Although lacking the extensive human and financial resources available to their larger competitors, small and midsize businesses grapple with many of the same IT pressures affecting bigger companies. They experience the same increasing complexity in their IT infrastructures, the same pressure to provide secure, ubiquitous access to applications, and the same demand for improved performance along with increased reliability and availability for IT services.
A key concern for SMB IT leaders is how to enable effective communication and collaboration for an increasingly distributed workforce. Emerging technologies such as IP telephony and unified communications can play a role along these lines. They can improve collaboration and provide faster access to the right people at the right time, thus improving areas such as customer responsiveness and the ability to respond to sales opportunities.
SMBs are nearly as aggressive in their desire to leverage emerging technologies to meet these challenges as large organizations. According to Nemertes benchmark reserach, 47% of SMBs classify themselves as either “aggressive” or “bleeding edge” in their view of new technology deployment. While SMBs are aggressively looking to deploy emerging technologies, many lack in-house IT staff or the IT resources for a successful implementation as well as on-going management. For example, on average SMBs have one to two people managing their voice systems, compared to more than 10 for larger organizations. Thus, those with purchasing authority often look to solutions that easily integrate into existing platforms, are easy to administer, and integrate with applications employees are already using for functions such as e-mail.
One way to minimize integration and user complexity is with a bundled solution that integrates multiple UC functions such as voice, messaging, chat, conferencing and video into a single platform. This approach gives users a seamless front-end and requires little back-end integration. Most bundled solutions tie nicely into desktop applications such as Microsoft Office or IBM Lotus Notes as well (some even run on the same server or servers). As the IT manager at a small energy services firm says, “Our approach was to deploy a fully featured bundled application. We found it simpler and cheaper to administer an integrated suite of applications than to deploy piecemeal applications that we’d have to integrate later.”
Further underscoring the need to integrate with existing environments, SMBs cite customer satisfaction and feature adoption as the two most critical factors to labeling their UC and IP telephony projects as successful. While cost is important, overwhelmingly IT managers say that applications must be easy to use and reliable.
Irwin Lazar is the Vice President for Communication and Collaboration Research at Nemertes Research, where he develops and manages research projects, develops cost models, conducts strategic seminars and advises clients. His background is in network operations, network engineering, voice-data convergence, and IP telephony. Mr. Lazar is responsible for benchmarking the adoption and use of emerging technologies in the enterprise in areas including VOIP, unified communications, Web 2.0 initiatives, social networking, and collaboration.
A Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and sought-after speaker and author, Mr. Lazar is a columnist for No Jitter and Enterprise2Blog. He is a frequent resource for the business and trade press and is regular speaker at events such as Interop, VoiceCon, and Enterprise 2.0. Mr. Lazar serves as the conference director for FutureNet (formerly MPLScon), and is on the advisory board for the Enterprise 2.0 conference.