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What Enterprise VoIP providers should Focus on to Ensure Future Growth

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The small business (SMB) market has long been a focus for VoIP providers because of the ease of installation and the opportunity for SMBs to save money. “Small businesses that account for the majority of the end users are likely to continue driving hosted IP telephony deployments,” Frost & Sullivan senior analyst Lynda Starr said. “Medium and large businesses’ interests in hosted IP telephony and VoIP access service are also likely to increase.”  One industry leader, West IP Communications, is focused on providing VoIP and other communication services to the large enterprise market, as they have realized the impact that VoIP services can have on larger organizations as well.

Several factors have driven companies of all sizes to consider enterprise VoIP solutions.  Hosted VoIP services and solutions allow companies with limited budgets and staffing to harness the power of an advanced communication system, complete with upgrades as needed.  The Frost & Sullivan study also found that most companies with on-premises communications systems already in place are giving serious thought to the implementation of a hybrid solution that includes the benefits of VoIP, while still leveraging their existing equipment.

“As these two systems can coexist,” Starr said, “service providers are likely to offer end-user enterprises a hybrid solution of both premise-based and hosted solutions, enabling customers to phase in a hosted solution with a trunking service and existing legacy equipment.”  But besides helping potential customers upgrade their systems without completing abandoning their existing infrastructure, companies like West IPC need to expand their offerings in order to bring value-added, customized solutions for larger enterprises.  To help meet this need, one key advantage for West IP Communications has been its acquisition by West Corp.’s InterCall division, which has integrated West IP Communications’ hosted communications services with its collaboration offerings.  This partnership has helped to broaden the portfolio of enterprise VoIP services and solutions available to potential customers.  But besides this kind of partnership, what else do enterprise VoIP providers need to offer to accommodate and meet the needs of larger businesses?

Technology Partnerships

For starters, VoIP providers aiming at enterprise-class businesses need to align themselves with other industry leaders, in order to provide the best solutions available.  West IP Communications has joined with two industry leaders to provide leading edge products for enterprise customers.  West IPC is a certified provider of Cisco unified communication services.  The Cisco Powered Program recognizes their investment in the tools and processes necessary to provide high–quality network–based managed services. By participating in Cisco’s Managed Services Channel program, West IP Communications Cisco Powered unified communications services have undergone a rigorous third–party assessment and have met requirements based on the Information Technology Infrastructure Library® (ITIL) framework of best practices and market and industry requirements.

Furthermore, West IPC is also a Microsoft Gold Partner for Unified Communications; that means they have the best-in-class expertise within Microsoft’s marketplace.  This level of alliance with Microsoft is evidence of the deepest, most consistent commitment to the specific, in-demand area of unified communications, along with the distinction of being among only one percent of Microsoft partners worldwide that have attained this outstanding degree of proficiency.  Technology partnerships such as these are crucial for VoIP providers aiming at long-term working relationships with large enterprises.

Scalability

Large company restructuring – such as a merger, acquisition or divestiture – creates an instant need for a  communications infrastructure overhaul. Also, enterprises looking to open a new location or move into new facilities need VoIP enterprise solutions that can be customized to their specific requirements.

Therefore, in these situations, enterprises need to find a VoIP provider that has the right cloud-based unified communications solution.  So VoIP providers geared toward enterprises need to help large companies avoid potential expenses while delivering a consistent set of services across the enterprise. The VoIP provider should be able to deliver a single, scalable communications infrastructure that can meet the communications needs of any location, no matter how large or small. And these solutions should be flexible and scalable, so future acquisitions or additional locations can be added as desired.

An example of a scalable, flexible solution is West IP Communications’ VoiceMaxx, an enterprise VoIP solution.  This suite of products enables an enterprise to drive down costs while providing users with advanced features and IT administrators with an unrivaled degree of flexibility and control. It includes full PBX functionality and sophisticated call routing tools, along with all the unified communication features an enterprise needs to customize communication services to their unique business requirements.

VoiceMaxx is also part of a larger suite of voice services designed to connect enterprises across distributed locations, and can be fully integrated with an enterprise’s existing IP or legacy TDM infrastructure where required.  This capability preserves investments already made in telephony infrastructure while providing a seamless enterprise-wide solution.

Unified Communications

Large enterprises expect access to the latest unified communications tools to maximize employee efficiency and productivity.  Since most enterprises look for a scalable, on-demand, cloud-based unified communications system, VoIP providers need a platform capable of delivering a complete package of Unified Communications (UC) services and applications.  Such a solution  has the ability to transform how an enterprise works.

