The squeeze on budgets affecting both the private and public sector has given a new urgency to the age-old business question – how can we get more from fewer financial resources?
Construction projects reportedly fell by 30 per cent in the last three months of 2010. Housing initiatives are seeing drastic cuts. And the National Housing Federation, itself facing major restructuring in order to cut costs, reported in January that housing associations, charities and community groups fear councils will raid funds intended to support vital services for groups, such as the elderly, homeless and disabled, in order to protect other spending priorities. In some circumstances, the Federation says, whole services face closure as cash-strapped councils look for massive savings over the next four years by disproportionately cutting one budget to fund another.
It’s clear that lack of access to finance, combined with minimal or zero growth in IT budgets, makes the scrutiny of spend against value for money more important than ever for IT departments – particularly where the alternative is pay freezes and/or staff losses.
So where should IT directors be looking? In the last issue of Housing Technology, my colleague Roy Farrow demonstrated that housing associations could make immediate savings of up to 40 per cent by analysing how much they’re paying for their telephone calls and lines, and simply doing a like-for-like swap. Some providers will also offer other services such as automatically rerouting expensive 118 calls to cheaper alternatives and reporting the top 10 number spend.
Farrow also pointed out that making this switch could be the first step in a journey to fully hosted, cloud-based voice and data services further down the line. So let’s take a look at the next stage of this cost-cutting journey – your network.
The network is the backbone of every modern organisation from small offices to massive enterprises. The issues associated with it are very much tied up with which company you use for your telephone lines. Not all telephone providers are equal; some may be able to give you significant savings on your call tariffs and line rental but for many this will be all they give you.
There is an argument that you don’t need to worry about much beyond the immediate telephone network because the internet will be able to handle all your data, email and web requirements. And sometimes it does. However, the reality is that the internet simply isn’t fit for purpose for many services and they require a much more efficient, enterprise-grade fibre network.
So to future-proof your telephony investment, here are some questions to ask before committing to a new telephone provider:
- Are you paying for two circuits into your organisation – one for your phone system and one for the computer network?
- Is the telephone provider’s network just a piece of wire that will connect your telephones or will it be able to deliver the full range of hosted voice and data services in future if you decide to go down that route?
- Does it cover the whole country?
- Does it connect to BT’s latest 21CN network?
- Is it a private fibre network or just capable of routing your calls?
Maximising your investment with SIP trunking
Once you have decided on a telephone provider and connected to their network, the very first thing you should consider is seizing the opportunity it offers for SIP trunking. Around 70 per cent of the UK’s business call traffic is still made using ISDN lines. This long-established technology is efficient but considerably more expensive – up to 70 per cent more in some cases – than the latest SIP trunks.
A SIP trunk simply connects your existing telephone system (the PBX) to the public switched telephone network via IP connections. Most modern telephone systems have built-in SIP connectivity. Even if they haven’t, a supplier worth its salt will be able to install a SIP gateway making connection possible.
Apart from the tremendous cost savings, the great thing about SIP trunking is that it removes the need for a separate physical voice network, converging it with the data path onto a single network. It can also be used by telecoms companies to link your voice network into their network. This allows them to centrally manage your calls extremely cost-effectively and there are hundreds of companies offering cheap business calls.
But then what?
By asking the right questions now, you can make sure that if later on you decide to migrate to fully hosted, cloud-based voice and data services, your new telephone provider will be able to support you on the journey. And at that point you can really start reaping the benefits of reduced capital and operational expenditure and can get everything – from IP telephony to hosted OCS, from virtualisation to a complete suite of data storage management services – delivered down one secure, efficient pipe from a single vendor.
Mark Hall is divisional director for network services at InTechnology.