- SMEs should talk to providers about the benefits of UC solutions and demand that providers present solutions with broader efficiency rather than a specific vendor or technology.
- SMEs should consider UC as a way of improving both internal working practices (e.g., hot-desking) and customer service (e.g., contact centres).
Demand for unified communications (UC) solutions seems to be growing, but remains far from achieving critical mass. SMEs often ask why a business should pay for features such as IM or shared workspace when services such as Skype and Dropbox provide some of that functionality for free. An obvious answer to this is security and reliability; a business-quality solution should provide a much more stable service than free applications. However, it is not an unfair question for SMEs to ask. Paying for a suite of UC services is likely a waste of money if working practices are not changed to best utilise those services. So, SMEs should be wary of UC underachieving unless providers show how it can help increase customers’ efficiency.
The first stage should assess how the potential customer currently works, considering the number of employees overall and in certain roles; how many employees are mobile and how many are deskbound; and whether the SME is looking to expand and/or to minimise office space requirements. Importantly, this examination should also look at how the enterprise communicates with its own customers. The majority of providers will supply ICT auditing services to examine how costs can be reduced. These services are valuable, but do not always go far enough. For example, KPN recently launched a free service that assesses how easy it is for end-customers to contact a company, looking at efficiency and the response time to phone calls and e-mails. It is not unreasonable for SMEs to start to ask for similar auditing services from their providers – and providers should jump at the chance to have that sort of engagement with customers.
The net result of this self- and external assessment should be to arrive at a range of objectives and requirements to which a joined-up solution can be applied, rather than trying to fit the business to the solution. ‘Joined-up’ in this instance should mean traditional UC features such as unified voicemail, presence and shared applications. It should also include broader capabilities such as hosted desktop, to allow hot-desking and remote working solutions for home and mobile workers, as well as contact centre services. Customer service is a vital differentiator in the modern economy, and cloud technology means that even small enterprises can have a contact centre setup, even if it involves only single-digit numbers of agents. UC on its own is marketing speak. UC as part of business efficiency solution is a valuable set of productivity tools. For SMEs, achieving a bespoke service rather than buying off the shelf is often not possible. However, cloud delivery (UC-as-a-service/UCaaS) makes it possible to switch features on and off either for the entire company or for groups of workers within the company. Engaging with providers will allow SMEs to best identity which features will provide a real benefit.