How to change your phone system’s call routing schedule using calendars.
About a decade ago, while providing IT support for one of our long time small business clients, we received a desperate call for help. Their existing phone system had stopped working and after a day and a half they were getting nowhere with the system vendor’s tech support. It seems the system vendor was pointing the finger at the phone service provider and the service provider was claiming there was nothing wrong with the service. A typical “not my problem” stalemate.
We took a look at the situation and quickly determined that it was indeed the system vendor at fault but after another half day of dealing with their tech support and getting nowhere, we had to figure something else out.
We managed to get all the lines forwarded to the owner and manager’s cell phones as a stop gap and then two days later had a brand new phone system and service in place, all run by Ashcor Technologies. The bonus being that we were able to cut their monthly cost by a few hundred dollars while providing new modern features that improved the office efficiency. Because Ashcor Technologies was now responsible for both the system and the service, we could guaranty an end to the “not my problem” finger pointing tech support nightmare.
Sadly, this situation is not unique. One of the biggest pain points for small and medium business owners is their phone system and service. They tend to either be completely out dated, expensive to fix (if you can even find someone willing and able to do it), difficult or impossible to modify and attached to very expensive legacy service or, cheap, inefficient and totally DIY.
In either case, the phone system is that monster lurking in the closet that as long as it stays there, nobody is willing to deal with. The problem is that eventually that monster, suffering from neglect and loneliness, will throw a temper tantrum and bring your business’s main connection to the world to a grinding halt.
Given the traditional complexity of the systems and service options available, the myriad of incomprehensible technical lingo and the cost typically involved, business owners and managers can hardly be blamed for putting the task of dealing with their phone systems on the back burner and leaving it there indefinitely.
The problem is, businesses still using old analog copper POTS lines are paying extremely high rates for outdated technology. If they have more than one location they are doing this at each one potentially costing the business thousands of dollars a year.
While less expensive Internet based phone systems and service have existed for some time, the complexity and fear of converting to a new technology often prevents business owners and managers from making that leap. For the brave one’s that do the choices are usually between mainly DIY online systems where they are charged a-la-carte for every feature and are responsible for supporting themselves or, turning to the local cable company and the systems and service they offer. While the cable companies do provide hosted systems they tend to have all the service efficiency of… well… cable companies.
So what makes Ashcor Technologies solution different? Simply put, our purpose isn’t to just provide our clients with a phone system and service, it’s to eliminate the headache of owning such a system. We approach each system design from a holistic view of your entire business to ensure the final system fits not only your basic communication needs but also enhances the efficiency of your entire operation.
Once installed, we charge a single flat monthly rate for the system and service. We maintain the system every week, installing system updates, configuration backups and making any configuration changes requested. Should you wish to manage aspects of the system yourself we’re more than happy to give that access to you and train your staff. In addition, as we get to know your business more and more we can offer more features we think will help enhance your efficiency, often for no additional cost.
Does your business have multiple locations or employees who work remotely? If so why not merge all of these separate locations into a single unified communication system that cuts costs and improves efficiency. Ashcor Technologies can do that for you too. If you still find yourself whistling past the graveyard of your existing phone system while paying hundreds of dollars a month for outdated, unhelpful and inefficient service, give us a call and find out just how easy, efficient and inexpensive your business phone system can be.
Video Conferencing: An Alternative to Big Tech Censorship and Privacy Concerns
As the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in February and March of 2020, corporations, schools and organizations worldwide scrambled to find a way to continue in-person communications without being…. In person. Seizing on the opportunity the pandemic presented, Zoom, a video conferencing solution provider quickly stepped to the forefront as the go-to solution for many.
The service quickly ran into issues however as reports of school classroom and corporate video conferencing sessions being “zoom-bombed” by unwanted participants and questions arose about the security of including personal information of minors in the zoom accounts that each participant needs to create in order to use the service (https://www.forbes.com/sites/kateoflahertyuk/2020/03/27/beware-zoom-users-heres-how-people-can-zoom-bomb-your-chat/#65ec5516618e).
In April Zoom’s servers were hacked and over 500,000 usernames and passwords were stolen and published on the dark web (https://www.forbes.com/sites/daveywinder/2020/04/28/zoom-gets-stuffed-heres-how-hackers-got-hold-of-500000-passwords/#4ca910925cdc).
Most recently a bi-partisan US Senate committee began investigating Zoom’s ties to the CCP after Zoom suspended the accounts of 3 users, one in China and two in the US after receiving pressure from the Chinese government to censor their commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-zoom-video-commn-privacy/us-lawmakers-ask-zoom-to-clarify-china-ties-after-it-suspends-accounts-idUSKBN23I3GP#:~:text=Zoom%20said%20on%20Friday%20it,affect%20users%20outside%20the%20country).
Unfortunately, these issues of security and censorship are not limited to Zoom but seem to plague nearly all the tech giants that provide the world’s online communications solutions. Fortunately, there are alternatives. The Open Source community has developed many alternatives and indeed many commercially available products had their start in the Open Source world. The issue with using Open Source solutions has always been that they can be technically challenging to implement and must be self-supported.
