Phrases like ‘joined up communications’ and ‘seamless working’ have been bandied about our industry for the last decade as businesses have come to terms with the fact that a single office mentality is just not practical anymore.
While these phrases may have been used by telephone system manufacturers and resellers to promote the benefits of unified communications, they can now also be applied to the range of communications and IT services used by modern-day businesses.
This is certainly true of multi-site businesses. Whereas offices may have operated on an independent basis in the past, the benefits of linking these and remote workers together to improve productivity and enhance customer service has become clear.
At the start of this century - this decade even - offices may have used a standalone, on-premise telephone system, stored all their files on an on-site server, accessed the internet and Wi-Fi services on a per office basis.
Slowly but surely, businesses with multiple sites are linking together to share resources. Individual site telephone systems are being replaced by on-premise VoIP solutions or cloud or data centre hosted systems. These have seen call costs between sites plummet while calls can be answered and transferred seamlessly across the business to stamp out branch mentality and to improve customer service.
Similarly, businesses are linking to centrally-hosted IT services and servers. Again, these can either be based at one site and linked to from other sites via internet connections or they can be hosted in a data centre in a private cloud set-up or in a public cloud.
We have also seen a trend towards whole-business Wi-Fi solutions that can be monitored centrally, despite the access points clearly being located across multiple sites.
Internet connectivity can be delivered from a central point too with firewalls and filtering devices offering a corporate security standard for all devices.
Centrally linking all services may seem like a massive upheaval, especially if a business has grown gradually and individual site contracts are not aligned. However, the benefits of investing in a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) to link all your sites are too numerous to ignore.
Many multi-site businesses already have a WAN but may be unaware of all the benefits a SD-WAN could deliver or the improvements that could be made to make their business more cost-effective.
Dare I suggest it, but it also gives businesses an opportunity to purchase all their communications and IT services from a single supplier to give them a more powerful purchasing power and to enjoy having just one contact for any queries and support.
I have worked with many businesses that have benefited from SD-WANs designed and delivered by swcomms. These have included The Bradfords Group, Mole Valley Farmers, Bradleys Estate Agents and Axminster Power Tools & Machinery. They all wanted to drive through cost efficiencies, control over their voice and IT services, and see an increase in productivity. These are large businesses with multiple sites, but their SD-WAN mentality can be applied to any businesses with two or more branches.
With the new year now in full flow and businesses making plans for the next financial year, I would urge multi-site businesses to trust advice from their IT managers and invest in or upgrade their WAN as the use of hosted or cloud services continues to grow.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can offer any further advice. You may also be interested in a more technical video blog from my colleague and head of network implementation Matt Needs: An introduction to next generation-wide area networks.