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The VoIP Report

How VoIP Helps Architects Communicate
June 7th, 2017

How VoIP Helps Architects Communicate

Ian Linton

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) provides a solution that helps architects communicate successfully with teams, clients, suppliers, and professionals.

Architecture firms rely on effective communication and collaboration tools to develop concepts and detailed design proposals for buildings and coordinate the work of suppliers and other professionals to deliver the completed project.

Collaboration is a key part of their business as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) pointed out saying, “The goal of everyone in the industry should be better, faster, more capable project delivery created by fully integrated, collaborative teams.”

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) provides a solution that helps architects communicate successfully within teams, and with clients, suppliers, and other professionals. It supports efficient teamwork, low-cost external communications, and productive mobile working. VoIP can also streamline important business processes such as billing, client management, and supply chain management.

Versatile communications tools

VoIP is a cloud-based Internet communications service, which gives architecture firms the choice of managing a system on their premises or using a hosted service, managed by a service provider.

A hosted service eliminates the cost of buying and managing infrastructure and leaves the firm free to concentrate on their business rather than telecoms. VoIP also reduces calling costs. Long distance and international calling rates over the Internet are lower than equivalent charges on the standard telephone network. Calls between VoIP users are free, which means big savings for firms with multiple sites.

VoIP offers a wide range of features and services to improve communication flexibility. Professionals can make and receive traditional phone calls, send and receive texts and instant messages, hold chat sessions, and collaborate using audio, web or video conferencing tools.

VoIP also supports rich content sharing that is essential in this business. During a collaborative session, professionals can share visual content such as presentations, sketches, models, photographs, diagrams, and videos, as well as project documents such as spreadsheets, schedules, reports, budgets, and contracts.

The same services and features are available on mobile devices as well as deskphones and personal computers using a software application known as a softphone. This application makes professionals efficient, productive and contactable wherever they happen to be working.

Collaboration at every stage

For architecture firms, collaboration is essential at every stage of a project. In the preliminary stages, architects meet clients to discuss requirements. They then hold team meetings to prepare proposals for presentation to clients.

After clients have approved initial proposals, project teams meet regularly to discuss detailed design development and review progress. They may also collaborate with specialists such as interior designers, environmental consultants, and material suppliers to obtain expert input on their project. When detailed design development is complete, they must submit proposals to planning authorities and other regulators for approval before giving a final presentation to clients.

Before the project moves into the construction phase, they work closely with suppliers and contractors to obtain and approve estimates. Throughout construction, they work with contractors to monitor progress and ensure work meets agreed upon standards.

Efficient communication and collaboration are essential, and VoIP can support the entire process with affordable, easy-to-use tools.

Internal team meetings

VoIP supports efficient team meetings. Teams don’t have to meet face-to-face because VoIP lets them join meetings from any device, whether they are working at their desks, sitting in small, informal workspaces, or joining from mobile devices.

If internal teams are based in different locations, distance is no problem. Using VoIP’s video conferencing tools and the video capability of smartphones, mobile devices, and small-scale video systems, teams can collaborate as if they were in the same room.

The ability to get together in virtual meeting spaces makes it easy to maintain project momentum and avoid delays. Speed is essential, particularly when projects have tight deadlines.

Scheduling internal meetings is straightforward. Team leaders can check members’ availability by using VoIP’s Presence feature, which lets professionals enter and update their status. Leaders can issue and monitor meeting invitations using VoIP’s integration with calendar applications like Microsoft Outlook.

Communicating between meetings

Project collaboration is not limited to formal team meetings. Professionals working on specific pieces of the project may need input or feedback from colleagues or may want to obtain approval before proceeding to the next stage.

VoIP provides a range of tools to support ongoing collaboration. Professionals can use chat, text, instant message or voice calls to contact colleagues, and they can share files or visual content if necessary.

To speed up collaboration even further, professionals can use their VoIP communications tools from within business applications like Microsoft Office 365. If they are working on presentations or schedules, for example, they can launch phone calls and conferences or send and receive messages without leaving the Office application. VoIP’s integration capability makes it possible to achieve the same communications capability from within other applications such as CAD/CAM systems.

