The Benefits of Unified Communications for Small Business

— Written by Jill Billhorn

If you’re not familiar with unified communications (UC), or if you haven’t integrated it into your business, you may be missing out on increased productivity, reduced costs and an improved professional presence.

UC is the convergence of voice, video and data services and software applications to achieve greater collaboration among individuals or groups, which improves business processes. Components of UC include video conferencing, unified messaging, smartphones, presence technologies and instant messaging.

Essentially, UC integrates all of your business’s communications into a single system by blending messaging and real-time services. One of the best perks of UC for a small business is that it can make your business seem larger by enabling everyone within the organization to remain connected, no matter where they are.

Unified Communications on the Rise

UC adoption is growing quickly, with implementation rates doubling from 2010 to 2011. A recent survey found that 76 percent of business, government, healthcare and education organizations that have fully implemented UC and track ROI have seen huge rewards. Your small business can now access these benefits, thanks to UC’s catalog of widely available features that were once accessible only to large enterprises.

While cost concerns deter some small businesses from exploring UC, it is important to keep in mind that there are many options available within the UC family. Choosing a system that can grow as your company grows will give your small business a boost now – and save you money in the future. If the price is right and the services meet your needs, making the switch from an outdated phone system to a UC system is an easy choice.

What You Need to Know About UC

Small businesses should consider several things when looking for a UC solution. First, identify the key features you’d like to have, such as routing voicemail to email, call routing and queuing, speech recognition, VoIP integration, etc. Then, look for systems that let you integrate calendars and scheduling, or that let people work on a single document at the same time, and then decide if your business needs these features.

Most importantly, consider scalability. Look for a system that has a large selection of additional components, accessories and software. You may not currently need every available option, but you will appreciate the opportunity to expand as your small business grows.

Regardless of the package you ultimately select, UC will help you locate your colleagues whether they are in the office, onsite at a meeting, on the road or teleworking – an ideal benefit for small business employees that are constantly on the move. Businesses can then field more mobile workers, know their whereabouts and cut back on outdated solutions like landlines. The best part?  UC is becoming bigger and better thanks to enhancements made possible by mobility and cloud computing.

UC in the Cloud

Adopting cloud-based technology further enhances unified communications capabilities. Does UC in the cloud sound complicated?  The truth is, you may have already tried it. CDW’s 2011 Unified Communications Tracking Poll found that 69 percent of organizations are evaluating, deploying or have fully deployed UC using a cloud model. Tools like Gmail, SharePoint, Google Docs and WebEx all harness UC through the cloud.

Need more motivation to leave your comfort zone?  The CDW poll found that deploying UC in the cloud made it both faster and easier to deploy; and 65 percent of respondents said deploying UC through the cloud is more cost effective – a big perk for small businesses with tight budgets.

Unified Communications and Mobility

It’s hard to find a small business that does not use mobile devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets. Unified communication mobility options are a clear benefit in today’s mobile business world. CDW’s 2011 Unified Communications Tracking Poll found that the most commonly deployed UC solutions include smartphones and mobile desktops.

The same report also found that one of UC’s top benefits is its mobile support. The ability to access work email and voicemail via smartphones or to receive voicemail via email is priceless for any small business that is constantly on the go. Your remote staff will thank you too, since many small business teleworkers rely heavily on email, instant messaging, video conferencing and other UC technologies to stay connected.

Like other technology trends, mobility is not without its challenges. Now that employees have increased mobile access, small businesses face the additional challenge of securing data that is accessed remotely or through mobile devices. With strained IT staff and budgets, this can be difficult.

If your small business supports BYOD (where employees bring their own devices to work), be sure that your employees receive mobile security training – and require all personal devices to meet security standards before they can access your network.

 Ready to Get Started with Unified Communications?

The benefits of UC are clear, but like any other solution, research and planning prior to implementation is essential:

  • Begin by envisioning the results of UC for your small business – it can positively affect the way your organization collaborates and communicates
  • Be sure to maintain an open-minded outlook regarding different options. UC is a rapidly changing set of solutions, so try to build in the capability for your small business to adapt as the market changes
  • Don’t forget security. It’s great for employees to feel comfortable communicating through so many channels and devices – but be sure to build in corresponding security features with any UC or mobile solution 
  • Most importantly, don’t forget to seek out help when you need it. A trusted solutions partner can advise you on UC options, implementation and the benefits your small business can realize through this technology 

Jill Billhorn is the vice president of small business at CDW.

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