By most major analyst firm accounts, unified communications adoption within the SMB market grew in 2010, indicating the channel is doing a good job of educating companies on UC’s business value. While additional growth is expected over the next year, UC adoption rates will depend on providers’ ability to amend key messaging to reach a broader SMB audience.
UC’s growth within the SMB market this year was due, in part, to the maturation of solutions, so that they can better cater to the needs of smaller organizations. Since they typically lack the finances and staff that larger organizations have, SMBs place a higher priority on simplicity when it comes to communications. In response, major UC providers significantly enhanced their platforms to deliver all UC applications from a single-server solution to ease cost and simplify deployment and management. The adoption of software-based communications also grew during this time, providing SMBs a more cost-effective, premises-based option to hosted solutions.
SMBs implement UC for many of the same reasons as larger organizations: to gain a competitive advantage while containing costs all while furthering their ability to execute and innovate. Smaller organizations, according to recent findings from Gartner (News - Alert), tend to implement UC differently. Unlike large enterprises that invest in UC as a part of a larger corporate technology strategy, SMBs are motivated to invest in technologies that deliver more of an immediate payoff to the business. Over the next year, SMBs will be focused on competitive advantage in a post-recession business environment. As a result, their technology investments from a UC perspective during this time will facilitate better employee communications and productivity improvements, no matter where their work takes them.
Software-based offerings will continue to grow within the SMB market. Smaller organizations have relied on several data-centric applications for some time now. Software-based communications moves voice to the data center, which appeals to SMB staff that tend to have more IT as opposed to telecom expertise. Some software solutions are standards-based, allowing SMBs to use off-the-shelf, industry-standard servers, which reduces capital expense. Standards-based software solutions also enable multiple device options, so that smaller companies can easily implement various forms of communications for different workers within the organization, including voice and video collaboration for geographically dispersed teams as well as softphones for mobile/remote workers.
Visual collaboration has improved the user experience so much so that it is now a valuable mode of business communication; and, SMBs have become keenly aware of its benefits. Video collaboration adds a new dimension to business communication. It also provides smaller organizations with an affordable, premises-based tool that makes it easier for employees to share information internally as well as with partners, suppliers and customers.
Mobility will be a high priority within the SMB space in 2011. With the workplace becoming increasingly mobile and geographically dispersed, SMBs will need to support voice, data and video business communications from mobile devices. UC providers are designing and pricing more advanced mobile solutions to be more affordable, taking into account the needs of smaller organizations. As a result, SMBs will invest in many types of mobile devices, including mobile clients and softphones to reduce the cost of mobile communications and improve employee accessibility and efficiency.
While growth indicates SMBs are becoming more aware of the benefits of UC, adoption among smaller organizations as a whole is still low. UC providers have always struggled to illustrate quantifiable business value, which is especially challenging with SMBs since they tend to make technology investments driven by hard ROI. Success within next year’s SMB market will drastically depend on providers’ ability to convey UC’s business value in a way that resonates with smaller organizations.
Larry Levenberg is vice president and general manager of national channels at NEC (News - Alert) Corp. of America.
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi