Clients don’t care where you are. They care if they can reach you

Virtualized phone systems allow you to integrate land lines, mobile phones and other IT infrastructure so clients never feel out of the loop

The Frictionless Office

Woman talking on mobile phone while walking outside

(Paul Bradbury/Getty)

“I would say we’re in the office 30% of the time or less,” says Doug Bailey of London, Ont.-based Integrated Technology. As IT consultants, he and his partner Rob Pelletier are almost always on call for emergencies. They often work on the road or on clients’ premises and sometimes contract work out to external consultants.

While a single cell or landline might work for some small businesses, Integrated Technology’s complex needs demand a more sophisticated solution. So for the past four years, Bailey has been using virtual PBX system 3CX, which allows him to manage his phone system via software, with features like automated call-forwarding and the ability to take calls on his mobile via VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol); a fancy way of saying that the call is relayed via an Internet connection instead of a phone line. “Our clients don’t really know if we’re in the office, on the road or on vacation,” Bailey says. “They just know that they can dial the office number and get ahold of us.”

PBX, short for “Private Branch Exchange,” is essentially a private telephone network—think an office that shares a common phone number but where each staff member has a unique extension. A modern PBX system such as 3CX is an evolution of that basic premise, using software and Internet data to extend the system’s reach and capabilities. Calls can be relayed to phone lines or routed via VoIP on smartphone or laptop applications, giving businesses situational flexibility: you might choose to use landlines for local calls and VoIP for long distance, saving on phone bills. Small business owners who want to keep their personal cell number private without having to carry a separate company phone can use the forwarding technology to keep the two numbers distinct. Additional features include receiving faxes and voicemail via email and being able to view the status of colleagues, so you don’t forward a call to a co-worker who’s already on the phone.

“The phone system adjusts to how we work,” says Bailey, who was so happy with the system he became a 3CX service provider so he could offer it to his clients, too. One company he works with, for instance, has a main office in London, Ont. and a satellite office in Brantford, Ont.—about an hour’s drive east. Installing a virtual PBX system allowed them to have a single phone network to cover both offices. “It has the advantage of allowing the offices to talk together without having to pay for an additional phone line,” he says.

Bailey and Pelletier also depend on remote management software to help them serve customers in a more organized fashion, without always having to be onsite. “We’re small, and we try to take advantage of technology resources that allow us to operate more efficiently,” Bailey says. Not only does the program they use, Autotask, let them access clients’ computers from afar—saving both time and travel costs—but they can set up an alert system that lets them know when problems are likely to arise. “A number of things get registered in the background that the average user doesn’t look at,” Bailey notes, “and they are telltale signs there’s a potential issue coming up with the computer. If we get an alert, we can respond quicker, so that our clients reduce their downtime.”

They’re also setting up a ticketing system so that customers can, say, let them know about non-urgent issues on a Saturday—to be dealt with on Monday—without having to call. Another bonus to this method? The tickets can be turned into invoices automatically, saving time and effort that would otherwise be spent on accounting. “If we make sure we’re billing in a more timely and accurate manner and have more detail on the invoices, it makes the process easier for us and our clients,” he adds.

All of these tools have made Bailey’s work more flexible, allowing him to run a business that’s semi-virtual but still hands-on. The system did its job during a trip he took to Cuba last month, when he used the app on his phone to receive calls via VoIP—no newsworthy roaming charges required. In one case he had Pelletier visit a client to handle an issue in person, but in another, he handled the entire problem remotely. “It’s amazing how many people were saying: ‘I dialed your office number and you’re telling me you’re in Cuba,’” he remarks. “People were able to contact me, and I was able to deal with them sitting by the pool.”