Communication technologies: Maximize productivity and improve regulatory complianceDavid JamesVoice over Internet Protocol The evolving regulatory environment is challenging today's mortgage brokers to improve productivity while addressing regulatory requirements. Large brokerages have long had access to in-house information technology expertise and resources, but small- to mid-sized firms have typically had to get by with whatever technology the designated staff could put together, adding to their already long list of job responsibilities. The latest Internet protocol technologies are delivering applications that help organizations compete, increase productivity and meet regulatory requirements. There is a misconception regarding these applications. Many small- to mid-sized firms have heard the term "Voice over Internet Protocol" (VoIP) and thought that it was only for large enterprises and came with a large price tag, or they thought of Vonage for their home. In fact, VoIP is an enabler to deliver applications to companies efficiently and cost effectively, even for small businesses. But how do you select the right blend of communications applications for your office; and how do you make sense of the options available? The simple answer is to do some research and team with a communications company with expertise in your field and size of business. A growing trend is to select a provider that offers managed services - ones where typical information technology functions are performed at a central location and applications are stored on a central server - enabling a firm to boost efficiency, improve compliance and electronic capabilities and grow the bottom line with less of a need for in-house information technology knowledge or support. New federal legislation under consideration (the Consumer Notification and Financial Data Protection Act of 2005) requires that financial institutions "maintain reasonable procedures and policies to protect sensitive consumer financial information." By taking advantage of communications technologies such as fax to e-mail, secure file sharing, off-site data storage, virtual private networking, mobile technologies and call management features, offices can increase operational efficiencies, reduce processing errors and improve the protection of proprietary information. Deciding which services work best for each office is best done in consultation with the service provider, but here are a few examples of what to look for and what these new services can do: Fax to e-mail This takes inbound faxes, captures them as an electronic image and attaches to an e-mail on a secure network. These faxes are received as private e-mail attachments and can be processed, stored and backed up as a normal e-mail would be. This approach protects proprietary faxes from unauthorized access. In addition, it reduces the number of lost or misplaced faxes. Whale Mail This enhances existing e-mail capabilities to allow the transfer of large files without encumbering the sender or recipient's e-mail system. It is an efficient service for remote access, such as when meeting with a client offsite. The service e-mails a link, which the user clicks to retrieve the data from a secure server. Applications such as Whale Mail are increasing in importance as more states move toward paperless closing processes. Secure off-site data backup This allows the regular, automatic backup of critical customer and business data, perfect for ensuring against damaged hard drives, lost or stolen laptops and on-site corrupt data. Off-site data backup comes in different flavors. Some key questions to keep in mind: - Does it have a strong authentication protocol and the latest encryption technology? - How reliable are my provider's data centers? - Does it contain a firewall, access control and hacker defenses? Virtual private network This allows mobile staff members or remote offices to stay securely connected to the corporate network. A managed virtual private network is essentially a private tunnel through the Internet, set up by a qualified managed services provider that allows remote staffers to take advantage of high-speed secure connections to the office network using laptops or home computers to access data as if they were physically in the office. With mobile technologies, this access can also be provided on handheld mobile handsets and personal digital assistants. Call management features Call management features with VoIP can offer impressive flexibility. For instance, it allows pre-scheduled after-hours call routing to alternate numbers such as mobile or home numbers so that no calls are missed. In addition, staffers can manage their own calls (in real time), taking advantage of voicemail notification features such as automatic paging, e-mail or a call to a mobile phone. Small- and mid-sized mortgage broker offices can now gain significant competitive advantages by using the available Internet protocol technologies. These are proven technologies that are already in use around the world and the advantages to productivity, reputation, customer service and the bottom line have the real potential to take a business to its next level of success. David James is the director of marketing and sales operations for Cbeyond Communications, a voice and broadband Internet provider that serves the small-business sector. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].