The Network Checkup You Can’t Afford to Miss

Similar to a regular doctor’s checkup, you need to frequently test your network to make sure voice services are clear, video isn’t jittery and emails are reaching their destinations. Unified communications (UC) monitoring tools do just that and alert you to real and potential problems. Scheduling these tests on a regular basis will let you know when sensitive voice and video services are under-performing and making your organization look unprofessional.

As our options for communicating have gotten better, ensuring a superior experience for UC has become considerably more difficult. People are using smartphones, laptops and tablets over both wired and wireless networks, and you need to understand what they are experiencing on your network. These four tips will ensure that your UC services, either from the cloud or on premise—pass their hearing, seeing and reading tests with honors.

  1. Complete a network assessment test prior to deploying UC. A network assessment quickly identifies if your infrastructure can successfully support essential voice and video services. With a network assessment service, an engineer monitors your network for several days so you will know exactly what changes are needed to make your network UC ready.
  2. Review bandwidth capacity at branch offices. Your branch office communications can create bottlenecks on the network connecting your data center and offices. Consider the number of workers and the UC services they use — including voice, video and collaboration — and add bandwidth as needed. For voice, bandwidth will depend on the number of simultaneous calls. If you’re adding video, you should be aware that video could consume 10 times more bandwidth than sending email or other files. You will want to allocate a specified amount of bandwidth per link to support the anticipated number of simultaneous voice or video calls.
  3. Assure the experience with quality of service and WAN optimization. Organizations have habitually avoided quality of service (QoS) and opted for adding bandwidth to make network congestion problems go away. However, you can avoid purchasing more bandwidth if you set up QoS correctly. For a multisite deployment of unified communications, using QoS across the WAN can make a big difference in the user experience. With QoS, voice and video traffic can be given priority access to network bandwidth over less sensitive traffic, such as email, backup or Web surfing. Using QoS can also help prevent packet loss and jitter for UC applications, all of which delivers the type of good experience that users expect. WAN optimization products can also help improve the user experience by reducing the bandwidth consumed for other traffic on the WAN.
  4. Put application performance monitoring and network monitoring tools to work. There are tools that can perform ongoing, regular health checks, including ShoreTel’s easy-to-use management tools. ShoreTel’s tools enable IT staffs to manage the system from anywhere on the network. ShoreTel Director streamlines the management of all voice applications and ShoreTel Remote Monitoring portal provides an over-the-shoulder view of deployed ShoreTel services, with a user-friendly dashboard. The dashboard shows overall system status and resource utilization. An overview of health and performance of all sites and connectivity between them is also available. You can track video and voice call quality information, including packet loss, jitter and delay, and call trace to easily identify potential network issues.
  5. Investigate Software Defined Networking (SDN). Organizations are drawn to the promise of flexibility that SDN brings to the network. Instead of isolating network resources, SDN gives organizations the freedom to move resources where they are needed. Network architecture is more simplified and opens up bandwidth capacity that was previously isolated. SDN provides UC traffic with reliable routes for optimal application performance.

Harness Millennials’ Preference for Video Interactions for Better Collaboration

Your business signed on early to the BYOD trend. Your developers think “mobile first” when they’re writing new apps. Heck, your company even is equipping its on-site cafeteria with POS systems that accept Apple Pay.

While these all are big steps to becoming a millennial-friendly workplace, you may be missing out on other equally important opportunities. That includes taking greater advantage of the younger workforce’s affinity for video chat and collaboration tools in their social lives to improve business operations, as well as building an attractive workplace for top talent.

Consider these prospects:

  1. Enhance communications among staff, partners and customers. Not every interaction with clients or colleagues requires a trip across state lines or the corporate campus. Using video chat for spontaneous face-to-face communications can be more effective than email and phone calls to manage everyday, in-house operational issues or respond to routine queries from buyers, suppliers or distributors. After all, gestures and facial expressions are as important to human communications as the words we say—maybe more so. Given that, leveraging video for even off-the-cuff engagements can be a big plus when it comes to quickly making decisions or ensuring that answers to questions have hit home.
  2. Keep engagement levels high. Multitasking is part of millennial DNA, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some studies show that done right, multitasking can increase productivity. Yet there are times when it’s important that all employees stay focused on the discussion at hand, even if they’re not all in the same room. When staffers attend a meeting via video conference rather than phone, they’re more likely to be conscious that their activities are on display, so it’s less likely that their attention will wander to another item on the to-do list.
  3. Stand out from competitors to wrangle next-gen talent. Millennials are expected to make up half the workforce in the next few years, and clearly you want to draw the best and the brightest of them to your doorstep. Doing so means tapping into the benefits they want from an employer—and we don’t just mean vacation packages and bonuses. According to youth-focused, research-based consumer insights company Intelligence Group, the majority of millennials want a collaborative work-culture rather than a competitive one; want flexible work schedules; and desire work-life integration. A company that leans heavily on video chat and collaboration tools can be appealing to younger workers, as these systems provide mobility and flexible work spaces without compromising an employee’s abilities to be connected to colleagues.

While millennials will enjoy being able to bring their video chat and collaboration skills to the workspace, it’s of course important to ensure that older workers get as much value out of the technology as their younger colleagues.

To increase adoption of video chat and collaboration among workers of all ages, choose technology that enables teams to engage in point-to-point and multiparty connections on the devices of their choice—from smartphones to tablets to desktops—with single-click ease. ShoreTel is able to lend a helping hand here, giving your enterprise the best approach to implementing video connectivity underpinned by a unified communications network that allows for seamless, face-to-face online interactions.

With ShoreTel unified communications and collaborations solutions in place, your employees will be set for screen time in no time.