At West IP, they differentiate themselves by offering cloud-based UC solutions that allow their customers to thrive. Utilizing a hosted, cloud-based service platform that scales as the business changes, they give you all the communications tools your enterprise needs to work – each one hosted and managed by them and delivered as a service over any MPLS network connection.  With over 10 years of experience, they have been able to develop a distributed, scalable, reliable, and extensible unified communications application infrastructure.

So to ensure future success down the road, VoIP providers need to look at expanding the amount of business conducted with larger enterprises.  And some of the top steps taken to get there include making strategic industry leader and technology partnerships, providing enterprises the scalability they require, and providing large companies with the leading-edge unified communications tools that they expect.

Smoothstone announces direct peering agreement with Google

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Smoothstone has now set up a direct peer with Google, allowing for a Smoothstone customer to have direct, private connectivity to Google apps through the MAXXIS application aware network. Using MAXXIS network tools, customers can also determine the Quality of Service (QoS) settings for the transit of data to Google.

The peering connections come from Smoothstone’s data centers in Atlanta and San Jose. Traffic to and from Google Apps, the Google Search engine and other Google affiliates will transit directly without having to cross into the public cloud. This means a more secure, fast and reliable connection for business-related applications.

InterCall experiencing growth after acquisition, partnerships

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TMC’s John Lahtinen was able to sit down with InterCall at last month’s Channel Partners Conference in Chicago. At the conference, InterCall recently announced that the new Pay Per Minute and license pricing models for Adobe Connect in North America are now available through channel partners.

West Corporation, the parent company of InterCall, has been very active in looking to expand its presence in the unified communications space. In April, West added to its expanding UC business, which includes InterCall, by announcing the acquisition of Smoothstone, a provider of cloud-based communications solutions for the enterprise.

“Interest is very high right now,” said Robert Wise, Executive Vice President for Unified Communications Services at InterCall. “We are making acquisitions, investing in streaming technology, and are in the process of creating a full CaaS solution.”

TMC reports that InterCall recently worked with Microsoft to develop a solution that integrates its Reservationless–Plus audio conferencing platform with Microsoft Lync Online. InterCall, a Microsoft Silver Certified Partner and national systems integrator (NSI), is one of only three providers worldwide to offer integrated audio conferencing with Lync.

Smoothstone Charity Events – September

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This past weekend was a busy one for Smoothstone employees!

Smoothstone was proud to put together a committed team for the 2011 Bike to Beat Cancer, a cancer awareness and fund-raising event.  Team members Robert Baggatts, Brad Estes, Kevin McMahon, Joshua Mosher and Chuck Piazza were pleased to welcome a sixth “honorary Smoothstone” member, Robert Theuerkauf of Middleton Reutlinger into their ranks.  Together team Smoothstone cycled over 550 miles, with most covering the entire 105 mile course, against the wind, rain and numerous Kentucky hills to achieve a total fundraising amount of approximately $5,400.

We also had 30 employees and friends compete in Saturday’s Big Brown Truck Pull for Special Olympics, a fun event held at 4th Street Live where teams of 15 pull a loaded UPS 18-wheeler 12 feet!   Our two teams raised over $3,500 for the Special Olympics KY, which will send 32 kids to the State Summer Games.  The Smoothstone Power Pullers Gals defended their title as reigning champion by coming in 1st in the Women’s Division with a pull of 5.13 seconds. The Smoothstone Power Pullers Guys came in 3rd place at 4.37 seconds. Check out our demo strategy that was shown at a pep rally before the event.

Special thanks to all our employees who participated in this weekend’s events by either pulling, riding, donating or supporting!

Smoothstone Community Outreach in Action

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While the Smoothstone Community Outreach Team normally participates in one charity event or fundraiser a month, we’re taking on three events this weekend. On Saturday,  Smoothstone will be sending more than 40 volunteers to three different fundraisers in order to raise money for local charities. Below are a description of each, plus a link to learn more and donate.

Bike to Beat Cancer 2011

For 2011, The Norton Cancer Institute in Louisville, Ky., has partnered with The Bike to Beat Cancer to coordinate this year’s event to raise funds toward cancer outreach, prevention and education as well as cancer treatments, including brain, breast and pediatric cancer. The 2011 Bike to Beat Cancer will take place September 24th and Smoothstone is very excited to be participating in the event.

Big Brown Truck Pull

Smoothstone’s women’s team won this competition last year, and we’ll be defending our title this Saturday. The competition consists of 14 people pulling an entire loaded UPS 18-wheeler truck 12 feet in the shortest time. There are also awards for the top fundraisers, team with the most team spirit and the best team T-shirts. Donations raised by each of the teams goes to benefit the Special Olympics of Kentucky.

Habitat for Humanity

Smoothstone’s most common charitable event is Habitat for Humanity of Metro Louisville. This weekend, we’ll be sending a team of volunteers to perform various tasks on a house in an underprivileged part of our city.

Credit unions contemplate the move to cloud-based communications

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The use of cloud computing is growing, and by 2016 this growth will rise to become the bulk of new IT spend, according to Gartner, Inc.  In fact, 2016 will be a defining year for cloud usage as private cloud begins to give way to a hybrid cloud, and nearly half of large enterprises will have hybrid cloud deployments by the end of 2017.  The financial services industry is one of the main industries reaping the benefits of leveraging the cloud for communications purposes. Moreover, there are many business reasons driving the movement to cloud-based communications, such as an increase in the remote workforce, a continuing drive toward expansion and growth, a desire to provide high-level customer service and security enhancements, and the ability to utilize more advanced technologies.

Increasing number of mobile and remote workers

Credit union membership rose to 93 million in 2012, according to the Credit Union National Association.  With more customers to serve comes an increase in the number of bank workers.  And today’s workers, in every industry including banking, expect a greater degree of flexibility and mobility in their work days.  But to effectively serve their clientele, these employees require tools that still allow them to collaborate with one another and effectively interface with their customers.  Unified communications tools can meet this need, providing flexible communication tools that can: forward customer calls to mobile phones, offer unified messaging, and, provide access to virtual office options for secure access to network resources like email, applications, databases, and other file stores.  These tools can act as the bridge between employee flexibility and customer satisfaction.

The need for expansion and growth

With the rise in credit union membership comes the addition of new branches.  Maintaining separate networks at each branch would not only be costly, but there would be many collaboration challenges trying to integrate disparate systems between locations.  Using Unified Communications (UC) applications hosted on a cloud-based infrastructure, branches can effectively manage their communication efforts, while providing the ability to easily integrate new branches into the existing network.  Through this vehicle, credit union branches can improve the responsiveness and efficiency of contact call center operations, both inbound and outbound – combining on-premises equipment with the technological power of virtual systems.  They can also enhance collaboration and reduce travel costs for internal meetings, training, and technical support using unified communications solutions.  Productivity at each branch gets a boost as well, by implementing the consolidation of voicemail, email, and faxes into a single unified inbox.  For smaller branches using UC, this means the ability to communicate with the precision of an enterprise – while allowing larger branches to simplify communication between locations – which in turn leads to improved customer service.

Better Customer Service

And speaking of improved customer service, community banks have an advantage when forming long-lasting relationships with business owners in their regions.  Building these relationships naturally brings improvements in overall customer service levels as well.  These relationships can be strengthened utilizing cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) options that give bankers a significant increase in transparency.  This is accomplished by providing key information and insights not available through traditional manual systems.  Lending is an area in which credit unions using cloud-based technologies can excel in customer service by continuing to build trust and confidence amongst their customers.  They can specifically accomplish this transparency (eliminating confusion and secrecy), by providing real-time information via simplified forms and reporting that lead to a greater understanding of the loan approval process.  The average banking customer today wants quick access to their accounts and the ability to easily stroll through any application or review processes with ease.  This need can be realized with cloud-based communication tools like secure web-based portals integrated with real-time instant messaging chat functionality and other unified communication features.

Enhanced Security

While many financial institutions may be leery of the level of privacy and security that is based in the cloud, the reality is that most cloud-based financial software includes strong data encryption and other security features.  In addition to encryption, the option of multi-factor authentication becomes available through cloud-computing; an option that is not necessarily affordable in a traditional on-premises security infrastructure.  With cloud-based communications, credit unions also gain ways to lock down information, with far greater control than in their traditional on-premises setup.  These tools allow their IT admins to allow, restrict, or prevent: saving files to a local or external hard drive or device, access to specific IP addresses, and access to certain data or devices by time of day.  And along with protecting sensitive data with greater, more granular access control, there are several other ways that credit unions have increased the security of their information in the cloud.  Cloud-based communication systems can provide:

