Welcome to SBM 1

On any given day, the sales and technical teams at PlanET Biogas Solutions Inc. (PBS) might be on a farm in rural Alberta or on the grounds of a remote hydro station in Manitoba. This often meant missed calls and emails in areas not covered by PBS’s cellular phone providers – until recently.

Earlier this year, the St. Catharines, Ont.-based company, which is an affiliate of PlanET Biogas Group in Vreden, Germany, moved its telecommunication system to the cloud – a surprisingly simple step that has led to significant changes in the way PBS team members work and communicate.

“It streamlined our communications and gave us features and functions that really help our people everyday,” says Andrea Steed, executive administrator at PBS, which builds biogas systems that turn waste into energy and, in some cases, rich fertilizer.

“Today, we can do things like send a fax directly to our team members’ phones or start a call on an office phone and then flip the conversation seamlessly to a mobile phone.”

Another benefit of the new system that Ms. Steed really likes: “It has removed four monthly bills off my desk every month,” she says. “Because our primary mobility provider did not have service in a lot of areas, we had to buy phones from other providers. I was getting all these bills from so many providers and I couldn’t stay on top of that.”

With its new cloud-based system, Telus Business Connect, PBS gets access to a full-featured enterprise-grade VoIP solution designed to address the unique needs of small businesses. PBS received a toll-free number and a main local phone number as part of its base plan, along with benefits such as unlimited calling in Canada and the United States, audio and video conferencing – for up to 1,000 users on audio and a maximum of four users on video – and calling features that includes recorded greeting, auto attendant and voicemail.

“It’s a really user-friendly solution,” says Ms. Steed, whose company has built 12 biogas systems in Canada since it launched in North America nine years ago. “Telus came in with desk phones and we plugged them in – no additional wiring needed.”

In the past, as PBS grew and hired more people, adding new employees to the phone system was a complicated process that required Ms. Steed to re-record the entire voice message and menu of options.

“Today, I can log onto my computer, put on my headset and just record the change,” she says. “I was not in the office yesterday, but was able to go into the system remotely and direct my calls to someone else.”

Craig Thornton, director of small business solutions at Telus, says this flexibility makes it easy for small businesses to scale up or down as their companies grow or enter into a slow season. The pricing structure adds another layer of flexibility; base plans start at $50 a month, with additional users costing $30 per user, per month.

“Telus Business Connect gives small businesses access to key features that were once available only to large enterprises, such as auto-attendant, audio and video conferencing, and intelligent call routing,” says Mr. Thornton. “By putting our phone system in the cloud, we’ve enabled big business features with a small business price tag.”

Mr. Thornton says Telus Business Connect users find the enhanced call-forwarding and auto-attendant features especially useful because they ensure that calls are routed to the right team member – even after hours if necessary.  This feature can be set up to “follow” or “hunt for” the right user by ringing through to pre-assigned phone numbers when a call to a user’s primary phone number isn’t picked up.

“If you’re a plumber, for example, you can create an interactive voice recording asking callers to press 1 if they have an emergency and that call could be routed directly to the owner’s mobile phone,” explains Mr. Thornton. “All other calls could be routed to a receptionist or voicemail.”

Today’s small-business owners are spending more time working at home and on the road, says Mr. Thornton. A telecommunication solution that limits them to a landline and forces them to check their voicemail several times a day to keep up with missed calls can reduce their ability to stay responsive to their market.

“For start-ups in particular, a customer call you take immediately can change the entire trajectory of your business – instead of someone else’s,” says Mr. Thornton.