When it comes to unified communications (UC) capabilities, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) want an enterprise-grade experience for their employees even if they lack the IT resources to make it happen. Cloud UC can deliver those enterprise-grade internal and external communication and collaboration capabilities to these smaller companies without their having to fuss with managing the tools themselves.
Full-featured functions, such as instant messaging, presence, voice and video, have traditionally been available only to enterprises with the IT organization to implement and support them. But Cloud UC can offer a more efficient and budget-friendly means for SMB communication.
Cloud UC: Adding UC features, taking IT off the SMB's plate
Cloud UC shifts management concerns -- a role SMBs don't mind outsourcing -- to the cloud provider, noted Bill Haskins, senior analyst for Wainhouse Research LLC.
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The majority of UC vendors have cloud offerings, but some have specifically tapped into the SMB space -- including Avaya Inc., ShoreTel Inc. and 8x8 Inc. Avaya recently announced the availability of AvayaLive Connect for SMBs.
AvayaLive Connect uses Avaya's Collaborative Cloud framework, which allows organizations to use, build and deliver cloud-based communications services and applications, and which can be ordered and downloaded via the Internet for a set user price per month. SMBs will be able to get voice, conferencing, messaging, mobility, presence and video capabilities without purchasing any equipment, said Caroline Co, marketing director for AvayaLive Connect.
Cloud UC can create communication efficiencies that can save SMBs time and money, said Nick Economos, a partner at the Chicago-based financial services company State Street Financial Group. An early beta tester of AvayaLive Connect, State Street Financial is now a customer.
Instant messaging capabilities have improved communications internally, and have allowed the employees to be more responsive with their clients, Economos noted. "We love that we can import our clients' phone numbers from our [customer relationship management system] CRM into AvayaLive," he said, noting that client contact info can be accessed from any device.
Employees are using the video conferencing capabilities, Economos said. "We have clients all over the country, and now we meet with [clients] even if they are miles away."
Will Cloud UC grow on the enterprise?
Cloud UC is an easy sell to the SMB market, but enterprises are a different story.
"Hosted services make a lot of sense for smaller companies, and increasingly for larger companies too. The hard part for users is understanding the differences between offers," said Dave Michels, CEO at TalkingPointz Research.
Many vendors geared their early Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) strategies to the SMB market, but enterprises will need more incentive to give up UC control to the cloud.
"Large enterprises with IT [resources] have been slow to jump on the hosted UC bandwagon, but the cloud shines when it comes to enterprises with multiple locations," Michels said, noting that UCaaS allows distributed enterprise employees who might not have local IT resources to enjoy the same UC features as those at the main office.
Unified communications vendors looking to appeal to the enterprise market should develop a cloud-oriented channel strategy -- something that vendors have struggled with because cloud services often compete against the equipment-based products that their channel partners offer. "Some companies are working on this channel relationship without creating conflict in order to appeal to larger enterprises," Michels noted.
Enterprises have been leery of cloud UC because of its reliance on the Internet. Larger companies require reliability, so IT organizations should expect to see vendors offering strong service-level agreements with their enterprise cloud UC services.
Enterprises should consider SMB-focused cloud UC services as a proving ground where vendors will work on their service delivery and support models. "Enterprises want to be able to look to a UCaaS vendor to give them better support than their IT staff," noted Wainhouse's Haskins. "Right now, that answer might be no, but the winds are shifting as more enterprises look to the cloud."
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