How to Prepare Your Business Communication Systems for a “New Normal”

As governments around the world start to ease restrictions on movement and working, we are being told to prepare for a “new normal”. But no one can tell us exactly what that will be and how long it will last for.

How does this affect your business communication and collaboration? How do you move forward from here and the sudden changes you have had to make?

Pre-lockdown communication

Prior to the country going into lockdown, odds are you were using some form of telephony system to make/receive calls – be it on-prem, dedicated hosted or full multi-tenant cloud. Yes, there are businesses out there running entirely on mobile phones, but that is not common. Most business telephony solutions can be broadly categorised into the above three types.

In the Cisco world that would be:
• Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) (on-premise)
• Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS) (dedicated hosted)
• Webex Calling (full multi-tenant cloud)

For the Microsoft world, it would be:
• Skype for Business (for both on-premise and for dedicated hosted)
• Microsoft Teams (full cloud)

As with any solution there are pros and cons, with some very blurred lines between the three types.

Business communication now

So, where were you before lockdown and where are you now?

• Are you sitting pretty on a modern hosted solution, having had to do little to get PBX functionality working remotely?
• Maybe you’re already full cloud and simply don’t need those PBX features?
• Or are you stuck with an on-prem type solution that isn’t working too well? Maybe it’s forwarding to mobile to get you by.

What about collaboration? We all need contact with other people to stay sane, and contact over purely audio isn’t a good enough connection for sanity or to stay collaborative.

So enter video… sort of. If you have a hosted or cloud platform, then you probably have video calling on softphone (if not, have a word with your provider!). You may even have access to scheduled video conferencing using one of the many, many platforms out there, but again that isn’t true real time collaboration.

If I’m wanting to work on a document in real time with my colleagues, then video is only part of the collaborative story. We need real time voice, video, chat and document sharing with live editing. This is where the true collaboration tools come in. Systems like Cisco Webex Teams and Microsoft Teams.

These solutions offer all the above and much more. They both fully integrate into Microsoft 365, they have ad-hoc voice and video conferencing, and they have all the chat, file transfer and GIF sending features you could possibly hope for. They each have their pros and cons as end user clients, but they provide very broadly the same solution.

Ok, so you’re in lockdown and you’ve realised all of the above, hopefully in time.

So maybe you’ve gone and got a trial or purchased one of the Teams products… where’s the phone system? You can call internally without that, but you can’t call externally. Maybe that’s ok during lockdown, customers accept that things are different at the moment… at the moment.

The new normal: what do you do next?

When lockdown finally abates and you’re allowed to go back to your office, back to your phone system proper, you now have a problem. You have two disconnected systems – a PBX and a collaboration solution.

Your staff have become used to a much more flexible way of working. Maybe they want to work from home a few days a week now. They’ve proven they can, the precedent is set, and let’s face it, office space isn’t cheap so you’ll let them, right?

But as far as your customers go, normal service should be resumed. They expect to call your main phone line and press #1 to get through to sales. What if your sales team is split between the office and all over the country at home?

Customers don’t expect the obvious diversion to mobile. They don’t expect the obvious quality difference when a call is answered from a mobile or a landline. They’ll have accepted it during lockdown, but not now.

You have probably invested heavily (time, money, soul) into one of these collaboration solutions. They are vastly capable, and you don’t want to let go of it and go back to the old way, and why should you?

So you need to bring that missing piece in, the PBX functionality. Sure you can port your numbers over to Microsoft or to one of Cisco’s PSTN partners, but do you really want to do that? Neither Microsoft nor Cisco are telecoms companies.

Enter stage left, a managed telephony service provider. They have the telecoms experience, they know all about the mess that is the UK number porting system. They also know about hosted telephony solutions and integration and they will likely know about the full collaboration systems and how to tie them all together.

If you find the right managed telephony service provider (and the telephony part is key), then they will be able to get your numbers and most, if not all, of that PBX functionality integrated into a true collaboration suite.

Finding the right managed telephony service provider

Now for the plug: At N4Engage, as a dedicated business unit of Node4, we have been building, managing and integrating telephone solutions for over 15 years. We have our own network, our own dedicated SIP trunking platform, our own links into Tier 1 ISP and telecoms providers and our own data centres (down to the bricks and soil) in which to run all of it. Not to mention a UK based team of dedicated collaboration engineers that you can and will actually speak to.

We understand that you may have a PBX box bolted to the wall that you’re hard pressed to let go of. Or that a full cloud PBX solution may not be right for you if you need those more advanced PBX or Contact Centre type solutions.

Maybe you’re ready to go full cloud. You already have a Cisco or Microsoft Teams solution and love it, but just need to bring in the finishing touch of your PSTN telephony.

This is what we do. We are the Collaboration Experts. Come talk to us about getting a free audit of your collaboration technologies to ensure your businesses future agility.