The digital transformation movement is creating a clear divide among SME owners: those using technology to fit new ways of working, and those who still adapt their work around restrictive technology.
Many businesses are still content to use established working practices - where the office is the main place of work, where IT and communications are governed by traditional telephone and technology, and where staff adapt to systems. But for many SMEs, digital transformation represents a new way of working where the technology, the systems, and the methods of communication adapt to the way businesses and people want to operate at the time and location that suits them.
How UCC solutions can help
Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) is a driving force behind this modernisation. A UCC platform can help businesses to grow, improve productivity and create a better-connected and flexible workforce that, in turn, helps attract new talent. The right UCC solution can give you a competitive advantage in the marketplace, improving communication and culture, attracting talent with the offer of flexible working, and offering a better experience to customers. The key to making the right choice is to consider how you want to work, and then finding a solution that adapts to your needs, and not the other way.
Until recently, UCC was considered too complex and expensive for the SME market, which often lacks both the in-house IT expertise and endless budgets needed to adopt an all-singing UCC solution. But today the market reflects the growing needs of SME owners with a range of products and services that are scalable, flexible and cost-effective.
What to look for
It's now less about asking ‘is UCC right for my business?’, but rather, ‘which UCC solution is right for my business?’. But in a fairly crowded marketplace, deciding which solution fits your needs and your budget requires a little homework. Here are some of the factors to consider:
1. Weigh up the costs and savings
Currently in the UCC market, there are solutions at every price point. If your chosen platform allows you to give customers a better experience and enables your sales team to turn leads around more quickly, then the benefits should outweigh the costs. But there are more measurable cost-savings to be made. Moving away from traditional fixed-line PBX telephony to a cloud-based softphone app service can provide instant call savings. That’s an obvious tangible benefit.
But there are a host of less tangible benefits to using UC. The introduction of tools to facilitate communication, such as HD video conferencing and screen-sharing, and ‘threaded communication’ which groups conversations across all platforms and devices into one timeline, have the added benefit of cutting down on project timescales and increasing overall productivity. And time equals money.
2. The pursuit of interoperability
Having all your apps and programs operating smoothly across different devices and platforms is at the very heart of team collaboration. The right UCC solution can help consolidate a wide range of paid tools into an all-in-one platform with the added reassurance of security. Interoperability is essential for teams who work remotely or who aren’t based in the same location. Being able to access and share network files, share screens and launch video conferencing from any device simplifies collaboration and saves time.
3. Utilize existing infrastructure
With limited IT resource and dated telephone equipment, it’s little wonder that many SME owners are swapping their fixed-line phone systems for cloud-based VoIP services. Some UCC vendors require you update hardware and/or software which shortens the lifespan of your current communications infrastructure investment, so look for a UCC vendor that can overlay your existing PBX call services, allowing SMEs to streamline their communications and reduce the cost and complexity of scrapping their existing call server.
These Over-the-Top services combine softphones with collaboration tools, and many are designed for small businesses who don’t have in-house IT teams, meaning they are essentially ‘plug and play’. Many solutions offer simple set-up and management through intuitive web interfaces, which doesn’t require IT support to get you up and running.
4. User Experience is key
With our use of personal communication apps now so well ingrained in our day-to-day lives, it’s important for the business equivalents to be equally user-friendly and easy to operate. A good UCC solution will give users a single window for all their communications, removing the need to have a range of apps that don’t talk to each other. Look out for intuitive solutions that allow users to connect with colleagues across any device or platform, with minimal clicks to go from sending messages to making conference calls and sharing screens.
5. Make security a priority
Many SMEs adopt a ‘bring-your-own-device’ (BYOD) policy in order to save costs on providing staff with company phones. But with staff accessing different personal apps to chat, video call and share content, security can play second fiddle to convenience. Common BYOD dangers include damaging data breaches and malware infections finding their way onto the corporate network. Fortunately, the leading UCC solutions have security built-in in the form of audio and media encryption for messaging, calling and file sharing. Be sure to consider this when choosing your SME's UCC platforms.
6. Keep one eye on the future
If forward is the only direction you want to move, make sure you invest in a UCC solution that will allow you to grow. Flexibility is key. For collaboration to remain simple and joined-up, your UCC solution must allow for the integration with new technology as it enters the market. Forward thinking vendors are already a few steps ahead, designing features and functions that will allow users to adopt new tools.
As with any business investment, choosing the right UCC tool requires careful consideration. Weighing the pros and cons can be an arduous task, but a little time spent up-front will pay you back in the long term. Above all, bear in mind that the correct tool should merge with ease into your existing infrastructure and allow you to change in the future.
About the Author
Todd Carothers is the Executive VP of Sales & Marketing at CounterPath, the experts in creating Unified Communications & Collaborations solutions for SMEs. Todd is responsible for CounterPath's Product Management and Marketing organisations. During Todd's time at CounterPath he has brought to market several key new products that have created new revenue streams for the company, including the Bria mobile and tablet applications, and Bria Teams.