Unified communications help SMBs save, work better

Small and midsize businesses are moving to unified communications to gain cost savings, improved staff collaboration and productivity.

Cash-strapped small and midsize businesses (SMB) that find it costly and daunting to provide an effective communications infrastructure may find some relief in the form of unified communications (UC), which promise to simplify network management and provide a cheaper option.

According to Shivanu Shukla, industry manager for Frost & Sullivan, when it comes to communications infrastructures, some key challenges SMBs face are price, complexity, and ease of administration and use.

"Since many SMBs do not have large internal IT teams, managing and maintaining the infrastructure is a major challenge," Shukla said in an e-mail interview.

Basic steps to adopting UC
1. Evaluation: Assess your current business processes and communications needs to support these tasks.

2. Look ahead: Include your future communications needs two years on, for example, conferencing tools and contact center.

3. Management: Decide if the new communications infrastructure will be managed onsite, or by a partner or service provider.

4. Compare: Evaluate different offerings with your service/product partner to decide which options will cover your present and future communications needs.

5. Decide: Choose services/tools providers that fulfill your company's present and future needs, plus that give strong customer support.
Source: Cisco Systems

Nicolas Domeyko, Asia-Pacific business development director for Tandberg, noted that although SMBs may see price as a barrier to deploying UC, "which is often seen as an expensive exercise reserved for larger-sized companies", there is an array of UC technologies available at cheaper prices for cost-conscious SMBs.

Citing a recent survey, Claudio Castelli, senior analyst at Ovum, said cost savings, improved staff collaboration and productivity, were reasons cited by SMBs as most important for moving to UC.

Task in hand
Shukla said the resultant collaboration and mobility capabilities from UC use help SMBs reduce costs, while raising their productivity and agility through applications such as instant messaging and Web conferencing, which are seeing increased use among SMBs.

Domeyko said UC can enable staff across multiple platforms and geographies to communicate more efficiently. With today's mobile workforce, it is essential that employees have access to real-time communication technologies, he added.

UC not only allows team members to participate in more meetings through the day via videoconferencing, employees can also access their business-critical applications and information from where they are during these sessions, he said.

Returns on investments (ROI) can be significant when UC is integrated into business processes. Domeyko said: "Each time you replace a practice with video communication, you gain the opportunity to measure your ROI."

Also, particularly when video telephony is involved, he said UC enhances an SMB's green efforts.

"In conjunction with new corporate initiatives to limit business travel, there has been an increase in initiatives directed at corporate social responsibility and decreasing carbon footprints," he said. "Thus, videoconferencing can have the dual benefit of providing travel savings and green IT compliance for organizations."