses no longer need to upgrade hardware to take advantage of new features and technologies. All upgrades will be done by the host and will be delivered through software changes that happen automatically in the background. So businesses will always have access to the latest technology without the need for expensive upgrades every time something is updated.
Benefit #8 – Productivity Anywhere: Traditional telephony systems are highly desk bound, which in today’s world is no longer the ideal scenario. A hosted VoIP solution gives businesses the ability to gain access to constant connectivity and productivity anywhere, anytime, whether employees are at their desks, in the boardroom or on the road. Workers can access the communication features of the VoIP system no matter where they are, improving productivity dramatically.
Benefit #9 – Access to Powerful Video Conferencing: Travel can be an added expense that during tough times many businesses cannot afford. Video conferencing enables the productivity of face-to-face interactions without the cost of travel. Hosted VoIP enables organisations to quickly and easily access video calling capabilities (part of Unified Communications), making calls far more personal and productive than traditional phone calls.
Benefit #10 – Focus on core business capabilities: By removing the worry and maintenance of phone systems, organisations can better focus on their core business capabilities. The management of these increasingly complex business communications systems is outsourced and handled offsite, so the telephony system continues to work while employees can get on with their jobs safe in the knowledge that the telephony system will just work, whenever they need it to, and they can access features like voice and video without having to know why and how they work.
In conclusion, hosted VoIP has numerous benefits that can help telecommunications in Africa to be brought onto a level with the rest of the world. Now that bandwidth is not the obstacle it once was, and IT spend is expected to increase in Africa over the next year, hosted solutions such as VoIP have become a reality and can drive greater productivity and efficiency in business operations.
By Gail Holt, MD at Zycko South Africa