Technology is changing the way businesses talk

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Article source: Business Day Live Rob Lith

Network-based communications — or voice over internet protocol (IP) — is responsible for a radical overhaul of the role of the business PBX. Previously a mere utility that switched voice calls, today’s IP-PBX offers unprecedented efficiency, flexibility and functional variety.

A constantly expanding universe of communication functions, each suited to a niche requirement that another mode of communication cannot fulfil as well, shows just how diverse and nuanced modern communication is.

The cellphone has become a key enabler of the corporate network thanks to the acceptance of IP as the bedrock of communications technology. Other signs include the maturation of Wi-Fi as a seamless bearer technology acting in concert with 3G. The computing power of smartphone technology further demands that mobility be given its rightful place in the enterprise. Finally, PBX technology has developed sufficiently to manage cellphones as part of the corporate communications ecosystem.

Soon, industry alliances will coalesce between mobile and converged telecoms companies, offering bespoke fixed-mobile convergence benefits that do justice to this confluence of factors — for example, opening up least-cost routing and zero-rated options that were not available before.

Videoconferencing is acknowledged as an enabling tool, but not many businesses have even considered it due to cost. New platforms have, however, become available that make this technology available to even the most modest sole proprietor. With hosted IP-based video, any business or contractor can now rent virtual videoconferencing rooms at very affordable rates, allowing them to rope in specialists at short notice rather than schedule meetings with multiple people at much cost, delay and inconvenience.

Another way in which IP communication has changed the way we do business is instant messaging (IM), which proves that, while e-mail and voice conversations need never die, they aren’t suited to scenarios where immediacy is vital and a degree of nondisruptive intrusion is preferable.

New applications for IM are becoming evident as customers demand a direct interface into the business. Given a choice, many people find chat a better option than a voice conversation, especially when busy, or on weekends and public holidays, when it seems an enormous effort to pick up the phone and talk to a support engineer. Chat does not require diverting your attention from your PC, where it is probably focused.

Chat gives companies the chance to delay their response in lower-service-level situations, whereas this would lead to a pregnant pause in a live voice chat. When a higher service level is required, the Jabber protocol can offer a customer service similar to interactive voice-response systems, allowing businesses to queue their incoming chat overflow and estimate waiting time. In turn, this allows the customer to do tasks while waiting.

IP is a change-enabling architecture for businesses, opening up a world with fewer constraints, more subtle communication nuances, more speed, less complexity and lower cost.

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