7 Reasons to Shift to SIP Trunks

Modernizing business phone systems to gain the latest conveniences of unified communications and mobility is also an opportunity to remodel the network connections. For years, businesses have connected their offices to the public telephone network using traditional circuits like T1 and ISDN PRI. The move to an IP phone system is a great opportunity to bring those behind-the-scenes connections into the modern era, too.

SIP trunks are quickly becoming the preferred choice for businesses for IP connections, replacing traditional TDM circuits. More than 20 percent of installed business trunks in North America are SIP, according to Infonetics. Yet usage is also growing around the world, especially in the U.S. and Europe, with global growth of 35 percent in 2014, according to the market research firm.

Here are seven reasons to make the move to SIP trunks.

  1. Enable unified communications and collaboration SIP trunks provide the ability to run voice, video and data across the same connection between offices and communications service providers. This allows workers to benefit from collaboration, videoconferencing and location-presence applications.
  2. Save money. Everyone likes saving money, and most SIP services are significantly cheaper than traditional TDM circuits. It also allows organizations to eliminate or reduce costs associated with ISDN PRI trunks, PSTN gateways, and service provider contracts. Consolidating service providers makes billing and reporting simpler, so businesses have better visibility into what they’re spending on telecom and they have fewer vendors to manage.
  3. Simplify IT. Organizations can consolidate many of their separate analog and TDM circuits over a SIP trunk. This allows them to eliminate circuits and make the most efficient use of their bandwidth.
  4. Adapt the network to the business needs. SIP provides the ability to scale up bandwidth more easily and affordably than with traditional TDM circuits. Plus, many SIP trunking services support bursting, so businesses can pay-as-they-go if traffic spikes.
  5. Easily establish a local presence anywhere. SIP provides greater flexibility with the use of business numbers. Organizations can establish a local number anywhere in the world, while the calls will ring into the physical office of their choosing. It’s instant local presence!
  6. Support virtual contact centers. Sales, support, and other call center workers can be physically located anywhere when SIP trunking is used as part of a virtual contact center. This gives organizations the ability to balance the workload while calls are routed seamlessly behind the scenes.
  7. Weather the unexpected. Using SIP trunks can make communications more resilient. If there’s a network outage or local disaster, businesses can simply switch the routing over the SIP trunks. And in ordinary times, traffic loads can be balanced over multiple trunks, giving workers a better experience everyday.

Ready to Get Started with SIP?

ShoreTel has a long history of supporting SIP in our business phone systems. And we have an established program for SIP certification within our Innovation Network, with more than 30 certified SIP providers.

A Quick Guide to Global Collaboration Habits

Everyone has a personal communication style and a favorite way to communicate. One person may enjoy a quick chat on IM with a colleague, but others see IM as an annoying interruption. Effective communications starts with knowing the best channel to reach out to co-workers and customers.

Unified communications (UC) lets people choose from email, voice, IM, videoconferencing and mobile, leaving the hard part—deciding which is best—to you. You may not know what a recent hire in the Toronto office prefers. A Japanese colleague may be more willing to videoconference than a colleague from North America or Europe. Similarly, younger hires may never pick up a voicemail message but respond to a mobile text in less than a minute.

Here’s a quick guide to how people of different ages and in different regions are communicating.

Mobile

More employees are working away from the office and rely heavily on their mobile phones for communications. IDC predicts that by the end of 2015, the world’s mobile workforce will reach 1.3 million.

According to “The Mobile Economy: 2015” by GSMA, an additional one billion people will become mobile subscribers during the next five years, reaching 4.6 billion subscribers in 2020. In developed regions such as the United States and Europe, the adoption rate for mobile devices is 80 percent or higher, which makes most people accessible by mobile phone. The adoption rate is much lower in African countries (39 percent), and workers in multinational companies in South Africa or Kenya are less likely to have a mobile phone. That’s changing fast as subscriber numbers are predicted to increase to 1.25 billion in 2019.

Videoconferencing

Asia Pacific (APAC) companies are using videoconferences more than any other region in the world, according to “Global View: Business Video Conferencing Usage and Trends” by Redshift Research. Business users in this region take part in videoconferences at least once a week (66 percent), compared to users in EMEA (55 percent), and the United States (59 percent). Video conferencing (59 percent) and email (58 percent) are forecast to share top billing as a communication preference in 2016.

Instant Messaging

India is a hotbed of instant messaging activity, with it being quite popular within businesses. In 2013, India saw a 113 percent increase in messaging apps. Messaging apps popularity differs significantly by country. China has 1.48 billion mobile instant messaging accounts. In Brazil, 90 percent of the population uses a messaging app, while Russia (70 percent) and Great Britain (50 percent) are less likely to rely on instant messages. All these regions are familiar and comfortable with mobile IM and are likely to be equally comfortable with desktop IM.

Voice

It’s true—you are receiving fewer personal and business calls. Call volumes in 2003 was 88 billion per year and in 2012 the volume dropped to 60 billion. The vast majority of these calls have been replaced with email, but for many communications, a call is the best choice. According to Research Now, voice is considered more personal than texting or email, and voice is used more often for sharing urgent news. Text ranks as more convenient than voice, and it ranks high for immediacy as people are more likely to respond soon after reading their messages.

Location and Presence

Knowing someone’s location or presence can prevent a person from wasting time trying to call or IM. Most regions and demographics like presence information, but they are not taking advantage of its benefits. According to “SMB Attitudes Toward Unified Communication Industry View 2014” by Software Advice, two thirds of businesses do not have access to presence information, and it’s keeping them from being efficient. These companies could be saving as much as 32 minutes a day in missed calls, according to Sage Research.