The benefit of using an Open Source solution is that you are completely in control of the services they offer, the security implemented and of course the cost (most are totally free to use). Because of these benefits, early on Ashcor Technologies began offering Open Source based solutions to our small business customers. This enables us to provide big business capabilities at price points that were accessible to the small and medium business markets. Ashcor installs configures and maintains the systems for our clients and charges a small fee for the service.
As the pandemic broke and area wide lockdowns were implemented the need for an easy to use, private and secure video conferencing solution rushed to the forefront of our customers’ requirements. Ashcor Technologies once again turned to the Open Source community and created the Ashcor VidConf solution based on the Jitsi Open Source project.
Leveraging the Jitsi project we were able to create a custom branded, private, and secure video conferencing service for our clients. Each implementation of the VidConf service runs on its own private cloud server, is custom branded with the client’s name and graphics and requires no accounts to be created by its participants. Administrator accounts are created for those responsible for creating and managing meetings however no personal information is stored on the server.
Just like the big tech solutions the Ashcor VidConf service offers on the fly meeting creation, open or password protected meetings, screen sharing, YouTube video sharing, YouTube streaming of meetings, in meeting group and private messaging and admin control of participants audio.
Unlike the big tech solutions, the Ashcor VidConf service doesn’t charge per session or per admin account fees or limit the number of simultaneous sessions. We don’t have access to your participant’s private information and neither do your employees. Further, we’ll never sensor your content as the server is yours and not subject to the political whims of any corporation or government. If video conferencing is now a part of your organization and you have concerns about privacy, the potential for censorship and the cost and limitations of other commercially available solutions, contact us for a free demo of our VidConf solution. Your communication should be long to you.
Outdoor family living spaces are becoming more and more popular these days and what living space is complete without a television to gather around?
Outdoor living space configurations range from completely open to fully covered or enclosed and any combination in between. Some are close to or adjacent to the main house and others are separate.
When it comes to choosing the right TV for your outdoor living space there are several factors about the space that need to be considered such as exposure to the elements, direction of the sun in relation to the television, location of the cable box and other sources, sound and control methods.
In general, there are two basic ways to go with regards to the actual TV selection. You can either spend thousands of dollars on a true outdoor TV that is enclosed in a weather proof case, generally has a brighter screen and can be left out all year long, or go to the other end of the price spectrum and install the cheapest TV you can find for a few hundred dollars knowing that it may need to be replaced after a season or two if not carefully cared for, and may not be watchable in bright daylight.
The benefits of a true outdoor TV is that you don’t have to worry about it being destroyed by the rain, snow, direct sunlight or a misguided soccer ball. They usually come with an outdoor rated remote control and can be watched in direct sunlight. The downside to this type of TV is of course the price and added weight of the weatherproof case. You can expect to pay roughly $2500 and up for a 50” HD outdoor TV. If you’ll be installing the TV in a location with absolutely no shelter and times of direct sunlight, this would really be the only choice.
Conversely, going the super cheap route with the understanding that by installing an indoor TV outside you are voiding any warranty and you may have to replace the TV if someone forgets to put the cover on it during inclement weather, may be a viable option for partially or better sheltered locations. At around $300 for a cheap 4K 50” you can afford to replace it about 8 times before hitting the price point of a proper outdoor TV. If the TV will not be in direct sunlight and you’ll be doing most of your watching in the early morning, late afternoon or evening, this works well for many situations. You will have to buy a cover for the TV to put on it when not in use, but these are easily sourced and inexpensive.
Once you’ve selected the proper TV for your installation, it’s time to consider what sources you’d like to have and where the devices (cable box, AppleTV, RoKu, Bluray etc) will be kept. Indoors it’s easy to just place the devices under the TV or somewhere in the same room. Outdoors this generally isn’t the case. This means you’ll need to have some additional equipment and wiring installed to get the source signal to the TV location and the remote-control signal back to the components.
This can add several hundred to thousands of dollars to the project so be prepared. There are several HDBaseT devices on the market that can send an HDMI signal from a source device up to 300 feet over Category cable to the TV and bring the remote-control signal from the TV location back to the source components.
Depending on the TV install location, running the cabling and installing the hardware may require additional construction and or excavation to run the cables properly and safely. Electric will also need to be installed at the location.
Sound from the TV is another consideration. Unlike sitting in your living room with walls and a ceiling that reflect and bounce the sound around, in outdoor spaces the sound from the speakers built into the TV often has nothing to reflect off of and therefore may be hard to hear at normal volume levels. Installing an outdoor rated sound bar or tying the TV sound into an existing outdoor speaker system may be necessary to truly enjoy the experience. This again can add at least a few hundred dollars to the overall project cost. We’ve briefly touched on some of the challenges, choices and costs that need to be considered when adding a TV to your outdoor living space. While this can be a DIY project it’s not one for the faint of heart and the potential pitfalls are numerous for those not experienced enough to spot them. In addition, it may require several different contractors including carpenters, masons, electricians and AV specialist to complete.
If you’re thinking of enhancing your outdoor living space with a TV or other entertainment tech, give us a call and we’ll come out and give you a free consultation and estimate.