Unified Communications for the SME

UC adoption is the driver for so many markets and a key constituent component of a typical Digital Transformation journey. 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.

For some time, there has been a bit of a view that UC for the SME consisted of a PBX with a couple of collaboration apps bolted on and not much else but all that has changed.

Much of that is the shift from CPE UC to cloud based UCaaS and the introduction of ‘teams’ style collaboration with messaging, collaboration, video and file sharing by an array of vendors – some of whom such as RingCentral, include their Glip teams app.

This makes for a far more feature rich set of functionalities but with a pay as you go deployment model that SMEs can consume with ease.

What are the real life drivers for UC in the SME sector?

Ian Rowan, UK Channel Manager at Wildix, says the SME sector is no different than those corporate sectors that have already adopted UC.

“UC is about bringing teams along with their customers closer together and allowing them to communicate effectively using whatever they have to hand. It’s very sad but people no longer want to pick up the phone to talk to someone, in fact for many, the voice call has become the last resort as email and chat now dominate, if an SME wants to stay in touch with customers, they have to offer the ability to contact them using smarter methods.

Would any business still operate without Email? The only issue with email is it is a send and forget system, send an email, wait for it to arrive in the person’s inbox, wait for them to read it, hope they reply. As one of the many tools within UC, chat is an example of how simple customer communications can be, with clients instantly knowing your availability and knowing what to expect in terms of response rather than sending a message to an already congested inbox. It’s these kinds of efficiency generators than I believe are driving SME’s towards UC.”

Iain Sinnott, Head of Sales at VanillaIP, says that staff productivity and customer revenue are the key drivers for all businesses and the SME sector is no different.

“Technology that supports productivity and both the new and existing customer experience will be critical in any decision to invest in new systems.

Business managers however are time poor and sceptical, so resellers need to be able to demonstrate and justify UC tools as well as deliver comprehensive reporting which allows the management to track and recognise the difference their investment has made.”

According to Roy Shelton, Managing Director of Connectus, business efficiencies, or rather, time and money are the real-life drivers for UC among the SME community.

“Wasted time is wasted opportunities, and that is language that resonates with small business owners. While technology conversation resonates among the IT team, at a board level, talking technology isn’t a comfortable topic.

There is still a massive education taking place within some small businesses, and with a knowledge gap around the technology itself, the talk of maximising efficiencies within a business operation is a language that is understood, even if the knowledge gap around technology exists – as it invariably does for many business people.

Bringing to life and talking business challenge, rather than tech jargon, is the key driver for our conversations in this space.”

John McKindland, Head of Solution Sales, Nimans, makes a useful point when he says rationalisation of the supply chain can be a driver.

“Go back five or six years and people were buying UC products from multiple suppliers. Now through enhanced distribution, the headset, the handset, the connectivity and everything else can be sourced from the same place.”

Myles Leach, Managing Director of NFON

What business outcomes are the hot buttons to press for SMEs?

As with any technology, says Ian Rowan, if it’s not easy to use or needs weeks of planning to implement, then the ROI will never be realised as the users will not adopt the solution.

“These returns are shown through many features of UC such as being able to share your screen or document by pressing a single button, instantly being able to start a video call or video conference along with unified Email and chat systems. If these are just nice to have tools then why would anyone invest, it has to show real value that the end user can quantify.

Also, any solution implemented should not be a draw on the resources of the IT department, many SME’s don’t have the budget for highly skilled IT staff or run these departments on stretched resources, any UC solution should have little to no impact on these departments, this is where WebRTC comes into its own and there is no install, its simply log in and use.”

Roy Shelton at Connectus believes SMEs are looking for transition, not transformation.

“This comes back to the issue of cost as well as business efficiency. Is there a manner in which existing platforms or investment can integrate without an entire overhaul? If there is an overhaul, how can expense be minimized? That comes back to the OPEX per-seat model that supports agility of the organisation and the ability to flex, dependent on business headwinds.”

“There are two hot buttons from a reseller perspective,” says John McKindland, at Nimans.

“Do they want to be able to sell a bundled offering with perpetual licences or do they want to offer hardware as a service and bundle hardware and software in there? We’re seeing a lot of resellers stepping back slightly from recurring revenue, looking to lease certain services and products so they can get their margins and revenue a lot quicker.”

What are SMEs looking for – magic bullets with which to level the playing field?

Iain Sinnott at VanillaIP says that Chat queues are a real SME game changer, especially if they are in a B2C sector.

“Chat on a website is not new, but management and control of the performance of staff on chat will be for many, and that can really boost revenue.

Staff remain the key cost and key asset, so tools that help them perform and that help managers refine their performance are key.”

Roy Shelton at Connectus, “Our conversations and our partners’ conversations are now gravitating around the topics of customer experience, i.e. how will this enhance the service I provide and how will it ensure I am being compliant and protecting my business and employees?

