Unified Communications for the SME

At last the SME is getting to grips on what unified communications is and how it can help its business – and at last there are simple, easy to understand and use solutions. However, is UC is gaining a wider use base because vendors and their channels are focussing more on business outcomes than lists of features?

I was reminded the other day by an old friend just what unified communications was meant to be all about. He said that in its simplest form, UC increases overall productivity by simplifying life for the workforce when it comes to internal and external communications.

This is achieved by reducing the number of devices and interfaces used for communications during the business day, integrating (or unifying) applications so they work together and make them easier to understand, use and support. The ‘mobility first’ ethos becomes more powerful when applications are effectively integrated, often reducing the need for multiple devices.

Each individual business is unique. It therefore follows that the applications and components encompassed by Unified Communication will differ on a company-by-company basis, based upon what is relevant and useful to the specific organisation. This means that Unified Communication will be the interaction of some, or all, of the following applications; Voice, Workforce Mobility, Messaging, Analytics, Collaboration, Presence and IT Convergence.

So, What are the real-life drivers for UC in the SME sector?
Mark Davis, Collaboration Architecture Lead at Comstor, says that SMEs have always yearned for a Ferrari for the price of a Ford.

“What’s driving change of who ‘drives what’ is a bit ‘chicken and egg’ at times, but now SMEs can do a whole lot more because the infrastructure enables it. The UC and collaboration solutions, like Cisco Spark, are adaptable to need, provide rich functionality and are accessible, and there are choices for deployment. Cloud services for infrastructure and applications now give SMEs the option of having a UC Ferrari without having to own one outright, and it can even be customised. Being able to pay per user, per month and scale up or down according to need is a tick in the box for many customers as it brings all the features, functionality and benefits of enterprise level UC within much easier reach.”

Daniel Hensby, Head of Product Management at TeleWare, defines the drivers in three words; simplification, costs and centralisation.

“SMEs don’t have the budgets available to spend big money on lots of different vendors. They want the ability to manage all their communications streams effectively, centrally and in the most cost effective manner.

Small businesses need a simple way to manage and store communications, preferably from one provider with one interface. This makes it easier for firms to search and retrieve data as needed by providing the platform for integrated analytics. This ensures a greater insight into employee and customer behaviour as well as meeting regulatory requirements.

Furthermore, SME’s need their staff to be as productive as possible. Having one interface will mean it’s easier for staff to use and be trained on.”

Nigel Dunn

Nigel Dunn

Nigel Dunn, Managing Director of Jabra EMEA North, looks outside the business head offices for market drivers.

“One of the biggest drivers of UC in the enterprise is the shift in working patterns that has overtaken many small businesses. The traditional office-based 9-5 routine is steadily being replaced by mobile working. In many ways, this is a self-sustaining trend: as communications technology improves, it makes home- and remote-working more realistic, which in turn drives more demand for the latest communications technologies – including UC.

Cost is also a major factor: first, the imperative to reduce CAPEX such as office rent and lower OPEX such as fixed-line agreements and utilities by encouraging a more dispersed workforce, either at home or in the field. Secondly, though, is the greater productivity that results from flexible working. In such a competitive market, SMEs are looking for any opportunity to maximise value from their workforce, free up budget, and so invest in other areas of the business.

Finally, one of the less talked-about drivers for UC is that it enables SMEs to hire from a much wider talent pool; rather than rejecting a worker because they cannot physically come into the office, businesses can cast their net much wider.”

Robin Hayman, Director of Marketing & Product Management at SpliceCom, says “Workforce Mobility, Business Analytics, CRM Integration and Call Recording are all key drivers for sales of our SelectVoice platforms at present, but never overlook the obvious! Making and taking phones calls is still a business-critical requirement for most organisations.”

John McKindland

John McKindland

John McKindland, Head of Solutions at Nimans believes that vendors are beginning to realise these aren’t just enterprise level features they can sell into the enterprise sector.

“They understand they need to tailor them for the SME level. We are seeing a lot more of this with WebRTC products.

UC in SME is enterprise level technology priced so that anyone can pick it up. It’s scalable and fits into wider portfolios. It’s not all about the features but the actual business benefits that can be generated. This could be home workers or general ways to increase productivity.

I was speaking to a reseller recently who said when he started 17 years ago he couldn’t be the business he is today. The advent of the laptop and smartphone has changed everything. Today it’s about speed and versatility. UC in SME offers the ability to adapt and change. Big and small companies are now equally able to take advantage.”

What business outcomes are the hot buttons to press for SMEs?
Todd Carothers, Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing, CounterPath, says that the ‘hot buttons’ for businesses are always revenue, cost savings and productivity, particularly when it comes to communications.

“By leveraging UC, SMEs are creating greater customer engagement opportunities for themselves and as a result are able to provide a higher level of customer support that helps develop more personal customer relationships.

Up until recently many organisations were forced to use archaic solutions that were inefficient and costly to the business. Also, when users had a problem with the technology, they were stuck and had to try to troubleshoot on their own. Now with modern UC solutions, we can actually get into the solution and run diagnostic tests remotely through screen sharing capabilities. This is much more efficient than, in some cases, shipping hardware across the world to fix whatever issue the customer may have.”

Nick Sacke, Head of IoT and Products at Comms365, believes that Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) is a potent force for productivity, change and profit in the SME sector.

