Most small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) - commonly defined by industry analysts as companies with fewer than 1000 employees don't have the deep pockets of larger enterprises. But thanks to cloud technologies, they can now better compete on a global basis with larger enterprises.
One new technology currently moving to the cloud that can help is Unified Communications (UC). It can boost an organization's productivity and collaboration while enhancing communications and optimizing results among employees, partners and customers.
Below are three strategic components to consider when evaluating a UC solution:
1. Not All Clouds Are Equal
Cloud computing is the great equalizer as it can provide advanced enterprise functionality to companies of all sizes. The number of cloud communications solutions offered today has increased, but not all deliver the same benefits. Hence, it is important to carefully evaluate which cloud option is the best choice based on the needs of the company.
There are three categories of cloud communications:
Private cloud communications enable flexible, software-based UC applications that are hosted internally, within a company's private cloud (think intranet vs. Internet). While the company has to maintain the virtualized infrastructure that supports cloud UC applications, it can easily deploy them across multiple offices. Many SMBs leverage the private cloud to deliver a single, common communications solution across the entire
organization in support of all locations globally. Private cloud solutions reduce some capital expenditures and ongoing maintenance costs, but do not provide the cost savings of a public cloud solution. Some companies and industries favor a private cloud in order to maintain control over the software and to safeguard sensitive customer data.
Public cloud communications refers to a third-party service provider that delivers communications services via the Internet, or public cloud. This can be a Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) offering with pay-per-use pricing. This option is especially attractive to companies that may need to suddenly scale services up or down due to seasonal spikes in business. Public cloud virtually eliminates hardware costs and is seen as the most cost-effective option for many businesses.
Hybrid communications offer the best of all worlds by combining onsite hardware, private and/or public cloud services. The hybrid model, particularly when delivered as a single solution that seamlessly integrates the same features and functionality across onsite and cloud deployments, allows a company to keep sensitive applications or data on-premises in a central location for security while also leveraging the private cloud and even incorporating public cloud applications as part of an encrypted end-to-end communications solution. This is an especially attractive solution for those SMBs that are migrating to the cloud, but looking to make a smooth and gradual transition. A common solution that provides onsite and cloud communication deployments in a mix-and-match hybrid environment allows a company to dial into cloud functionality at its own pace, whether the ultimate goal is an all-cloud solution or, for business reasons, will always remain a mixed deployment. SMBs should work with vendors that offer a full range of options and a parity of features as well as a single user experience.
2. Mobility Boosts Productivity
Just as the cloud can stretch the benefits of UC across geographic boundaries, UC mobile solutions can boost productivity for employees when they are not in the office.
Mobility is a top driver for many SMB technology decisions these days. SMB Group in its recent "Top Ten SMB Technology Trends for 2015" report found that 60% of small to medium-sized companies now view mobile solutions as critical to their business. An estimated 71% believe mobile applications will replace some traditional solutions entirely. The report also shows an upward trend in spending on mobile solutions. The key consideration for SMBs is the ability for users to access the desk phones rich set of features from any device. Whether it is a salesperson on the road, an employee away from the desk or even a worker who strongly prefers a personal mobile device, the UC solution should provide a single user experience no matter the device and regardless of whether he or she is being served communications from the cloud or onsite. Dual persona is another consideration. In other words, does the solution allow an employee to use a personal mobile device for business without giving out a personal number? By separating the two with calls that follow a worker from desk to field, employees will be more willing to answer the call during a lunch break or even after hours.
3. An Understanding of the SMB Market
While most UC providers have cloud, onsite and mobility offerings, it's crucial that they understand the needs of an SMB company. While SMBs want enterprise capabilities, they don't need a bloated enterprise solution designed for 1,000 users or more that may require an IT staff to support every office in the company or equipment associated costs.
This is especially important as several UC vendors have refocused their businesses on large enterprise customers over the past few years, with some no longer even offering SMB product lines. If the whole point of UC is to increase productivity and enable better collaboration, then SMBs should narrow in on those solutions that best fit their needs and will optimize results.
Competing with large, well-financed enterprises has always been a challenge for SMBs. But by working with a vendor that understands the SMB market and that can deliver flexible cloud, onsite, hybrid and mobility options from a single user experience, SMBs can now go toe-to-toe with larger enterprises.