- Large providers should think small and think hosted
- The public sector is a prime market for UC
The market for unified communications (UC) is an uncertain field. There are advanced solutions out there from multiple vendors, but developing a business proposition to win over customers remains an arcane art. This should hardly be surprising; even fundamental services such as IP telephony are still far from being universally adopted, although take-up is now fairly high. Part of the problem comes from convincing a CFO that the OpEx outlay on a UC solution (and often a small CapEx spend at the beginning) will deliver savings to more than cover its cost. Services such as collaboration tools and presence can seem like ‘gimmicks.’ It is up to the provider to educate decision-makers on the cost-saving benefits of features such as click-to-call IPT on an IM-style contact list window, or on how adding shared document collaborative tools into the mix can increase productivity and reduce the need for further calls and possibly travel.
It is here that a hosted UC model such as Vodafone One and Vodafone One Net offers an effective go-to-market approach. Vodafone’s SME-targeted UC solution now has approximately 1.5 million users across Europe. Some markets such as Italy and Spain seem to have been culturally more adaptive to UC, while other markets such as the UK have been slower to adopt. Vodafone has now started to gain real traction in the UK both with Vodafone One Net and with the large enterprise Vodafone One variant. A large part of this has come as Vodafone has pushed Vodafone One Net out to its channels. It is those channels’ close relationships with the customers that have enabled them to make progress where Vodafone UK has struggled on a direct basis.
However, it also should not be a surprise that SMEs have been more ready to recognise the advantages UC solutions offer. SMEs have a smaller and often more mobile workforce; presence and collaboration allow them to work more effectively, whilst solutions that enable SMEs to offer geographic numbers even in areas where they have no presence allow the company to project an image of scale which they might otherwise lack. A UC solution based in the cloud that charges per seat and per service element allows customers to derive maximum value. For example, an enterprise can roll out IM, click-and-call and collaboration features to the majority of its employees, whilst more mobile elements of the business (e.g., sales or professional services specialists) may benefit from a more complete solution that includes find-me/follow-me presence. Vodafone’s success with Vodafone One is also telling, as its biggest wins in the UK have come largely with local authorities in the public sector (e.g., Southend Borough Council, West Berkshire Council and the Metropolitan Police). While police services represent a particularly mobile workforce, local authorities are also becoming increasingly mobile. As the UK’s deficit woes force spending reductions, councils are increasingly seeking to reduce the amount of office space they maintain and are therefore seeking to encourage more employees to hot desk and to work from home.