As VoIP gains popularity, some businesses forgo traditional phones entirely

More than a fifth of American homes have only a wireless phone, new data suggest. But home isn’t the only place where the traditional landline is becoming optional.

Businesses can now get by without phones, too. The idea, however, is not to put all employees on cell phones only.

At C-Forward Technologies, Brent Cooper and his staff both use and sell VoIP technology.

Voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, takes analog audio signals and converts them into digital data that can be transmitted over an Internet connection. The biggest advantage for users: flexibility.

You get a wide range of options, from using a standard-looking handset to abandoning a phone altogether and making calls with software on the desktop (and a headset). Calls can be routed just about anywhere, including to cell phones.

“It used to be that only larger companies could afford to do this,” said Brent Cooper, CEO of the Covington-based IT firm C-Forward Tech­nologies. “It was really expensive; you had to have the right kind of network. Now the costs have dropped so much, it can be a really attractive option for smaller companies.”

His 18-employee company both uses and offers a VoIP solution. C-Forward is a reseller of the AltiGen Communications phone system.

Some of his employees use phones, and some go straight through their computers. Cooper can easily forward calls to and from any phone or have calls forwarded only when they’re from selected numbers. He could have all of his people working from home if he wanted, using their regular work numbers.

In that sense, a small company can seem bigger. Because of a feature sometimes called “shared call appearance,” customers, either calling in or being called, can’t tell the employee isn’t at his desk.

Cincinnati Bell offers its own VoIP services. It launched eMerge, geared to small and medium-sized businesses, in February. Smaller businesses, in fact, are more likely than large ones to adopt the technology, said Dave Heimbach, vice president of VoIP services for Cincinnati Bell   . Because of the economy, decision-makers at large corporations are in a conservative mode.

“We’re seeing a bit of a slowdown in decision-making with respect to technology migration,” Heimbach said. “The concept of moving to new technology is introducing risk into the equation. Small businesses are more apt to want the gains of the productivity tools and cost savings.”

Market has big potential

There were about 939,000 installed hosted IP telephony lines in North America as of the end of 2008, according to the business research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. The firm expects the installed base to grow to about 3.6 million lines in 2014.

Revenues, estimated based on an average bundle of features and capabilities, reached about $557 million in 2008 and are expected to exceed $2.4 billion in 2014.

But growth in 2008 was “fairly slow,” according to a February report from Frost & Sullivan, at about 15 percent. It cited the economic downturn and lack of aggressive marketing, among other factors.

The market remains fragmented, with more than 50 providers, the company said. They offer varying bundles of applications, typically including local and long-distance voice, voicemail or unified messaging, auto attendant, conferencing and contact center. Frequently, they’re packaged with an access line and an Internet service.

The technology is flexible enough, in fact, that the Home Ownership Center of Greater Cincinnati was able to employ it for a specific project.

In arranging a telethon on preventing foreclosure with CET and Fannie Mae    , the center needed to set up a call center. Cincinnati Bell created a system where calls were first routed to CET’s call center and then, when they overflowed, to Fannie’s Mae’s call center, with 45 phones, in Virginia.

The one-day event was held in June 2008 and repeated in February this year. It will happen again in October. For two or three days after each event, the number rang directly to Fannie Mae. Then it was routed back to the Home Ownership Center.

The setup worked perfectly, at least as far as technology. In February, it could have used a little more volunteer power to answer all the calls.

“We got more response than what we were hoping for,” said Rick Williams, CEO of the Home Ownership Center. “We were not prepared for the type of volume we received. Neither was Virginia.”

The February event resulted in more than 8,000 calls from people worried about foreclosure.

Easier to scale up or down

Heimbach said VoIP is an area of revenue growth for Cincinnati Bell, but he would not provide figures.

Cooper said the AltiGen Communications product can cost $10,000 to $20,000 for a small company and $30,000 to $40,000 for a larger business.

If companies choose to go without traditional handsets, they can save $200 or more per employee.

The technology offers a scalability not present with traditional phone systems.

“You deal in increments of one,” Heimbach said. “You can call us and say, ‘We need to add another user,’ and we drop a phone in the mail and you plug it in. If you no longer need phone service, you cancel a line, as opposed to with a regular phone system where there’s dedicated, fixed capacity.”

Premium content from Business Courier by James Ritchie, Staff Reporter

C-Forward Information Technologies of Covington phones home with web-based phone services division

Contributed By: Andy Hemmer | AndyHemmer.com

Try as he may, Brent Cooper could not get his calls returned.

Ironically, the president and owner of C-Forward Technologies was calling phone companies at the time. And he wasn’t selling anything, either.

Au contraire.

Cooper, a stickler for customer service that’s “personal, proactive and reliable” (www.CForward.com) had a job to do, and he was looking to hire either a business partner or trusted vendor.

What he eventually found was both, right in his second-floor home office on West Fifth Street in Covington.

One decade into the growth strategy and business development of C-Forward Information Technologies, the Covington-based IT firm is unveiling its second new division in two years, a new web-based phone services unit dedicated to the fast-growing – and quite ill-served – Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) industry.

The new VoIP service is facilitated by the nature of its architecture as a remote-access solution. Also last year, C-Forward added Disaster Recovery to its portfolio of services.

Voice over Internet Protocol is a general term for transmission technologies employed in the delivery of voice communications over networks such as the Internet or other networks. It’s also called IP telephony, Internet telephony, voice over broadband (VoBB), broadband telephony and broadband phone.

Think voicemail on broadband steroids, capable of being plugged into any company’s computer network.

To C-Forward, it’s another opportunity to display the acumen that has earned the firm a bevy of accolades such as the Torch Award, the Small Business Success Award, the Emerging 30 program sponsored by the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and Cooper being named to the Cincinnati Business Courier’s celebrated “40 Under 40” program.

“I couldn’t count how many times, over the last 10 years, that we have sent phone business away. I had to tell people, my clients, ‘no,’ which was killing me,” said Cooper, a Fort Thomas resident who relocated his company to Covington several ago. “On those occasions when I would reach out to try to find somebody, on behalf of our clients, we wound up severely disappointed.”

NEW BUSINESS ‘SNAPS’ INTO C-FORWARD REPERTOIRE

“Besides the fact that I couldn’t get a phone call returned – or sometimes it would take weeks – phone vendors don’t have the knowledge or experience that we have. They might know phones well, but they don’t always know what they are linking them to,” Cooper added. “We come from the completely different side. We’re network engineers, administrators and installers.

“We have invested heavily in training for our staff getting ready because it just made a lot of sense for us,” Cooper continued. “The thing that really clicked with the phone solution is it’s Windows-based, and we already do Windows networking and the integration with Exchange. We are already a Microsoft reseller implementing servers, e-mails and data bases, and this product snaps into all of it.”

Officially, C-Forward is a reseller of the AltiGen Communications Inc. phone solution. Traded on the NASDAQ as ATGN, the California-based company is a leader and market innovator in VoIP telephone systems that designs, delivers and supports VoIP phone systems and call center solutions, combining high reliability with integrated IP communications applications.

As one of the first VoIP companies, AltiGen has been deploying systems since 1996. The company has more than 10,000 customers worldwide, with more than 15,000 systems in use.

REGIONAL EXPANSION GROWS C-FORWARD FOOTPRINT IN MIDWEST

The creation of the new C-Forward VoIP division comes during the company’s 10-year anniversary, on the heels of a regional expansion campaign that saw the company open its first offices in Columbus last year, with a Dayton office due to be announced this spring. Within a two-to-five-year framework, Cooper anticipates opening up satellite offices in Louisville and Lexington.

At C-Forward, the innovations keep coming, according to one of C-Forward’s first customers for VoIP, Dwyer Companies of West Chester, one of the largest foundation repair, waterproofing, soil stabilization and concrete lifting companies in the U.S.

“It does seems like every year we have come up with something that our clients need that fits in with something trendy that’s going on in the marketplace,” said Cooper.

As network experts, his staff is fully versed in proactive network administration, network evaluation and auditing and remote access solutions.

Many are A+ Certified Technicians, Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs), Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers (MSCEs) and Cisco Certified Network Associates (CCNAs). C-Forward personnel are also trained and experienced in product offerings from Symantec, GFI, Juniper Networks, Citrix, 3COM, Bay Networks, Checkpoint, Compaq and Hewlett Packard.

Besides the technical expertise, C-Forward personnel are known for their professionalism and personal approach. The company made its name early strictly through word-of-mouth referrals, which Cooper considers a badge of honor … even though he’s now in charge of a $2 million company now known throughout the Midwest.

“Our customers are used to the C-Forward brand of service. That means they get their calls returned the same day, sometimes the same hour, and quite often we are out there to serve them that same day, if they need it,” Cooper said. “Considering the new voice product and related services are a remote-access solution, however, we’re even better positioned to help them as soon as they need us.”

“It’s been working great since we installed it. There are a lot of features that we think could help us even more that we haven’t even used,” said Bill Bonekemper with Dwyer Cos., based in West Chester. “The support and training have also been very well-received, but what we really like is the software interface. That’s a real advancement in technology for telephone systems. With people so software-oriented today, it was a very easy transition for us to be able to sit there and check out our call center on a software screen.”

“It seemed like a very logical move for us to bring this offering to the market. Our customers are extremely excited about it, because they’re used to us handling things the C-Forward way,” Cooper concluded. “And that means getting your phone calls returned – especially if you’re a phone company in the first place, which we can now proudly call ourselves.”

For more information about C-Forward, please call (859) 442-7877 or visit www.CForward.com.

For media inquiries, please contact Mr. Andy Hemmer, President of AndyHemmer.com PR/Writing Services at (513) 604-5428 or andy@andyhemmer.com.

C-Forward Tech­nologies gets in ring offering VoIP services

For most of its 10 years, C-Forward Tech­nologies said “no” to telephone work.

But Brent Cooper, CEO of the Covington-based IT firm, found that when he referred clients to others for such services, they sometimes reported back unsatisfied. He decided it was time to keep them in-house.

He recently launched a “voice-over-Internet protocol” division, delivering voice communications over the Internet or other networks.

“We would call people to help us, trying to find partners,” Cooper said. “We couldn’t find anybody who met the customer-service levels that we do.”

The firm, with 18 employees, has become a reseller of the AltiGen Communications Inc. phone solution, a Windows-based product.

The technology means office employees might not even need a phone. They can work directly through their computers, using a wireless headset. Or they can route calls to their cell phones. They can even record calls.

It could mean savings: Office phones can cost $200 each.

Cooper expects telephony to account for about 10 percent of his business for the next year or so and eventually reach 20 percent to 30 percent. The company should finish this year with revenue of about $2 million, he said. Revenue grew 4 percent in 2008, and growth could reach 9 percent this year.

West Chester-based Dwyer Cos., which uses C-Forward for IT, has adopted the telephone solution. Internet telephony will only grow, said Bill Bonekemper, of Dwyer, and the company wanted to be on top of the trend.

A big bonus: No need to wait for service personnel to arrive if problems arise.

“Their ability to log on from anywhere and do support is a really nice feature,” Bonekemper said.

The product, Cooper said, can cost $10,000 to $20,000 for a small company and $30,000 to $40,000 for a larger business.

C-Forward opened its first offices in Columbus last year. In the next few years, Cooper hopes to open locations in Dayton, Louisville and Lexington.

Premium content from Business Courier by James Ritchie, Staff Reporter

Visit sign of IT Growth

COVINGTON – Several local technology firms will use Wednesday`s visit by the “Microsoft Across America Truck” to tout the tech community they are developing in downtown Covington.

“We like to call it a technology showroom on wheels,” Judith Goldfarb of Microsoft said about the 42-foot truck that will be parked at 1 Madison Ave., on the circular pier where Covington Landing used to be. “And it`s decked out with the coolest, most innovative new solutions and technologies from Hewlett Packard, Cisco, AT&T – we have a ton of sponsors for the technology that`s on the truck.

“When people go on they can see the new software solutions,” she said. “And they can also see the new hardware solutions from HP, and things like that. It`s cool.”

The free 11 a.m.-to-3 p.m. event is tailored to small businesses. Food and refreshments will be served, and the truck is heated.
A Covington police sergeant coined the phrase, “Covington – IT is Happening,” – a twist on the city`s usual “It`s Happening” slogan – for the event.

