In the previous post, we discussed the increased demand for collaboration tools to enable productive, real-time interaction between employees, management, business partners and customers. Organizations seeking to meet this demand while reducing the overhead of seldom-used desk phones are increasingly turning to softphones.

A softphone, short for “software telephone” and also referred to as a “soft client,” is an application that enables VoIP phone communication on a desktop or mobile device. Desk phones are gradually being replaced by softphone applications that can be used on PCs and laptops with a microphone and headset. Softphones can also be integrated with mobile devices and collaboration tools to provide users with a single communications interface. Just as email began shifting to mobile devices approximately 10 years ago, voice communication is following the same path.

Softphones enable organizations to provide cost-efficient, flexible communication whether the user is working from his or her desk or not. Desk phones are replaced by less-expensive, user-friendly applications that support the trend towards mobile workforces and bring-you-own-device (BYOD) policies.

While softphone adoption is on the rise, certain considerations need to be taken into account to ensure a successful deployment. First, the IT infrastructure must be assessed to ensure that it will support a softphone deployment. Because the network treats softphone traffic like other application traffic that might not be as time-sensitive, there needs to be adequate bandwidth, especially for wireless devices. In fact, if you’re using older operating systems that can’t prioritize softphone traffic, softphones probably wouldn’t make sense for your organization until you upgrade. If regulations or policies require the user’s location to be tracked, make sure you’re using a tracking solution that works with softphones.

Although cost savings are an important advantage of softphones, you still need to invest in high-quality headsets to avoid any perceived drop in audio quality. Many users are very attached to their desk phones and resistant to change, or they equate the disappearance of a traditional desk phone as another cost-cutting measure. As a result, any bumps in the road during the switch to softphones, such as degraded audio quality, can raise red flags. Organizations need to not only invest in the right tools, but also educate employees about the advantages of softphones and provide training in order to build employee support and encourage adoption.

ShoreTel recently introduced ShoreTel Telephony for Microsoft, a new plug-in that allows the seamless integration of ShoreTel’s unified communications platform with Microsoft Skype for Business. The solution embeds telephony controls inside the Skype for Business client, which acts as a ShoreTel-enabled softphone. ShoreTel Telephony for Microsoft makes it possible to place and transfer calls, initiate a conference call, access voicemail, and control presence and other settings and preferences – all directly from the Skype for Business client. This is especially valuable for the many large to midsize organizations that have adopted Skype for Business to support collaboration among geographically dispersed teams.

Are softphones right for your organization? Do you have the infrastructure to support a successful softphone deployment? What steps do you need to take to win the support of your employees? Let IPC help you determine the best path forward to maximize the quality of communication in your organization.