Case study – 3CX IP-PBX for Jameson Chartered Accountants

Jamesons&phone

Clacton-based Jameson Chartered Accountants could be described as a ‘large small’ firm, with a team almost thirty strong serving a growing customer base including a number of larger clients.

Their phone system had been in place since 1992, and – perhaps surprisingly – their telecom costs had, if anything, been falling relative to other expenses. In part this is because they receive many more calls than they make themselves: the ratio is probably about 7 to 3. For quick response they now find it more effective to use text messaging and email.

The requirement

Jameson’s had been discussing upgrades to their phone system for some years, but the trigger point came in August 2013, when they took over another practice in Colchester. Shortly afterwards, in April 2014, they took over a second practice based in Manningtree.

Clearly it would be expensive to keep a competent secretarial team at each of the three offices, and there was an additional problem, too. Under the new arrangements some staff were moving between offices, so there was a risk that clients might have to make several phone calls before reaching the person dealing with their affairs. It made obvious sense to have a system where all the calls could be answered at the Clacton head office, and then redirected to the right person wherever they were working at the time – even if they were working from home.

So the firm took the decision not to renew their existing service contract (in place since 1992!) and to look for a replacement system from a reputable supplier.

Timing for the new system was important. The work could not be done until the network cabling in the Clacton office had been reconfigured, which meant waiting until February 2015 – and it certainly could not be started before the majority of the firm’s work on annual tax returns had been completed.

Choosing the system

Jameson’s invited three firms to tender. Two were offering cloud-based systems, but Bill Wilson, who was in charge of the deal, was attracted by Foxhall’s server and software-based system. ‘At 62 I’m an IT enthusiast, and phasing down my professional work, but I’m interested in maintaining our IT system. And Graham made a good impression – his system was the least expensive, and I liked the fact that it could be managed from a server in our office. That meant it was under our control and we could do our own minor modifications. The outlay for Foxhall’s system was mostly on phones and an internet upgrade – we’d have needed to do that for any system, so even if we had eventually chosen something different we’d have benefited from the installation anyway.’

A challenging installation

Even when the decision had been made there were some serious challenges to overcome, especially when it came to finding downtime when the upgrades could be done. The Clacton office is also the firm’s main data centre, with many of the staff working on remote desktop machines but still using the in-house servers. With more and more of the firm’s work being internet-based the tolerance for downtime was almost zero – despite careful scheduling to avoid the firm’s busiest period. Even weekends were difficult because colleagues were still working out of hours. ‘But when necessary Graham always worked late into the night to get things done.’ (Graham notes that he wasn’t the only one…!)

Late night working certainly proved necessary when the Foxhall team tried to replace Jameson’s BT Openreach hubs with Draytek routers – only to find that the existing configuration worked only with BT’s own equipment. However, after a (very) long and frustrating weekend Foxhall were able to get everything working as intended.

Similar problems were revealed when it came to installing the new equipment at Manningtree – but once again these were overcome to everyone’s satisfaction, creating a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that precisely met Jameson’s requirements.

Foxhall’s formal quotation was delivered on 13 March. The Clacton office was up and running on 19 April, the Colchester office five days later, and the Manningtree office five days after that – delays made inevitable by the firm’s intensive use of its servers during the working week.

So what was their experience of the installation? In Bill Wilson’s words: ‘Foxhall Solutions delivered the system we were expecting in a thoroughly professional, friendly and enjoyable way –it was very pleasurable working with them.’

Got a pain in the neck – Go Cordless!

cradling-phone-badIs that phone handset literally giving you a pain in the neck? – As you hold it on your shoulder and type on your keyboard …

If you Google that scenario, you’ll find a lot of references to health & Safety in the workplace, and flat-out suggestions that it just should not be done!

So – What’s the alternative …?

Plantronics_BT40A corded headset is a good start. However, it’s amazing how much more natural and enthusiastic you can be in a phone call if you are able to stand up, walk around, and be expressive – just as though you were talking to that person right there with you. To that end, I’m using a new headset with my Yealink T46G phone. This phone has a rather nice feature in that it can be equipped with Yealink’s BT40 Bluetooth module. This in turn can then be used to connect Bluetooth cordless headsets, like you’d use with your mobile phone. There are a set of tested and compatible headsets for this feature of course, and I recently chose the Plantronics Voyager Legend UC headset for my office.