Microsoft offered the truck to Covington firm C-Forward, whose president, Brent Cooper, decided to turn the visit into a community event that could spotlight other tech firms in the Covington Arts & Technology Zone. Other businesses will include Tier 1 Performance Solutions, Systems Insight, the Covington Business Council and TANK, which is offering wireless Internet on some of its buses.

Also participating at the event will be the city of Covington, showing its incentives for businesses; Northern Kentucky University; Gateway Community and Technical College; and the Covington Business Council. Republic Bank is a sponsor.

“I think it`s very fitting that an IT company here in Covington was selected, because of their growth and their overall participation in the community,” said city Renaissance Manager Kathie Hickey. “C-Forward was gracious enough to invite other companies in the technology zone to participate with them.”

C-Forward, located at Fifth Street and Madison Avenue, was founded in 1999 and has grown 12-25 percent in the number of employees each year since. The company is a “network administrator” for firms that cannot afford or do not need a full time IT employee.

From Cincinnati.com`s Enquirer site: http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/AB/20071210/BIZ01/712100315/

C-Forward stays hot by avoiding dot-com niche

Tech consultant concentrates on educating client companies
Judi Ketteler
Courier Contributor

At the same time so many other Tri-State technology companies and dot-coms were losing momentum, Fort Thomas-based C-Forward continued to grow.

Since starting his company three years ago, C-Forward President Brent Cooper has grown the business from a one-man show to a staff of seven full-time employees, quadrupling his sales in that time.

Cooper, 33, likes to say he was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, but it`s clearly more than luck that has led his small technology consulting firm`s success.

Cooper attributes the company`s growth to the way C-Forward relates to the customer.

“I`m not a typical technology person,” he said. “And I surround myself with people who aren`t, either.”

He points to a popular “Saturday Night Live” skit about a mean, patronizing technology help-desk employee as an example of how people often view information technology professionals. C-Forward, he said, strives to be the opposite.

Cooper said he learned early on that when you are helping a company find a solution to a technology problem, it`s much better to educate and inform the company about the various options rather than to instruct and tell them what to do.

“Often, consulting firms really need to make money on the initial sale and installation. C-Forward doesn`t do that. We want to build a relationship with our customer,” Cooper said.

Cooper`s path to entrepreneurship actually began when he worked at a help desk as a temp after graduating from the University of Kentucky. The IT manager there encouraged him to make a career of it, and after working for a friend`s consulting firm, Cooper launched his own.

He received several technology certifications from companies like Novell and Citrix and became a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. Cooper believes employee training and retention are cornerstones to building a strong business. Since beginning C-Forward, Cooper has spent more than $40,000 in employee training, with most employees having several certifications.

Once Cooper signs on a client with C-Forward, he sends the same technicians each time.

“Seeing the same people over and over again keeps the consistency,” he said, which is why it`s important to hold on to good employees.

Ninety-five percent of C-Forward`s business has been word of mouth, Cooper said. The company started with just two clients, and the list has now grown to around 80.

Cooper believes C-Forward was able to avoid the dot-com crunch when many tech-based companies started losing — rather than gaining — momentum because his clients come from a wide range of industries.

“C-Forward is not a dot-com. We do provide computer solutions, but more than that, we try to provide business solutions,” he said.

From the beginning, Cooper has targeted small businesses, since they are more likely to outsource technology needs.

Clients such as Kingsgate Transportation, Fath Properties, The Madison E-Zone and Esarey, Kirsch & Esarey have allowed C-Forward to expand their business.

The company has also focused on doing work for nonprofit companies in the area at reduced rates, such as the Children`s Home of Northern Kentucky and Tender Mercies.

Nicole Christian, vice president of business development for the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, has been studying high-growth companies in Northern Kentucky.

She said companies that have sustained growth this year, despite a sluggish economy, have employed four strategies: networking, aggressive marketing, developing areas of specialty and adding staff. C-Forward, she said, shares all those characteristics.

“C-Forward has focused their services, which has probably helped them to grow during this time. And they`ve been able to identify companies that are still investing in technology,” Christian said.

Cooper plans to add additional full-time employees in 2003 as well. He`s excited about the new technology initiatives in Northern Kentucky and the New Economy focus.

“We`re positioning ourselves to be able to take advantage of the growth in the area,” he said.