Bad weather could drive strong growth for partners in 2010.

As the cold weather continues to grip the country and more and more companies struggle to keep their offices open, a growing number of firms are relying on remote working to keep their operations functioning, through the cold snap and saving themselves thousands of pounds of lost revenue.

The Forum of Private Business estimates that businesses could lose as much as £230mn as a result of staff being off work due to the freezing weather conditions. An increasing number of firms are relying on hosted IT and communications solutions which enable workers to communicate with each other and access data regardless of their location.

Outsourcery, the communications and hosted IT company reports a 20% rise in enquiries over the past few days, from small to medium sized businesses wanting help with putting in place integrated communications solutions as a result of the disruption from the bad weather. Many firms are recognising the value of real time communication tools such as instant messaging, presence information, voice and video conferencing, Live Meeting for group discussions and document sharing can bring to their operations. Businesses can see the availability of all their employees – whether they are talking on the phone, meeting a client or checking e-mails – and contact them in the most appropriate and time-efficient way.

Being able to offer these benefits at lower costs via a hosted exchange model will mean the channel will open up to a new SME market and increase Average Revenue per User (ARPU). Cloud computing and innovative Unified Communications solutions are poised to become the major trends for the channel in 2010.

The technology has also recently proved vital for many SMEs as snow and ice continues to cause major problems for employees travelling to work and important business meetings, amid police reports of “mayhem” on the nation’s roads. Local councils have reacted angrily to accusations that they were not prepared for the current cold snap and blamed Britain’s travel misery on the “perfect winter storm”.

However, innovative Unified Communications solutions are proving the perfect antidote to the current cold snap as the technology removes the need for employees to meet with each other face-to-face. Unified Communications brings together Live Meeting, presence functionality, group chat, remote desktop sharing and conferencing facilities on to a single platform accessed from a PC, providing businesses with a tool for more effective communication across their organisation.

Mark Seemann, Product Strategy and Development Director at Outsourcery, said: “The recent bad weather shows that small businesses can not always rely upon employees being able to meet face-to-face. With large numbers of employees having to work away from the office in the harsh weather conditions, businesses are finding that they need more effective ways to stay in touch with their colleagues and clients. Unified Communications lets businesses of any size communicate and collaborate more efficiently.

“The current cold snap will only further underline how being able to connect with your colleagues whenever and wherever they are means an increase in productivity company-wide.”

Some of the key features of Unified Communications are the presence functionality and Live Meeting. Presence works with your Outlook calendar to enable staff to see if colleagues are in a meeting and relays that information to the person trying to contact them. PCs are also monitored, enabling managers to check on the availability of staff and check if a keyboard or mouse is being used.

Live Meeting provides the ability for users to take part in a web conference. These can be scheduled via Outlook using the ‘Schedule a Live Meeting’ button or ad-hoc. Web conferencing supports a rich mix of data collaboration such as instant messaging, audio, video, slide presentations and application sharing.

Users with a Windows Mobile device will be able to download the active sync software allowing them to obtain access to instant messaging and presence information.

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