The headset can either be charged through a USB connection off your PC, or from a small charging stand off a mains power adapter. It will give an impressive seven hours talk time off a complete charge which takes just 90 min’s. Set-up on the T46G phone is quick and simple. Just insert the BT40 into the back of the phone, and then use the menu to enable it, then find and connect it to your headset. Being Bluetooth, the headset is a ‘local’ device, with a range of about 10 metres – so this is not a walk-round-the-building solution! (we can get longer ranges with DECT cordless headsets if you need that feature though …).

EXP40-636This is the ideal phone and headset combination – for any situation where people need to operate a keyboard at the same time as making or taking calls, where they may need to get up and walk to a filing cabinet while talking to a caller, or when they might just want to wave their arms around as they go through that important sales proposal. The talk-time of this headset also means that it would be perfect for a Receptionist who answers and passes on calls for a business – even where call volumes are high. In that situation, we can also equip the T46G phone with EXP40 add-on modules to provide one-touch call transfer off to every extension in your business.

Contact Foxhall Solutions to talk about innovative ways to keep in touch with your staff, customers and suppliers – while avoiding that pain in the neck!

 

Three warning signs for your business telecom’s

Do you consider telecommunications as a cost centre or a profit centre for your business?

If it’s not helping you be productive, then it’s probably your phone system that is causing the problems. Your staff may be finding it easier to call their colleagues and customers, on their mobiles rather than use the phone on their desk. If that’s the case, then modern IP-PBX phone systems can help you “put the Comm’s in Commerce” …

Here’s three signs that indicate you need to take a close look at your business phone system:

High Cost of Ownership
catblog1Do the incoming bills from your supplier for; maintenance, repairs, adding extra lines, and local & international call tariffs – make up a large portion of your monthly business costs?  It’s hard to focus on improving communication for local and remote offices when you’re hit with big phone bills!  IP-PBX systems are a perfect solution to reduce that monthly or quarterly cost. Make the change and enjoy little to no repairs and low cost calls & phone lines; In addition, you can connect your remote users and branch offices through Internet – making ‘internal’ calls free of charge.

Growing Pains
A growing organisation has one major concern in terms of telecom’s; scalability. If restrictions in your phone system are limiting the ways you can connect to your staff, customers and suppliers – due to platform restrictions, or costs – then it’s time to look for a more flexible solution. One of the best advantages of an IP-PBX system is the opportunity for extremely cost-efficient and quick scalability, so your phone system can grow and change along with your business.

Poor Connections with Colleagues
Business pressures are making it important to enable staff in your company to talk with each other and share ideas and innovation – even if they don’t work at the same office or for the same Department. If your current phone system and its costs, make it difficult for your staff to connect with each other, then that’s a barrier toward making improvements in your business. An IP-PBX will allow easy and low cost connection between staff, as well as groups – through either a phone call, or a video conferencing connection. The introduction of app’s to show ‘presence’, and to change the way calls get to you, also make it easy to keep in touch when you are on the road.

If it’s your phone system that dictates the way that you handle calls to and from your staff, customers and suppliers, then you need to look at a modern IP-PBX – like 3CX. 3CX will allow your business to connect in ways that benefit your organisation, and in ways determined by you – not by some phone system manufacturer …

Contact us at Foxhall Solutions to talk about the ways that 3CX can help your business ….

Are you trapped in a Rollover contract?

roll-over-contractThere is a lot of choice in the UK market at the moment, and it’s a great time for you to look at cutting telecom’s costs. If, like our customers, you are implementing VoIP – then you could cut ongoing monthly bills for lines and calls, by as much as 80% …

However, if doing this entails changing your Telecom’s provider, you may be in for a shock!

You may think that you’ve been with your Telecom’s provider long enough to see the ‘Initial Period’ of your contract long-gone. So – you get your quotes and decide to change your phone system and services – and inform your existing provider that you want to cease your lines and port your numbers. Sounds easy, but then … (queue theatrical thunder/lightning effect!)

