SMBs Moving Toward Unified Communications -- Whether They Realize It or Not


Teaching my son to read has been quite an experience. One day when he read a sentence to me and I congratulated him, he said in a somewhat anguished voice, "But I didn't read it. I just knew the words." He was so hung up about how hard he thought reading was that he didn't realize it mostly meant just being able to recognize words.


Many SMBs appear to have a similar attitude toward technology, particularly new and nebulous concepts like unified communications (UC).


Though SMBs have yet to embrace the concept of UC, recent AMI Partners research finds that plenty of them are adopting bits and pieces of technology that fit into a broader UC strategy.


Especially popular are hosted or low-cost tools -- including Skype, which AMI estimates is being used by some 350,000 SMBs in the U.S. (A host of Skype wannabes have entered the market recently, giving SMBs even more options for free or low-cost calling.)


Yet no vendor has put together an SMB-friendly integrated platform that can link all of the various communications channels, such as Web conferencing and instant messaging (IM), an AMI analyst tells SearchVoIP.

There really hasn't been a vendor that can bring it all together in an integrated platform specifically for the SMB. With the right focus, an integrated solution can really make a difference here. The piecemeal approach only gets them so far in terms of what the key goals are.

The popularity of the piecemeal approach among SMBs was mentioned by Forrester Research analyst Henry Dewing in his May interview with IT Business Edge, Unified Communications and SMBs: It's a Matter of Trust

. He says:

I think a lot of SMBs are looking at point technology solutions, things like unified messaging, IM with presence and VoIP, and calling them unified communications because they've got a VoIP connection. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about what the promise is, but there is interest in using the technology to improve business results.

One of the advantages that SMBs enjoy over their larger competitors, says Dewing, is that they are more willing to consider "soft" benefits such as customer satisfaction improvements and reduced cycle times in addition to straight ROI calculations.


SMBs are far quicker than many larger businesses to adopt solutions such as IM, because they typically don't have as many IT policy restraints, agrees James Messer of Network General in an August interview with IT Business Edge, Planning Key to Successful Unified Communications Rollouts.


The lack of planning and pre-deployment testing that is common with these kind of piecemeal rollouts can create trouble for SMBs as they advance farther down the UC path, however. Says Messer:

... the evolution of new communications technologies is not very far along. People still are in the process of implementing, testing, deploying and making them work together properly. The responses said (some companies) had problems with critical apps when they were converged with new apps. When they deployed new applications, a good job was not done of saying how to make it all work together. There are hundreds of different ways to do it. ... There are so many iterations you really do have to spend a lot of time planning this out before you go into widespread use.

No one wants to lose voice applications, so a key challenge is to keep voice and other business apps running on a network not built from the ground up to support them. While folks traditionally have dealt with availability issues by simply adding bandwidth, Messer says that approach is no longer adequate.

There is an entire section of industry focusing on convergence and making sure hardware and software works together as it should. Nobody is surprised any more that it takes more than bandwidth. The word is out that it's more than speed. It's optimization.