sommai - Fotolia


Unified communications for small business goes beyond telephony

Is your small business ready for UC? Learn how to build a UC strategy that addresses business goals, employee collaboration needs and IT requirements.

Most small businesses are still using legacy phone systems, so they face a two-pronged journey for adopting unified communications. In terms of unified communications for small business, it's important to recognize why a strategy is needed, and tie that strategy to tangible business objectives and outcomes.

The starting point is based on your current phone system. Legacy phone systems remain the norm among SMBs, and that's why this opportunity is so attractive for UC providers. The SMB sector uses a diverse mix of systems, with the most common being a PBX or key telephone system.

Unswitched telephony, also known as private line, is common at the lower end of the market, where everyone has their own dedicated phone number. In most cases, the system has been in place for many years and SMBs will have little inclination for change until there's a breakdown.

A strategy is needed because when it's time for a change, the business may only be thinking about a telephony refresh and deploy a new system to do what the old one did. Legacy telephony hasn't evolved for decades, so a simple refresh would be shortsighted. This type of change is a golden opportunity for modernization -- not just for the phone system, but for your broader communication needs.

Similarly, SMBs using voice over IP (VoIP) have already made the fundamental transition from legacy to IP-based telephony. But organizations that only view VoIP as telephony will find nothing strategic about switching VoIP providers to save money or moving to a new service that has more calling features.

Instead, VoIP needs to be seen as a building block for integrating telephony with other communication modes. This perspective is more aligned with how people work today and shifts the conversation from a commodity service to a productivity platform -- namely UC.

Define your business objectives

Recognizing UC's many productivity capabilities is the foundation of a solid unified communications for small business strategy. Since collaboration is a broad concept, a strategy will define collaboration for your business, making it easier to choose the right partners.

Saving money should not be a core objective for deploying UC.

For example, saving money should not be a core objective for deploying UC. VoIP will save money compared to legacy telephony, but UC has more strategic value. To frame your unified communications for small business objectives, three stakeholders should be kept in mind.

  1. Employees. They are the end users, so the objective is to make it easier to collaborate and be more productive. Review current workflows to understand how work gets done and how current communications tools are impeding collaboration.

Existing applications may have some limitations, and you may discover adding new applications, such as video, will improve workflows. This evaluation will help you define the best UC platform to deploy, as well as the right mix of applications to enhance productivity.

  1. IT. If IT wants to maintain control and has the proper resources, then a premises-based UC platform will be the right choice. However, if on-premises UC presents too many technical challenges for IT to manage, a cloud-based deployment will be the way to go.

Another objective is making IT's job more manageable. In many cases, IT has an impossible mix of priorities to manage, but this shouldn't impede a move from telephony to UC. Again, this is where the cloud becomes attractive. It removes the day-to-day management of UC to free up IT to focus on more pressing needs or pursue innovation projects.

  1. The broader organization. SMB managers or owners are usually not interested in the technology around UC. Instead, they'll want to know how UC will drive business outcomes, such as growing sales or keeping costs down.

UC facilitates team collaboration, supports remote workers and reduces the need for office space. The key here is getting management to view UC as strategic to the business. If management views UC as commodity-based telephony, it will be harder to get buy-in on the journey to UC.

Dig Deeper on UC strategy