Writing about Intermedia's new hosted unified communications (UC) offering for SMBs last week got me thinking about the practical benefits that small and mid-sized companies can derive from the use of UC. Full-fledged UC implementation used to be expensive and complicated, though its growing maturity and capabilities are causing organizations to take a second look at it.
Do SMBs need to care about unified communications, though?
SMBs Will Benefit from UC
On the productivity front, at least one senior executive thinks SMBs will benefit from UC. Intermedia COO Jonathan McCormick sees UC as offering similar benefits to businesses regardless of size. He writes:
I believe UC is as beneficial for small companies as for large enterprises. We see the same need for collaboration across distributed work forces in small companies; the underlying benefit is as strong for SMBs as enterprises.
Findings from Sage Research show how unified communications helps employees gain about an hour of time a day by allowing more efficient sharing of information and decision-making. Generally, UC adoption is likely to be driven by businesses looking to reduce or eliminate travel costs.
Use of UC can help an increasingly distributed work force stay connected and represents a powerful yet cost-effective way for SMBs to collaborate across geographical distances or even time zones.
SMBs Are Already Using UC
One thing going for UC is that many SMBs are already familiar -- and using -- its various components. This is unlike virtualization or cloud computing, which represented a paradigm shift from the way things were previously done.
For example, many organizations already use public IM clients for discussions and presence information, as well as e-mail and some form of calendaring and contact list. VoIP is also hardly new thanks to popular platforms such as Skype.
In this context, adopting UC is really about integrating everything into a common platform and enforcing the use of common communication channels to realize even greater efficiency. In addition, it brings a host of fringe benefits, such as enforced security, automated archival and compliance. Indeed, some might even see the implementation of UC in an SMB as putting the finishing touches on an implementation that began with the advent of the Internet.
In my mind, there is no doubt of the potential benefits of an integrated UC solution. Where SMBs are concerned though, attaining those benefits depends on many factors and ranges from implementation cost to the nature of the work and existing infrastructure. Realizing the benefits of UC is hardly automatic, especially since the number of integrated solutions coveted by SMBs is still relatively few and new. Also, every organization conducts its operations differently, and care should be taken to properly weight the cost to the benefits obtained.