If you are able to demonstrate the ability to enhance customer experience, integrate back office systems, move away hardware, do away with CAPEX, improve internal collaboration and communication, mitigate downtime, and show cost control and then achieve compliance – a recent hot topic of conversation – you’re more than likely to whet the appetite for a SME.

That can obviously be a license-based model on number of users, but it can also be a more traditional conversation about being able to offer an upgrade path by perhaps fiscally supporting the buy-out of a contract.

As we become embedded in an age where customer reviews and referrals reign supreme, the ability to be agile enough to the communication demands of customers is key. That can mean a preferred choice of platform or a preferred hour of the day. For a small business they want to be able to offer this multi-channel approach, and they don’t want to break the bank to deliver it.

We’ve recently invested in our UC platform, integrating to enable call, text, mail, webchat or even social, as well as an integration to archive and retrieve business-critical customer data for compliance issues.”

Carl Boraman, Director of Strategic Alliances at Tollring says the big opportunity for SMEs is the ‘democratisation’ of customer data; making it available to all in their organisation and understandable by everyone.

“Analytics is the key – it can truly help SMEs ‘level the playing field’ and help convert customer interaction data quickly and easily into knowledge and actionable intelligence.

Early feedback shows SMEs who have harnessed the power of analytics have increased their turnover, achieved higher profits and expanded their workforce.

However, to succeed the solution needs to be simple to deploy and use whilst delivering tangible and measurable results quickly. Off-the-shelf cloud analytics tools delivers this whilst being available on a predictable fixed monthly cost per user.

Cloud based analytics services means powerful CX tools such as call and UC analytics and call recording are now accessible to SMEs. When built in and part of the service from cloud analytics vendors, these tools also bring with them and facilitate a high degree of security and compliance, for example with ISO20017, Cyber Essentials, GDPR and MIFID II.

SMEs who have leveraged these new analytics and compliance capabilities can confidently target larger enterprises and even public sector bodies – highly lucrative markets SMEs have traditionally been locked out of.

And by 2022, the UK government plans that one third of its spend on goods and services will be with SMEs, so there has never been a better time for SMEs to harness the power of analytics and the benefits it offers their business and customers.”

Without lament Myles Leach, Managing Director at NFON, says, “Gone are the days that SMEs were restricted to relying on heavy and CAPEX intensive hardware for their data – cloud-computing has simplified the delivery of all business applications over the business network infrastructure, from operational systems like CRM, to essential IT services like storage and email. And as the cloud has changed the game for data, it also stands to revolutionise the voice market.

Remote working has been the biggest driver for SMEs to switch to cloud telephony. With workers spending an increasing amount of time working outside of the office, the move to a mobile first strategy is both commercially and technologically advantageous. However, the benefits of cloud telephony don’t end with Presence, it also enables advanced functionality around FMC, IM, chat and video conferencing – plus it has a host of additional features that enables a SME to become more productive, such as call recording options, call groups, options to listen into calls for training and creating/reviewing reports on demand.

Demand and adoption of cloud telephony in the UK has hugely increased in recent years, as businesses look to consolidate their ICT providers and move all functions to the cloud. The SME market is a huge opportunity for NFON. In October 2017 NFON and Westcoast announced that its partners now have the unique opportunity to derive ‘Skype for Business as a Service.’ For the first time, through a single solution, partners can deliver all the telephony features and the collaboration tools customer’s need – whatever their business activities, wherever their people are based, and however they work.”

Carl Boraman of Tollring

Are cloud based UCaaS delivery options starting to dominate the SME market?

“Judging by the still 80% dominance of the traditional PBX solution the answer is not yet,” says Iain Sinnott at VanillaIP, “but resellers who have the smart tools within the UCaaS range like voice and chat agent services, adaptable call recording, simple collaboration options and the ability to service users within the traditional workspace and in alternative locations, are certainly winning high ARPU and high margin deals.”

Roy Shelton at Connectus, comments SMEs are becoming far more informed and aware of cloud-based solutions and the benefits which can be derived from such an approach.
“The convergence of IT and communications in to UC is growing in demand and popularity due to connectivity becoming more of an expected utility for businesses. Our approach to mitigating cost, complexity and risk from our clients is driving the adoption of UC faster than ever before and we see that continuing for the foreseeable future.”

Ed Says…

Roy Shelton of Connectus makes a lot of sense when he says ‘Wasted time is wasted opportunities, and that is the language that resonates with small business owners. While technology conversation resonates among the IT team, at a board level, talking technology isn’t a comfortable topic.

The next wave of UCaaS applications will however be upon us before we know it; Chat Bots and other automated machine learning applications will be more common place even amongst the SME market and will no doubt be joined by some ‘real’ AI apps and most definitely by data gathering analytics applications. Currently there is way too much data being wasted within business – if you’ve got it why not use it? It’s an asset.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine