Saturday 23 November 2013

Hammersmith and Fulham Brilliant Business Awards 2013

This month we are all sporting smart new email signatures bearing a blue and green rosette. So a huge thanks to all our customers who voted for us as H&F Brilliant Business Awards. Last year, when we won a runners-up award, I was determined to launch a well-organised campaign to ensure victory this year, but as ever events overtook us as we were at full stretch trying to get our Surbiton branch up and running, so this never happened.

I was therefore both extremely surprised and hugely proud of the efforts of my team when we were voted as the winners of the Hammersmith and Fulham Brilliant Business Awards Best Business Supporter of the Community. A big thanks to Nicki Burgess at London Borough of H&F Economic Development Learning & Skills for organising such a popular event.!

It’s hard to believe it’s taken 9 months from first finding the new  premises, but taking a business from one branch to two requires a huge amount of extra work to ensure that the infrastructure works.

Our old phone system used 3CX, which is a software based PBX, but while this would have been scalable in theory, we simply don’t have the in-house expertise to deploy and support it across two sites. I should stress that this isn’t a shortcoming on our part – our philosophy is ‘Choose what you do, and do it well’. When it comes to phones, rather than dabble ourselves we would rather work with experts who we know and trust in the form of Spitfire. Our recommended solution for small businesses is hosted PBX, so it made sense to migrate our own phone system to this platform so that we can provide fist line support to our customers based on our experience with working with it ourselves, as well as knowing what the system is capable of, which in turn means we can better advise our customers on which configurations would best meet their requirements.

Now that everything is up and running we’re all delighted; each site has its own geographical number, but shares the 0800, number which rings four times in Fulham before spilling over to Surbiton in case Fulham is busy. For internal calls we have extensions beginning with 20xx for Fulham, and 21xx for Surbiton, as well as caller display so we know who is calling. We are using dedicated SIP trunks to carry the traffic, as well VDSL (the acronym for fibre) for our data which is welcome improvement of our ADSL speeds. For any business out there that isn’t using IP telephony this is your wakeup call – ISDN is looking decidedly dated.

It’s great that we can configure pretty much anything to work the way we want it to, but the main consideration is that it no longer depends on our own server. That’s not to say our server is unreliable; although we have had our fair share of hardware issues the redundancy features mean that or downtime has been minimal, but we have to face the fact that these huge, power hungry behemoths (there are two of them, of course) are now getting old in server terms, and as we grow we are working to eliminate single points of failure – outsourcing your telephone network to a highly resilient service provider is a sensible step along this path.

We have until recently also used our servers for file and email services, as well as hosting our database, so it made sense to move our Exchange email service to the cloud at the same time – we’ve now competed our migration to the Microsoft Office 365 platform, with our next steps being to more our data to SharePoint and our database to SQL Server on Azure.

At this point we will be using our servers for storing client backups, and domain security, and that’s about all. I have to say that as the person who carries ultimate responsibility for everything working properly, this brings a certain peace of mind.

Because we work with smaller businesses we’ve always recommended avoiding the expense of running a server if you can, but the viability of Microsoft’s hosted services is such that even larger businesses can start thinking about outsourcing their email and data to the cloud to reduce their reliance on the on-site server, and we’ve seen this part of our business grow in leaps and bounds – we are just about to print up another batch of mouse mats, and for the first time in years you’ll notice that we’ve changed our list to services to include hosted services. A sign of the times.