Caught in the Storm

… your existing provider tells you that your contract has ‘rolled-over’ into another 12 month period, and if you want to cancel your contract, then you’ll need to pay an ‘Early Termination Charge’ of hundreds or even thousands of pounds! When you question this, you’re told that if you want to cease your contract, you’ll have to do it within a ridiculously tight window around the anniversary date of your contract [which – 9 times out of 10, has only just passed!] …

If you think that this just doesn’t sound fair … you may be right!

ofcom-logoYour service provider should be aware that Ofcom carried out a serious review of rollover (a.k.a. Automatically Renewable) contracts and early termination charges in 2011, as these were seen as restrictive to consumers (i.e. making it difficult to change supplier), and generally harmful to the industry.

Ofcom has prohibited ‘Automatically Renewable Contracts’ (ARC’s), in the provision of fixed voice and broadband to small business and residential sectors of the market in a Statement that was published at the end of 2011.  The sale of ARCs was prohibited after 31st December 2011, and Ofcom required that ARCs be removed from the market (i.e. customers on these contracts be migrated to another contract), by 31st December 2012.

If your business has less than 10 employees, then a service provider is prohibited from selling you an ARC to cover the provision of your lines and/or broadband. This doesn’t stop the service provider imposing a Minimum Contract Period and rolling the contract on at the end of that period, but, Ofcom regulations now insist that your provider must gain your ‘Express Consent’ for this to happen and ‘notice’ periods must be stipulated for both parties in the contract. It might be for example, that your provider can offer you a mutually beneficial deal if you do enter into a rolling 12 month contract – but, regulations have changed the automatic [customer-led] opt-in nature of these contracts, putting the onus on the provider to advise the customer of the roll-over – and putting responsibility with them to gain customer consent to roll the contract forward into another year …

In short, if you want to change your provider of; lines, ISDN, VoIP and/or broadband, and you are told that your contract has ‘rolled-over’ and you will face a penalty charge for cancelling your contract – you need to ask your provider how their restrictions upon you moving your services apply with respect to Ofcom regulations (referencing: The Communications Act 2003 – General Condition 9.3) – and you need to have your service provider give you proof that they have sought, and that you have given ‘express consent’ for the rollover. If you are not given adequate proof of your liability, then avenues are open for you to escalate your complaint to Ofcom. On most occasions, when pressed – you might find that you are within your rights to make the changes you want to, when you want to – and you’ll only need to comply with minimal notice periods.

Just remember, that if it doesn’t seem fair, it probably isn’t!

We are telecom’s experts here at Foxhall, not Lawyers, so if you do find yourself in this situation, give us a call at 01787228402 (or use our Contact Us page), and we can provide some general advice, and then point you in the right direction to get the help you need.

SIP trunks can help your business cut telephone costs

One of the most frustrating aspects of having a telephone system & service is that its on-going costs can cut deeply into your profit margin – But, you can’t sacrifice quality to save money because reliable communication with clients and colleagues is vital!

There is an answer … SIP trunks can help your business cut telephone costs without losing any of the quality or features your legacy telephony provides. Broadly speaking, SIP Trunks are ‘virtual line channels’ in a broadband Internet connection. What follows are a few keys ways SIP trunks save you money:

mac2Reduce long distance charges: Using SIP trunks – which are essentially virtual phone lines on the Internet – lets you bypass the exorbitant rates that major carriers often charge. In some cases, SIP Trunk tariffs for international calls are similar to, or only slightly higher than local rates. This means substantial savings for businesses, especially those that operate in multiple markets and maintain a geographical spread of branch offices.

catblog1Rationalise monthly charges: Working with an Internet Telephony Service Provider, helps you cut costs. With SIP trunks you no longer have to fear the nightmare of opening a phone bill and being hit with unforeseen charges and fees; there are no hidden or arbitrary monthly fees that depend on call plans with SIP trunking.

 

SIP-TrunksMerge voice and data: SIP trunks allow you to merge your voice & data networks, meaning you can pay for one service and its maintenance, instead of two. All communications converge and are delivered through one Internet-connecting ‘pipe’, which streamlines your infrastructure and reduces the amount of IT hardware you need to buy and maintain.

90_messycablesAvoid unused capacity: With SIP trunks you purchase only the capacity you need, rather than bundles of phone lines, many of which go unused when call volume is not at its peak. With SIP trunks you pay only for what you use, as the infrastructure necessary to add or remove capacity on-demand, is already in place.

 

Are you interested in learning more about SIP trunks? Click here to visit our SIP FAQ & Info page – or contact us at 01787 228 402 to talk about how SIP Trunks can really save your business money.

