SaaS Best Path for SMB Unified Communications

Small to mid-size businesses eyeing unified communications should consider the software as a service (SaaS) approach, a panel of UC experts said on a Web broadcast Thursday. Among the advantages, the panelists listed cost savings, the elimination of integration hurdles and the opportunity SaaS gives to make enterprise mobility a reality.

The strategy provides a fast and efficient deployment path that avoids the various hurdles blocking UC adoption such as integration issues and snags in pulling IP telephony tools and communication applications into a cohesive application.

If done right, unified communications is a collaborative technology that lets users reach people and resources any time using any communications channel. Such communication capability can boost worker productivity and speed up business processes.

For SMBs, however, the hurdles are bigger and harder to overcome than they would be for large enterprises as small shops often have little IT expertise and usually have tight tech budgets.

“There’s been a fairly slow up tick [with SMBs] so far but that’s due to change very soon,” Sara Radicati, president, Radicati Group, told Web conference attendees. Market drivers include more SaaS options, faster connectivity and SMB interest in building virtual workforces.

“There are lots of elements coming together pushing it along,” said Radicati.

One factor fostering SMB UC adoption is user’s increasing comfort with tools such as instant messaging, social networking and mobility applications, said Simon Edwards, UC project director, British Telecom (BT).

Edwards and colleague Mat Taylor, a senior software architect, participated in the online UC conference along with Jon R. Doyle, VP business development for UC solutions provider CommuniGate Systems.

“Customers know what UC is about so it’s no longer a matter of explaining it to them as they’re using it in their social life and now want it in the workplace,” said Edwards.

To make that happen SMBs must first assess networking infrastructures, advised the BT leaders. For example, a DSL network can’t support a robust UC effort.

Don’t get locked in

The next step is making sure the SaaS solution chosen doesn’t lock the SMB into one particular technology.

“SMBs have to make sure they stick to an agnostic platform,” said Edwards, adding that the best approach is an open standards platform that allows emerging technologies from different tool makers, he explained.

While panel participants couldn’t provide estimates of UC costs, citing the various factors such as networking and mobile devices in play, companies can get a good idea of what UC will require by determining current communications costs.

“If you tally up what’s in use with email, messaging and phone and the maintenance of all that as well as mobility costs, that’s what the UC cost should be,” said Edwards. Such an evaluation will also help detail the sought after return on investment, panelists said, as companies will see their potential cost savings once UC is in place..

“The ability to get things done faster, get workers more engaged in business scenario, provide better customer service, are all big productivity wins that benefit the bottom line,” said Taylor.

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