By Rene Sugo

I was clearing out my files when I came across a 10-year-old article from Enterpreneur Magazine espousing the benefits of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for business and outlining some of the barriers to its adoption.

While VoIP – which, among other things, allows your phone calls to travel over the internet as data, just like an email – has evolved considerably since then, for many enterprises, upgrading and switching their communications systems still remains a daunting task.

Small businesses often report their biggest barriers are fear of change or fear of the unknown, but the reality is that those businesses are missing out on considerable cost savings and significant value-add features, because of concerns that are almost a decade past their sell by date.

Today, VoIP-based business services like Virtual PBX have developed into a reliable, stable and highly cost-effective option for businesses of all sizes. It’s definitely no longer the new kid on the block (it has been a commercial proposition for two decades); indeed, it is well on its way to becoming the de-facto business and enterprise telephony system.

Gartner Research’s well-known Hype Cycle maps the five key phases of a technology’s life cycle and is a useful tool for businesses when it comes to making decisions about the maturity of products and services.  If we apply this to VoIP and internet-based communications solutions, we can see that they have long since exited the “trough of disillusionment” from ten years ago when patchy connectivity and poor equipment marred adoption.  Indeed, while in my opinion VoIP is well entrenched in the “slope of enlightenment” phase, the technology is hurtling towards the “plateau of productivity”, when it becomes a technology that all businesses will be using. 

In fact, while traditional landlines are not yet obsolete, it’s worth noting that AT&T is looking to turn off its landline equipment by 2020, so a change is undeniably coming.

More businesses are adopting modern communications options, including cloud services and transforming voice calls into unified communications. A report estimates that, by 2020, cloud communications will exceed 30% penetration, driven by increased service options from both traditional and non-traditional telco providers.

So great are the advances  in VoIP voice quality and integrated services over the last decade, that companies whose businesses live and die on the way they communicate with new and prospective customers are turning to internet based systems to power their enterprises. This is part of an emerging trend that is seeing communications gradually transforming from a static cost center to a productivity play. While the cost savings are central, the functionality can often be a game changer when it comes to achieving and exceeding business goals.

As we hurtle towards a world where business and enterprise will increasingly embrace mobility, BYOD, wearables and communication with customers across multiple platforms and touch points are expected to be personalized and consistent, a unified communications platform begins to look less like a “nice to have” and more like a must.

Take the retail industry for example. At this month’s South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, a panel on the “10 Inventions that will Revolutionize Retail” revealed just how important joined-up communications will be. While the content covered everything from biometric payment to the internet of things, what is clear is that the future of retail will be driven by the consumer experience and interconnected data and interconnected communication with customers is paramount to this.

Few are in doubt that a technology-driven retail and customer service renaissance is beginning to take place, so for many it will become a case of adapt or die. I’d suggest that for those who have yet to modernize their communications, the clock is rapidly ticking.

So at this point in VoIP’s maturity, it’s okay to believe the hype. Most of it is true.

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