Using Internet to carry phone calls, is no longer ‘Revolutionary’!

SIP-TrunksFirstly, let’s get rid of the technical terms … ‘Session Initiation Protocol’ (SIP) is the common standard providing the signalling protocols to set up & control ‘Voice over Internet Protocol’ (VoIP) phone calls across the Internet. … and … ‘SIP Trunks’ are the VoIP channels used to carry a telephone call, and are the modern equivalent to telephone lines … There, that’s out of the way – now to the interesting stuff.

In the first six months of 2014, we saw the UK SIP market continue to drive forward, with 137,000 new channels being commissioned. The UK market alone, now uses  [that’s at mid. 2014] in excess of 1.3 million SIP Trunk channels in both SME and large Enterprise sectors. Take-up of SIP Trunks is particularly strong where Small to Medium Enterprises need less than nine lines – where ISDN30 is often [expensive and] not appropriate, and multiple ISDN2’s are too costly!     [illume Research – July 2014]

With in excess of a million SIP Trunk channels being used by UK businesses, and with UK businesses needing to be flexible and cost-effective, it would be wise to look upon SIP Trunks as proven technology and if not already noted – to put a chat with your local VoIP expert, very high on your to-do list!

More customers are installing SIP Trunk channels on ‘Ethernet First Mile’ (EFM) and ‘Fibre to the Cabinet’ (FTTC) broadband services. EFM is a cost effective broadband service for top quality and reliable VoIP, but is expensive to install in rural areas. Fortunately the Fibre roll-out continues and hopefully we’ll have at least 50% of business premises within reach of fibre broadband by the end of 2014. As fibre roll-out continues, we’ll see the SIP Trunk market pushing toward its full potential and the majority of businesses able to take big steps toward reducing the ongoing costs of their telecom’s services. If you do it properly, a VoIP telephone system is not cheap! However, it will bring you lasting benefits in its low cost of ownership. One of the major areas where ongoing service costs can be reduced, is by using SIP Trunk channels in a broadband service, rather than ISDN lines.

As an example, a small business might need eight phone lines – so let’s compare the costs (ex. VAT) of four ISDN2e lines, against an 8-channel SIP Trunk solution:

a) ISDN2e

Each ISDN2e line is capable of carrying two simultaneous calls – therefore, to get our 8-call capacity, we’d need a total of four ISDN2e lines installed. BT’s ISDN2 pricing shows us that the connection cost of an ISDN2e line is £353.00 – and if you wish to take a 1 year contract with no inclusive calls, then an ISDN line (2 ch.) is rented at £22.74 per month. To summarise;

  • Install costs for 8 lines (4 x ISDN2e)  … £1,412.00 (one-off)
  • Monthly rental for 8 lines (4 x ISDN2e) … £91.00 per month.

b) SIP Trunks

Each SIP Trunk is capable of carrying one call into or out of your business. Therefore, to get our 8-call capacity, we’d need eight SIP Trunk channels – and we’d also need a broadband Internet service on a standard analogue line to carry those calls to and from our Internet Telephony Service Provider (ITSP). Quoting prices from our ITSP partner – Chicane Internet – the install of 8 lines would require the following;

  • Install cost for one Business analogue line … £105.00 (one-off)
  • Connection cost for VDSL FTTC Biz … £85.00 (one-off)  [Note that this service actually has capacity for up to 80 simultaneous VoIP calls!]
  • Connection cost for 8 SIP Trunk channels … £zero [That’s right! – no connection charge for a SIP Trunk!]
  • Monthly rental for analogue Business Line …  £13.75 per month
  • Monthly rental for VDSL FTTC Biz … £32.00 per month
  • Monthly rental for 8 x SIP Trunk channels @ £2.00 … £16.00 per month

… or to summarise;

  • One-off line & service set up costs … £190.00 +VAT (13% of the set-up of ISDN)
  • Ongoing monthly costs … £61.75 +VAT  per month (68% of the monthly cost of ISDN)

It’s figures like this that show the true & proven benefits of VoIP systems and SIP Trunks – even before you get into flexibility, such as phone numbers that can be ported to anywhere and Direct Dial numbers with any UK area code.

To have a no-obligation chat about how SIP Trunks can benefit your business, call us at Foxhall Solutions on 01787 228 402 – or use our Contact Us page on this website.