UC Approaches for SMBs or SMEs (Small Medium Enterprises)

One of the many valuable resources at UCStratgies.com is the “Ask an Expert” feature.  Post your question and one of the UC Experts will send a reply with information, suggestions or other support.

For example, about a week ago we got these questions:

“What are the challenges facing the implementation of Unified Communications in small-medium enterprises (SMEs)?  In terms of deployment of UC, what approach should the implementation take?  I simply mean the phases of implementation.”

These are interesting and important questions, and we thought others might have them, too, so here is the reply from one of our UC Experts:

Thanks for your inquiry.  As a UC consultant at UniComm Consulting that focuses on Business Enterprise customer needs in Unified Communications, here is our response to your questions.
 
The challenges are both clear and manageable.  The main challenge is to decide what you are trying to get accomplished by adopting Unified Communications (UC).  UC should be a tool that improves you business, hopefully giving you high return on investment.  Some examples might include:

  • If your business has a large number of field personnel (say sales, distributorship, service organization, real estate) then a UC solution that integrates with the user’s mobile device(s) could really improve your business, allowing clients to reach your people much more successfully. Such a UC solution could also allow the in-office team to see the presence (availability) of the mobile people to link up to them and allow the mobile people to see the presence of the in-office folks so as to get an answer for a customer almost instantly. Lots of other options, too. Microsoft Office Communications Server with the Office Communicator Mobile client is one example of this option. Other examples are available from IBM as well as some of SME solutions from the IP PBX suppliers.
  • If your business has a major back-office process, such as would occur in an insurance brokerage requiring underwriting approvals, or a professional services firm like a consulting firm, law firm, architecture firm, accounting firm, etc. then the UC solutions would focus more on the desktop options and the “collaborative” tools. The UC solution would enable a staff member or team member to see the availability of a the appropriate experts (often by skill or role, not just by name) so they can immediately get a consultation or a decision. The consultation might start with an IM session; then with one or two mouse clicks can become a live call or a web sharing session (to review a document), or a video conference, or even a collaboration with reference to documents, client information, etc. Tools for this type of UC are available both from the telecommunications suppliers (Mitel, NEC, Siemens, Cisco, Nortel, Avaya and others all have packages for Small-Medium Businesses or SMBs). Microsoft Office Communications Server with Microsoft SharePoint and IBM’s Lotus Sametime with the IBM Quickr product are also great solutions for this type of business process.

These suggestions focus on improving your business processes.  Of course, if you install the UC solutions, your employees will also find many other benefits for their day-to-day user productivity, but the business process changes usually deliver the greatest ROI, since you can actually manage and measure the changes.  
 
As to the Implementation approach, our recommendation is:

  1. Determine what you are going to focus on (as suggested above).
  2. Based on those focus areas, decide which features you will need and which employees will need them. Note that sometimes you don’t need to provide UC for all the employees; but depending on the size of your business it may be just as easy to provide UC to everyone.
  3. Shop for the best products and support services for your SMB needs. You will usually find one or two suppliers who are “the best” for your needs. Make sure to find a good VAR or distributor who understands this UC approach, not just a telecom or e-mail reseller who “cuts and runs”. The cost for a good VAR will be paid back in higher ROI, for sure.
  4. Get a sample copy of the UC solution (or pre-install the system) and test out the new procedures and methods, so you’re comfortable with how they will work. From this, prepare new process documentation (“the new way we will do our work”), the training and “change management” (i.e. the messages from the business leaders, the enrollment of “champions” for the new methods, and the help/support procedures as people learn the new UC methods). Be sure to include communications to your clients, if these new processes will be visible to (and likely much better for) them.
  5. Finish the installation and “roll it out” to the employees (some or all, as above). Watch carefully for the questions they have and the “tweaks” you will likely need to make.
  6. Monitor the business improvements. Celebrate the successful improvements.

Then, at that point, you can look for more processes to improve, as your next round of UC investments.

Well, that’s the end of the response to that question.  Do you think it was a good answer?  What would you add or change in this response.  We would welcome your post below.

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