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Convergence: No More Small Business Mentality
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By Steve Gobeli

For small-and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), every customer is a lifeline. Keep a customer on hold for too long or ask them to call back because an employee canít be reached, and theyíre likely to hang up and call the competition. In todayís world of voice and data, and wireline and wireless, it is increasingly important for SMBs to become more accessible to their customers. There no longer is any excuse for being unreachable. Access to and time for your customers are the key issues that must be addressed in todayís fast-paced business environment. After all, in the small-and medium-sized business world where every customer counts, the last place you want a customer to end up is in the companyís general voice mailbox.

IP telephony presents a unique solution for SMBs, particularly because it enables smaller enterprises to perform as efficiently as larger businesses. IP telephony involves the transport of telephone calls over the Internet. Using the Internet, calls travel as packets of data on shared lines, avoiding the tolls normally associated with traditional phone lines. Because these voice packets travel over the Internet, they can be received by a traditional handset, a personal computer or a handset with the appropriate internet circuitry added.

Converged systems have many advantages. The key is unlimited accessibility. The ability to access your desktop from anywhere in the world, from a meeting in California to a conference in Budapest, is an appealing one. Limitless accessibility to clients, employees and the corporate network also ensures that you remain connected and productive wherever you are. This productivity leads to significant cost savings.

With the Internet eliminating restrictions based on time and distance, people are beginning to see the advantages of converged communications. Is it important to be able to hook up a phone to your system via an IP connection and, on a snowy day in New Jersey, keep your call center open and taking catalogue orders? Is it critical to your business for a traveling employee to be able to dial into your data network, bring up a phone application, access his phone service and conduct business from his hotel room? Donít you want to save time and money by using a computer interface to handle all of your calls?

The bottom line is that the demand, and the value to your company, is real. A few years ago, Wi-Fi was unheard of. Now it is available at almost every coffee shop and hotel. Likewise, convergence will become commonplace as the demand increases. Companies who canít offer these services will be at a competitive disadvantage. The good news is that converged telephony systems are becoming significantly more affordable. This means that even the smallest company can benefit from an IP telephony system. This is ever more evident as converged systems appear that allow people without a strong IT background to add or change phone lines.

New technologies blend not only voice and data, but wired and wireless communications as well, giving a business the full functionality of traditional communications platforms as well as convenient wireless access.

Here's an example: Converged systems now can deliver voicemail to Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) e-mail clients as .wav attachments. That's a mouthful. What it means is that remote employees can receive voice mail messages sent to his or her voicemail. This is accomplished using an IP-based server to integrate the functions of the mail server, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) server and Voice over IP Unified Messaging Service. In addition to voice mail delivery, this architecture facilitates access to telecommunications devices such as IP telephone and FAX.

Convergence is quickly becoming the standard among SMBs as more and more businesses work toward a software-driven communications system. If a small- or medium-sized business wants to maintain its competitive advantage, it must provide customers with the service they require in a quick and professional way. Convergence can enable an SMB do that--and even gain advantages over larger counterparts.

Steve Gobeli is the vice president of Samsung Telecommunications Americaís Business Communication Systems Division.
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