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With a difficult economic climate pressing the need for organisations across all sectors to make cost savings, there’s never been a better time to review your use of technology. From the cost-efficiency, scalability and remote capabilities afforded by cloud solutions, to the productivity benefits achievable through automation and AI, huge rewards are on offer to businesses willing to embrace digital transformation.
Previously, we examined some of the business benefits offered by the most innovative enterprise platforms and IT solutions of our time. Now, let’s consider some of these solutions in greater depth, and uncover the ways they could help your business become leaner, more agile and productive.
The Cloud refers to a global network of internet-connected servers. Through a process known as ‘cloud hosting,’ these servers can be used to house applications, services and computing resources which traditionally occupied on-premise server stacks.
In the past, running a corporate email service, hosting a website, or using enterprise software meant procuring the necessary hardware, and installing the required infrastructure in a corner (or dedicated room) in your office. The hardware was your responsibility: your organisation was tasked with maintaining and replacing faulty components across the hardware lifecycle. Ever since Amazon first launched its public cloud service in 2002, organisations have been shifting away from this approach, with an increasing appreciation for the benefits and economies of scale cloud computing permits.
From bare-metal infrastructure and computing resources to software development platforms, storage and ready-to-go enterprise software, the cloud can be used to realise a vast range of business technology projects, with the likes of Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform and IBM leading the charge.
The cloud enables resources to be procured to precisely align with point-in-time demand. This ‘trims the fat’ associated with traditional IT projects, where excess capacity would typically be obtained to allow for future growth. The cloud is also a more efficient alternative to on-premise hosting in terms of infrastructure management. Power, cooling and physical security measures are applied at data centre scale. With the cost of such utilities shared among the many clients using the site, the result is comparatively lower operating costs for individual tenants versus on-premise hosting.
Microsoft 365 is the cloud-based evolution of the familiar Microsoft Office 365 product line. Following its launch back in 2011, Microsoft 365 has evolved further with new platforms, collaboration tools and productivity features coming online in the subsequent decade. Today, this compelling suite of tools constitutes the globes favourite collection of workplace productivity platforms.
Thanks to its cloud-based nature, Microsoft 365 is a must-have for remote workforces, and with numerous packages available and flexible, subscription-based pricing, it’s easy to tailor the product line to fit with the needs of your organisation. Let’s look at some of the suite’s core platforms:
Teams: With an estimated 270 million regular users worldwide, Microsoft Teams is the world’s pre-eminent workplace communication and collaboration platform, and sits at the heart of the 365 experience. Users enjoy feature-rich video conferencing, an intuitive chat interface, communal document libraries for group projects, live document co-authoring and the ability to customise the platform with over 700 enterprise applications.
SharePoint: SharePoint is a collaboration tool that acts as a close companion to Microsoft Teams. Useful as a communal file depository, a place to gather resources for group projects or as a virtual noticeboard, SharePoint is a highly customisable platform, with its uses and applications as varied and unique as the organisations which use it.
Outlook: Highly integral to the Microsoft 365 experience, Outlook functions primarily as an email client, but in reality it’s so much more than that. With other features such as smart calendaring, process automation and workflow management woven into the platform, Outlook is a vital component of 365 offering deep integration with many other tools in the product line.
In addition to the platforms outlined above, Microsoft 365 packages include the familiar Office apps (word, excel, OneNote and PowerPoint) as well as numerous newer platforms designed to aid workplace efficiency, process automation and task management.
Cloud-Hosted Business Telephone
With the UK’s copper-based telephony infrastructure set to be phased out in the near future, telephony modernisation has become an urgent concern for many businesses. Cloud-hosted VoIP systems represent an attractive, future-proof alternative to phone systems of the past, offering numerous business benefits compared to their predecessors.
Hosted VoIP offers enterprise mobility as standard. The rigid, uncompromising nature of traditional on-premise phone systems meant that remote workers were often left ‘out of the loop.’ With hosted VoIP, the private branch exchange software is cloud-hosted meaning you can utilise your phone system from any internet-capable device, from any location, provided you have a data signal or a reliable broadband connection.
Many hosted VoIP systems come pre-loaded with many features designed to improve the customer experience and make light work of handling high call volumes. ‘Auto attendants’ for example, allow inbound callers to ‘self-serve,’ and configurable ‘interactive voice response’ capabilities allow callers to route themselves to the most suitable department or call agent. ‘Call Queues’ allow heavy inbound call loads to be shared among multiple call handlers, easing the pressure and ensuring callers can access the assistance they need in a timely manner. Other common features include call recording, on-hold music, voicemail-to-email, call forwarding and call analytics.
As if the above features weren’t enough, some hosted VoIP systems enable the integration of other communication media, such as instant messaging, email and even enterprise software such as CRMs. The practice is known as ‘unified communications’ and enables streamlined, efficient communication by uniting multiple communication channels and data sources into a single interface.
While many organisations have migrated to hosted VoIP in preparation for the legacy telephony switch off, many other have been enticed by the cost savings on offer. With subscription-based pricing and virtually no additional hardware expenses, getting started with a hosted VoIP system requires very little capital commitment and the process can take as little as a few hours. Expanding the system requires no additional cabling – access can be via existing ethernet or wireless internet connections – and with no on-premise infrastructure to contend with you don’t have to worry about ongoing maintenance. Lastly, the vast majority of VoIP users report substantial call savings compared to the likes of ISDN products. With affordable call bundles that dramatically reduce the cost of overseas calls and the ability to call internal numbers free-of-charge, hosted VoIP could significantly reduce your monthly bills.
When faced with the daily demands of running a business, it can often prove difficult to find the time to develop information security policies and maintain a rigorous network of cyber security protections. Invoking the services of an experienced and accredited managed security provider can be a great way to offload some of the cyber security burden, and liberates you to focus on revenue-driving, value-adding activities.
A managed security provider can help you devise and establish a business continuity strategy, with comprehensive data backup solutions deployed to make your files and systems recoverable in the event of a disaster. They can launch a fleet of tools to protect endpoint devices from malware, including email filtering, firewall protection and antivirus software. Some providers can even deploy extended detection and response tools, which can monitor your network for emerging vulnerabilities and take action before your systems are compromised.
Many IT providers which offer managed security services possess extensive experience working with the most highly regulated industries, so they are often well-versed in security best-practice and can guide their clients on the security processes and protocols.
Of course, you can ‘hire in’ the expertise, but for small to medium sized businesses a managed security provider offers the required breadth of expertise on a more cost-effective basis. In the previous article we highlighted the possible financial pitfalls a lax approach to data security can bring. Partnering with a managed security provider is a great way to ensure you satisfy data security obligations, and thus avoid the financial damage that a data breaches typically entail.
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