  • Increased protection from viruses, worms, and malware
  • Improved resiliency from threats by mobile devices and bring your own device (BYOD)
  • Improved insulation from DDoS threats
  • Increased system availability and enhanced disaster recovery

Technology Improvements without Additional Costs

While security is a key part of any financial IT infrastructure, credit unions also need to improve operational excellence while reducing technology equipment and management costs.  Down the road, banks that continue to implement enhanced technology will be more attractive to borrowers; in turn, cementing the relationships between customer and financial institution.  Advancements available through upgraded hardware and software located on cloud-based platforms provide opportunities for credit unions and other lending institutions to harness the latest improvements in technology.  These advanced systems provide the processing speed, storage space, and system memory that give credit unions the operational capacity to facilitate efficient loan reviews and approvals, as well as the ability to quickly process other banking transactions.

So, regardless of the reason, whether it is an increase in the number of remote employees, a continuing drive toward expansion and growth, a desire to provide high-level customer service and security enhancements, the ability to harness the power of more advanced technologies, or something else, credit unions should seriously consider cloud-based communications systems.  Doing so will allow them the scalability and flexibility to grow their client relationships using all the tools that unified communications can provide.

LMEs: Get your minds and networks right for the move to UC

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Five years ago, the focus in telecom migration was the costly “rip and replace” approach. That has been changing, especially in the last 18 months, as large to medium enterprises (LMEs) are looking to make a much more orderly migration to the emerging unified communications platforms – often with the help of managed service providers.

James Whitemore of Smoothstone offers some suggestions for this migration in an article posted on MSPNews this month entitled LMEs Have to Get Their Minds and Networks Right for the Move to Unified Communications.

The first step is to get the network right. The problem for many LMEs is that over time, they have built a patchwork of networks that they now need to prioritize, consolidate and optimize. That makes it extremely difficult  for even the best corporate telecom teams to make the migration to unified communications while keeping their networks up and running. Learn how to work with a managed service provider to get the network right and jumpstart the migration to UC in this article.

InterCall To Provide Cisco’s Hosted Collaboration Solution

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CHICAGO – September 8, 2011 – InterCall, the world’s largest conferencing and collaboration services provider, and a leading provider of hosted enterprise communications applications and services, announced today that it will extend its Smoothstone VoiceMaxx IP-PBX services with the addition of VoiceMaxx CE, a suite of service packages based on the Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution.

Smoothstone, a subsidiary of InterCall, will add VoiceMaxx CE to its existing portfolio of cloud-based enterprise voice and data solutions to offer service packages that combine leading-edge IP-PBX functionality with audio and web conferencing, messaging, presence, mobility and video conferencing and streaming.

“The VoiceMaxx CE service packages combine Smoothstone’s proven service delivery capabilities with the latest in Cisco unified communications technology, a seamless addition to our existing voice and data applications and services for enterprises with a Cisco-centric environment,” said Bob Wise, Executive Vice President of InterCall Unified Communications Services.

VoiceMaxx CE is designed to meet the requirements of mid- to large-sized enterprises that need a fully-integrated unified communications solution based on Cisco technology. VoiceMaxx is coupled with MAXXIS, a fully-managed IP network service, to provide an effective unified communications deployment. Supported by professional services and systems integration expertise, VoiceMaxx CE enables businesses to speed the deployment and adoption of advanced unified communications applications and services.

VoiceMaxx CE will be available to U.S. clients later this month, making InterCall one of the first U.S. service providers to offer enterprise clients a service package based on the Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution.

About InterCall
InterCall, a subsidiary of West Corporation, is the largest conference and collaborations service provider in the world and a leading provider of global cloud-based unified communications services. Founded in 1991, InterCall offers telephony, messaging, conferencing and collaboration tools for businesses of all sizes, from large global enterprises to small or regional companies. Smoothstone IP Communications is a subsidiary of InterCall and a leading provider of cloud based communications for the enterprise – including MPLS-based application networking, enterprise voice, unified threat management, advanced contact center solutions, unified messaging and collaboration tools – all delivered as a unified suite of cloud-based applications. With a global footprint and broad service capabilities, InterCall’s flexible models for hosted, managed and on-premises communications services help companies get the most out of their business processes. InterCall’s strong U.S. presence, including four call centers and 26 sales offices, is bolstered by operations in Canada, Mexico, Latin America, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. For more information on Smootshtone IP Communications, visit www.smoothstone.com, and for more information on InterCall, please visit www.intercall.com.