Sharing project information

It’s important to keep all project stakeholders informed about the outcome of meetings and other informal collaborations. VoIP makes it easy to record and distribute information through a variety of channels.

VoIP automatically records all internal and external phone conversations, as well as messages. Team members and other stakeholders can access all voicemails, emails and other messages through a single inbox. They don’t need to switch devices to review different types of message, making it easier to manage project communications in a single location.

Team leaders can forward meeting reports and other project communications to stakeholders using VoIP’s notification features to distribute information quickly and efficiently.

VoIP also integrates with internal social networks, adding another channel for sharing information. Professionals can share meeting reports and other information on social networks. Colleagues can add comments or send messages from within the social application. As well as reviewing reports, colleagues can offer advice or resources to solve problems or deal with requests for specialist information.

Collaborating with specialists

Architects bring together many specialists to develop a comprehensive solution for their clients. To achieve this, they put together multidisciplinary teams with the skills and resources to deliver every aspect of the project.

They use VoIP’s video and web conferencing to brief specialists and obtain their input. VoIP’s multimedia content-sharing capability makes it easy to collaborate on projects where high levels of visual communication are essential.

When working with interior designers, for example, architects can share concept visuals or detailed site plans with designers to obtain and discuss initial proposals or fully itemized and cost specifications. That lets both parties discuss colors, room treatments, furnishings and fittings in fine detail.

Client communications

The initial meetings between the firm and its clients may be face-to-face, but other communications channels become more important as projects progress.

VoIP’s integration with customer relationship management (CRM) systems gives professionals access to the latest project status when they contact clients. A screen pops up when they dial a number or receive a call from a client, making it easy to provide updates or handle any queries without searching for information. Professionals can use the CRM system to access clients’ contact details as well as any information relevant to each client’s project.

Video conferencing over VoIP makes it easy to share and review design proposals and other project content with clients without the time and cost of face-to-face meetings. This can help professionals get feedback or approvals quickly to speed up project completion times and reduce the risk of delay.

Content sharing lets architects present visual concepts and helps clients understand proposals that may be difficult to describe in words. This speeds up the review and approval process and reduces the risk of any misunderstanding.

Managing suppliers

When clients have approved proposals, architects have to prepare project budgets by obtaining detailed costings from selected suppliers. Using information from a procurement database, professionals can identify qualified suppliers for each type of product or service.

By integrating VoIP with the database, professionals can automate communications using features such as click-to-dial or issuing messages from a contact list. VoIP’s unified inbox makes it easy to manage information from suppliers that respond in different ways. They might have to deal with faxes, emails, voicemails, plus instant messages updating earlier estimates.

When the procurement process is complete, professionals use the same tools to issue purchase orders, delivery instructions and updates. They can use VoIP’s conferencing features to discuss and resolve any supply issues or to adjust schedules throughout the supply chain if any delays or problems occur.

Coordinating construction

During the construction phase, professionals can use the VoIP tools and services to coordinate and control the work of contractors on site. They can issue work specifications and instructions through any of VoIP’s channels and receive feedback.

Contractors and architects working on-site can access all of VoIP’s features and services using mobile devices. That makes it easy for members of the architect firm to remain in contact wherever they are working and deal quickly with any issues or problems on site.

Because the speed of response is essential, professionals can use VoIP’s call forwarding features to ensure calls and messages can reach them at all times. VoIP enables incoming calls to ring simultaneously on desk phones, home phones, and mobile devices, so professionals never miss a call.

If any queries or problems on-site require expert advice, contractors or architects can set up conference calls on mobile devices. If necessary, they can use VoIP’s file sharing capability to exchange images of the problem to speed up a resolution.

Managing billing

A design and build project is likely to go through many changes before completion. That makes it important to record all requests for change from clients, contractors, and suppliers or team members.

VoIP can integrate with billing systems, making it easy to record all billable time spent on communications and attach records of any calls or messages about changes. This helps ensures billing is accurate and gives the management team information to deal with any billing queries.

Growing the firm

VoIP can help firms grow their operations in a number of ways. Architecture firms can hire additional professionals on a part-time or contractual basis to expand their teams when they are working on major projects. The additional team members can work remotely and share all VoIP’s services and features so that they can fully participate in

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