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The evolution of VoIP as a critical part of any business’s infrastructure

It brings lower cost and scalability, as you are no longer limited to a fixed number of voice channels and have the flexibility to increase or decrease your channels as your business grows – Sharon Maasdorp of BCX.

JEANETTE CLARK: In the new world of work that now includes both hybrid and remote working on a greater scale than it has ever done before, companies require reliable, secure and high-quality voice and contact-centre services with minimal downtime.

In this context, service providers are constantly innovating and upgrading their offering up to a point where you could argue that ‘Voice over IP [internet protocol]’ – or VoIP – has become a critical part of any business’s infrastructure.

Joining us today to talk about the evolution of VoIP is Sharon Maasdorp, managing executive for voice and unified collaboration at BCX. Sharon, can you start by telling us how traditional voice services have evolved over time?

SHARON MAASDORP: Thank you very much. Voice has evolved from traditional voice to now where we have Voice over IP, also called ‘VoIP’. So where voice services were previously delivered by traditional copper lines, they are now delivered over the internet, or over a private network over fibre as an access medium. As you know, fibre is now much more relatively available than it was before, and that has resulted in customers feeling comfortable to move to VoIP networks.

JEANETTE CLARK: What is the benefit to the end customer and other stakeholders of this new way of delivering voice services?

SHARON MAASDORP: I can definitely say that the move from traditional voice to VoIP has significant benefits to customers, as well as to our customers’ customers. So the move to VoIP brings with it lower cost, as well as increased flexibility, as you can now take your number with you wherever you go. It also brings scalability as you are now no longer limited to a fixed number of channels but you have the flexibility to increase or decrease your channels as your business grows.

I think we live in a very volatile world where we cannot always predict what happens, so basically from a VoIP and telecommunications perspective I think many organisations are moving towards flexible solutions. The beauty of VoIP is also that you can access and use the service from any location that has an internet connection.

So even while you are on holiday or on a business trip overseas, you have access to your office-based voice services, basically over the internet.

That is a very huge convenience factor and it also enhances productivity.

JEANETTE CLARK: Definitely in the world we live in, that’s very relevant. But can you explain exactly how this works?

SHARON MAASDORP: We are currently in the era of unified communications, or UC as it is called. This means that we can provide anytime, anywhere communication over any device.

We are also seeing that our customers are longing for greater flexibility, and this is exactly what unified communications brings. With unified comms a user can have a voice or UC application on their smartphone. Their landline number is then configured on this application and, via the internet or even via the phone’s native dialler, they can make and receive calls via the app.

Basically this is an over-the-top service. They can also make use of a number of UC-related services, such as presence, unified messaging, video and chat from the same application. So a user would have access to a rich portfolio of communication and collaboration services from a single app. The benefit of this is that you are always connected, and you can remain productive on the go. I think that that is really what all businesses – from small businesses to large businesses – are looking for.

JEANETTE CLARK: Sharon, can you maybe tell us some of the other key trends that you’re seeing globally – and also specifically in South Africa with regard to Voice over IP?

SHARON MAASDORP: I think that with the advent of Covid many [people within] organisations are now working from home, and the mobility that is provided by unified comms or UC also allows office workers to use their desktop to make and receive a call. With this option they would have a headset instead of a fixed IP phone. We are seeing more and more organisations embracing the mobility benefits of unified comms.

When the Covid pandemic started, it was found that about seven out of 10 corporations were not ready to work from home. So, with the unified com mobility solutions, business will always be available and will be prepared to work from home, no matter what comes its way.

I think the focus on flexibility and ‘always available’ is something that really stands out when we speak to an enterprise as well as our small business customers.

JEANETTE CLARK: Now, sometimes you hear people saying ‘voice is dead’. Do you agree with this statement?

SHARON MAASDORP: Absolutely not. Yes, I’ve heard that statement, and I absolutely do not agree with it. I think that, as humans, we always have a definite need for connection. There will always be a need to connect and to communicate. I think this is actually a fundamental human need. The business world is no different.

The only difference now is that voice is no longer an isolated application. Voice now [has] complementary applications. Think of it as friends, such as chat bots, voice bots, other messaging apps, virtual and AI systems which can also be voice-activated, as well as a host of other next-generation digital applications. So now voice works alongside these digital applications to ensure that customers get a true omni-channel experience.

To elaborate further, for example, a customer interaction can start via a chat bot. So no more waiting forever for an agent to answer; the chat bot can give you an immediate response, or it can even start an interaction via a social media application or even via an app like a self-service app or a micro app. The customer can get the standard and repetitive type of information that they require and then, if they need to take the interaction further, if they need a more personal approach, they can get transferred to the most suitable agent who then completes the interaction via voice.

So in this instance voice is just one of the many applications, and all these channels are complementing each other. I think ultimately it’s really about giving our customers a choice, and not limiting them to a single channel – and making sure that they get the best customer experience by leveraging voice for more personalised support, as well as the many digital channels at their disposal. Companies can really take customer experience to the next level.

JEANETTE CLARK: My last question: what is BCX’s position in the voice market, and how has the company evolved?

SHARON MAASDORP: Thank you so much for this question. As you know, BCX is a traditional IT integrator . We are also part of the Telkom Group, where voice and data service has been the core business over the past three decades. We have always provided the robust and carrier-grade converged communication solution that our customers rely on. I think quite a key strategic differentiator for us is the quality of our voice solutions, our quality of data solutions – and our customers have come to rely on this over time.

BCX is very serious about being a digital enabler. So, even in the voice space, we have evolved our network and we’ve made significant investment in a portfolio of next-generation VoIP and UC solutions. We have a rich portfolio of hosted as well as cloud-based UC as a service, or unified communications as a service solution.

Our solutions offer flexibility that’s not easily found in the market, where we offer a bouquet of pay-for-use subscriptions. So you only pay for what you use.

Also, we have invested in a number of hosted and cloud-based contact-centre solutions, from economy to premium brands, also available on a pay-per-use subscription basis. All our usage solutions, unified comms solutions, are offered as an end-to-end managed service.

So we basically bring it all together. We pull together voice, data, the UC application, and then we provide an end-to-end SLA [service level agreement]. We have dedicated teams whose focus is not diluted. They are focused only on dimensioning, deploying and supporting voice and UC solutions, and we offer design support as part of our offering.

Basically our managed service is positioned to move business from a traditional capex-intensive model to an OpEx or subscription model, where you pay for what you use – which also reduces the management burden of running your own voice platforms.

JEANETTE CLARK: A recent report showed that the global VoIP market is expected to grow to around US$102 billion by 2026. In South Africa, as in the rest of the world, we will see some of that growth coming through as companies are looking for service providers that can provide compatibility and reliability through their VoIP platforms that connect with clarity and minimal downtime.

That was Sharon Maasdorp, managing executive for voice and unified collaboration at BCX.

Brought to you by Telkom and BCX.

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