With small to medium enterprises (SMEs) traditionally quick off the mark when a technology comes along that can make them more agile and save them money, it’s perhaps surprising that unified communications has been slow to take off with this sector.
That’s the opinion of Ross Murray, managing director of Welltel, who says that while more sophisticated and IT-literate managers know what UC is, among the typical Irish SME “nobody rings in looking for unified communications”.
“Instead they ring in looking for help with their phone system and things go from there. It can be hard for people to visualise how it could work for their company and they don’t really understand it in a business context, but once they’ve seen it the conversation changes. We encourage everyone to come into our demonstration centre and we show them what UC looks like in action,” said Murray.“They see the way a workforce can be seamlessly connected and how the sales force can stay connected in an immediate but unobtrusive way. They’re able to see how quick it is and how much better it is than firing endless emails back and forth to people.”Murray claims a 90 per cent success rate in selling UC to smaller companies once they see it fully in action. While not everyone takes all aspects of the system, the vast majority take at least part of it.
“They are also seeing how convenient these tools are in their own lives, whether it be WhatsApp messaging or the like. Often they find that these consumer tools are already being used to some degree or another in their companies, even if they’re not aware of it. But when they’re applied properly and overseen properly, they streamline workflows enormously.“It’s important that they’re siloed into a closed business environment, making your communications private and appropriate. For example, privacy is an issue – you might want your staff to know when you’re available for a call but not the general public.” Welltel has its own desktop UC client called 360 that it launched last month which integrates with phone systems and which features chat capabilities, presence notifications and so on. “Users literally just have to download a link, install the software, put in a username and password and everything is provisioned directly to that device. It’s mostly used for chat — users can see their full team availability on display and they can change their status to ‘gone to a meeting, back at 4 o’clock’. They can see who’s on the phone, who is offline and so on,” said Murray. “There’s also desk phone control which means that when the phone rings, a notification pops up on the PC to tell me who is calling and any other associated information.”
Like many powerful business applications, UC started life as something mostly used by large companies with 500 or more users. It required that many users in order for economies of scale to come into play but with advances in cloud technology that’s no longer the case.“The availability of cloud computing and cloud services to smaller companies has had a big effect on the world of UC. We have software-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service, allowing smaller businesses access to the type of services that traditionally only large corporates would have had access to,” said James Canty, product and technical sales manager for Magnet.
“You had to be big to have the budgets to buy the necessary hardware and software licences associated with unified communications, but that has fundamentally changed over the last 24 to 36 months.”In particular, pay-as-you-use services such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure platform allow companies of any size to gain access to hardware as it’s needed, removing the financial hurdle for smaller companies of having to purchase servers that can cost from €20,000 to €30,000 in order to run unified communications software.