“Not too long ago, only enterprises could reap the benefits of instant collaboration, seamless integration of instant messaging, telephony and e-mail. Today’s SME can be a highly agile, more productive entity, capable of competing effectively, meeting business goals and looking after customers in highly flexible and scalable ways that were previously only achievable through headcount alone. UC delivers the integrated business communications that transforms SME operations and delivers the desired, and profitable, business outcomes.

Significantly, UC delivers a user experience to the SME user that is already understood and appreciated; that of the cost-effective, always on, always connected consumer communications service.

The principles of efficient, pervasive and embracing customer communications are being delivered by utilities, carriers, insurance, travel, retail and other businesses to SMEs in their personal lives. Modelling best practices of these industry giants and utilising UC platforms to deliver and manage these service-driven processes can be quickly appreciated, seized upon and mastered by hungry SMEs eager to grow and flourish in a competitive business landscape.”

Robin Hayman at SpliceCom is succinct when he says, ‘As always, it’s a case of matching technology to needs’.

“Mobility is all about increasing efficiency whilst reducing the costs associated with building purchase/rental. Business Analytics gives management the company performance info they need to make better informed decisions about all operational aspects. Unifying voice with your CRM system delivers increased efficiency through time saved and therefore lowers costs.

At present Call Recording is vitally important, with regulation and compliance becoming key for more and more market sectors. However, GDPR has the potential to turn all that on its head, indeed, we could be heading towards a situation like that in Germany where call recording is against the law unless all parties explicitly agree to it. The first test cases will be very interesting.”

Hot Buttons?

Carl Boraman, Commercial Director at Tollring, lists his ‘top buttons’ for resellers to press.

  • Increase competitive advantage: Compete with big corporations.
  • Improve customer retention: Win and retain more business through better customer insight.
  • Increase accessibility: Be more accessible to customers via phone, mobile, online, social media.
  • Reduce and control costs through easy and affordable access to traditionally expensive services; such as call recording and omni-channel contact centres. Focus effort and resource on growing the business without wasting money on system support, software upgrades etc.
  • Improve business efficiency: Keep it simple yet increase staff visibility and productivity, create more effective teams through increased collaboration, make customer data more readily available and do more for less.

Are cloud based UCaaS delivery options starting to dominate the SME market?
According to Mark Davis at Comstor, there’s certainly a lot of interest and noise around cloud, but as is typical with major market developments there’s a lot of real-world inertia.

“Remember the days of moving a PBX from phone and voicemail only to the VoIP IT world? There was huge excitement, and expectations, but in reality, it was a long transition period, especially with SMEs. It takes time and depends on the type of business. Established SMEs are more laggards for reasons of sweating legacy investments, concerns over new technologies, that in the case of the cloud relate to control, security and performance, and the cost of business interruption. Newer, smaller, more nimble organisations, in the ‘getting established’ phase, are more pioneering. They don’t want large capital outlay, often don’t have a dedicated facility, and are more than happy to pay on an ‘as a service’ basis given they may not make it.

It’s in the mid-SMB market, that has huge spending potential, where things get interesting. Many we speak with have intent as part of a wider digital transformation strategy and it’s when these plans roll out that the cloud share of total seats will rapidly rise. Currently at Comstor the lion’s share of business is still on-premise UCC across the whole of SME. However, UCaaS is growing stronger as these wider cloud business strategies are implemented. It’s not yet dominating but is certainly being keenly felt.”

Nick Sacke at Comms365 says that because the most successful and fast growing UCaaS platforms are increasingly hosted in, and delivered from, public Clouds, other variables come into focus.
“For example, the secure delivery of UC streams to users with quality and resilience. Indeed, SMEs in our experience are now interested in the tangible benefits of software defined networking (SDN) service platforms for several reasons. Firstly; to enable encrypted communications between sites and users cross-border, also use of quality of service (QoS) that ensures VoIP and video traffic priority over any access links, and seamless failover of access connections including fixed and 4G wireless to ensure total resilience of UC at the point of delivery. SDN delivers that repeatable, high quality UC user experience that was once hit and miss on internet-bearing connections.”

John Bird at Exertis, “UCaaS delivery options are not currently dominating the market – there is plenty of life left in the traditional on-premise solution, especially as hybrid solutions continue to grow in popularity.

What we find is that UCaaS solutions in the public cloud are a race to zero from a cost per seat perspective. There must be almost 100 ‘hosted voice’ providers in the UK today – there has never been more competition in this market place – and there are only so many areas where a partner can differentiate, and this is often cost.”

Tim Mercer, CEO at Vapour Cloud, understandably puts a different spin on the cloud issue.

“Most cutting-edge UC solutions are now – understandably – cloud-based. The security, ease of deployment, disaster recovery and upgrade benefits of such solutions are clear. However, the industry has not yet moved away from installed communications entirely. Every business is different and so, at this stage, customers could find themselves quite alienated – with their requirements unsatisfied – if the industry offered ‘cloud or nothing’.”


Ed Says…

Well there seems to be quite a debate going on here about UC deployment models with proponents of both on premise and cloud options becoming quite vocal in their views. For what it is worth I come down on the side of cloud deployment based on its ability to scale up and down. One thing is certain, the UC for the SME market is clearly very vibrant.

The following two tabs change content below.

David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine