High levels of UC functionality continue to cascade down to SMEs, blurring the lines between user segments. But are there solutions that truly fit a few seats as well as thousands?
Sachin Vaish, founder and managing director, Vaioni Wholesale, said both yes and no. “Yes – as long as price per user is viable and functionality remains. Smaller operations may not even require some features now, instant messaging for example, but businesses need to be able to scale quickly and have those features available as teams grow.
“Scalability is also a massive plus for cloud-based UC solutions. As small businesses grow, they need to rapidly add new lines. For enterprises it’s similar, they want to be able to deploy new lines and sites without the complications of physically adjusting a PBX-based UC deployment.”
He added, “Essentially, the best UC platform will be able to shift to the needs of a business now, and allow it to grow in the future, becoming more sophisticated over time, without the extra burden of having to identify and implement new communications technology. Even though some tools won’t be of immediate interest to small businesses, it may be reassuring for them to know that they’re there for the future, assuming the overall cost is reasonable.”
Andy Bannister, Tollring’s global head of sales, feels UC analytics is a great example of a solution that channel partners can offer to businesses of all sizes – widening their addressable market without needing to learn multiple solutions.
“Cloud architecture helps make this possible, but the key to a successfully scalable solution is a focus on customer experience. It must have accessibility balanced against flexibility. This allows the solution to scale from just a few seats to many thousands, and makes data not only manageable, but actionable.
“With ongoing measurement and access the right level of business intelligence, businesses can ensure remote workers are delivering the right solutions and the best possible experience to customers. Call recordings can also help identify which conversations are working best for a team and help them to work more effectively, providing training to those that need additional support.”
Justin Hamilton-Martin, sales director UK, Enreach for Service Providers thinks “there is absolutely no doubt” UC solutions are theoretically capable of scaling from large to small, but what matters is the execution.
“In a SMB of just three people, people can have multiple roles: they can be super-users who do everything. However, in an organisation with 3,000 users, then choosing a UC platform with the ability to define and support roles in a very granular way becomes vital. Apart from not wanting all employees having equal access to services from a security perspective, businesses should not have to pay for features that are not needed by everyone.”
Ali Hastings, regional channel leader for the UK and Ireland, Avaya, said it’s no longer realistic to scope out collaboration needs based on the size of a company. “The value comes from creating a richer, more adaptable and yet more personal space to not only collaborate, but work. In this context, whether for one seat or thousands, the fact remains that as we go back to work, there are numerous strategies being put in place by the organisations we are working with to build for a smarter, happier workplace built around wellbeing as well as efficiency.”
Ed Savory, business director, Pragma, explained, “Any UCaaS solution is based on scale and simple deployment, for example Web RTC technology being deployed via QR codes and email links means large deployments covering multiple locations can be easily implemented. SMB buyers are more sophisticated in their requirements than ever before, often more so than large enterprises. They are early adopters of new technology and use this as an advantage against their competitors. Public cloud solutions easily scale into the hundreds of thousands, recent changes on the Ericsson-LG iPECS Cloud solution have significantly increased the number of tenants available.”
Do the costs stack-up?
For Hamilton-Martin, from Enreach for Service Providers, there tends to be higher ARPU in SMBs compared to larger enterprises, which is why granularity to pick-and-choose the functionality and roles that a customer really wants matters so much. He said, “The flexibility to balance ARPU in large-scale environments becomes easier to achieve when businesses are only paying for what they need. From a sales-perspective, one way to address both ends of the spectrum would be through a simplified UC package for SMBs and a more key account approach for larger businesses, using cloud-based fulfilment and service plan tools for a more customised solution.”
Hastings at Avaya, noted, “When we start looking at workstream collaboration solutions from a value perspective, it is only then that we can aim to make a change in the work environment to support the needs of every one of us, for all our communication needs, in an easy to use, feature rich app, that makes not only my meetings, but my whole work experience, better. The cost in this case depends on perspective. To compare, businesses whose workforce uses technology to make faster decisions will see greater value in privacy, ease of use, and workloads distributed on fewer apps.
“An effective UC solution, capable of supporting voice, video, chat and file sharing across a number of devices no longer has to break the bank either. Whether a business needs one seat or hundreds, it does not have to spend more than a few pounds per user each month.”
He stressed, “Organisations can easily enjoy the superior features, reliability, and security inherent to cloud communications hassle-free. With the right support, it’s easier than ever to migrate to a secure, reliable platform, enabling employees to call, chat, collaborate and access business apps on any device, anywhere. With minimal business disruption guaranteed, as well as an affordable price tag, UC adoption using a UCaaS model has never been more cost effective.”
Savory from Pragma recognised that software as service models are very attractive, but feels large enterprises and certain sectors are still looking to seek capital expenditure. “We continue to see demand across the public sector, enterprise and mid-market for private Cloud solutions, achieving cost efficiencies and scale.”
Vaish at Vaioni Wholesale said when you look at per-user pricing for small businesses, it’s far cheaper than legacy alternatives. “For larger enterprises, ‘economies of scale’ does push the price up, but the value of certain features, especially analytics, become invaluable as the size of a business increases. It’s also interesting to see how Microsoft has started to get into the analytics side, first with Cortana integration in Outlook, and now further with the introduction of Viva.
“Partners have to present customers with a complete picture. It’s not just about direct cost compared to a legacy equivalent, it’s about everything else UC can do, and the fact that businesses are investing in one service and not several.”
Channel partners are increasingly finding product flexibility vital. Georgina Williams, director of voice and collaboration at BT Wholesale, said, “Being able to offer a solution that allows [partners] to create a hybrid estate of networking, voice and other services will enable complete UC capabilities, including voice calling, instant messaging, audio conferencing, call analytics and advanced call control tools. It’s also important that [partners] are able to add their own value or flex the proposition to suit the needs of their specific target customer needs and differentiate themselves.
“The ability to consume the portfolio in multiple ways is also important. Some of our partners want pre-built portals that they can order from, some want APIs which can integrate into their own systems which may also take in feeds from other suppliers or enable them to create digital capabilities for customers. Giving channel partners this flexibility enables their operations to be most efficient and remove costs as they migrate their customers.”
For Hastings, resellers’ customers want a seamless and intuitive communications experience that fits into how they work – helping them stay in touch on their device of choice as they move throughout their day.
“With agility and flexibility becoming vital in today’s uncertain business environment, it’s more important than ever that partners are able to keep up with customers’ changing communications demands. This means that partners must offer their customers a truly agile and resilient public cloud-communications offering in addition to the on-premise, private and hybrid cloud solutions that already exist in their portfolios. This gives them every option for appealing to new customers and retaining existing ones depending on what customers need as they progress through their digital transformation journeys.”
Vaish noted how resellers don’t have to support as many vendors, meaning they can take more time learning the nuances of the UC platforms they do offer and finding innovative ways to customise them for their end-users. “It also widens their potential customer base. If a UC platform fits the spectrum of businesses from start-up to enterprise, that’s a huge potential market for resellers. And with a wealth of features to choose from in most UC platforms, resellers can target their sales and marketing efforts more acutely, identifying customer pain points and focusing on features that will best solve specific customer challenges.”
According to Hamilton-Martin, the ability to create tailored packages does not have to mean sacrificing simplicity and cost-effectiveness. “The latest-generation of UC services support the creation of templates for different user categories for both large and small businesses, across vertical markets but also specific needs such as light contact centre functionality. An SMB might need all the features in a bundle, and a connector into the education sector, whereas the finance department in a larger business might need fewer of those features. Choose the right UC building blocks for each market.”
Hastings at Avaya discussed the changing nature of seasonal peaks over the past year. “This has become even more challenging in the last year, as peak times became dictated by slowing the spread of Covid-19, government restrictions and a heavily hindered employment rate. In today’s market, these businesses cannot let anything – including communications technology – hold them back. Waiting for service providers to add new numbers or an IT expert to add a remote employee in person are no longer options and businesses locked into inflexible systems are likely to be suffering.”
Vaish at Vaioni Wholesale feels ‘it goes back to the pick and mix’. He continued, “Resellers are currently juggling services from multiple vendors, with wrap-around/value-add services and tying those all together into a valuable offering for individual customers is time consuming. Resellers want to be able to choose the features that will benefit end-users without having to source new services and create more partnerships. Each one takes time to arrange and even more time to nurture over the long term. If a winner in the UC vendor war is ever crowned, they will have brought all those third parties together within their platform, making the reseller’s experience far easier.”
Mobile UC solutions have come to the fore in recent years as these fit use cases across the board. Adam Boone, vice president of strategic planning and marketing, Tango Networks, explained, “For many years, mobile phones have been the most consistent device of choice for business quality voice communications for employees on the go or in distributed work environments.
“Now Mobile UC is central to work-from-home, teleworker and business continuity programs that have been the norm because of the pandemic. That will be especially true for hybrid work environments as workplaces open back up.”
He added, “Modern Mobile UC becomes a simple add on to the UC service already purchased, so is very cost effective and scales easily. Further, modern Mobile UC solutions can turn any mobile phone into a fully featured extension of the business UC platform, including BYOD devices. That creates huge potential for cord cutting and cost savings.”