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3 benefits of unified communications for small business

Small businesses that adopt unified communications can expect to improve employee engagement, reduce costs and consolidate overlapping tools.

Small businesses have always struggled to keep up with larger competitors, especially when it comes to technology. Until voice over IP came along, switched phone systems, like PBXs, were prohibitively expensive for SMBs, while enterprises could afford the superior telephony capabilities that made their operations more efficient. As telephony evolved, cost barriers have largely disappeared, and the same can be said for the successor technology to phone systems: unified communications.

The main reason for this change is communications technology has evolved from hardware to software, and the associated offerings are more affordable for SMBs. Deploying unified communications for small business highlights this evolution as SMBs can take advantage of three key UC benefits.

1. Integrated communications

Telephony is just one mode of communication in the workplace, and most people use several modes daily -- sometimes concurrently. Voice may be the best real-time mode, but it's not always suitable or convenient. We often rely on different modes, such as video chat, IM, email and text messaging, depending on our collaboration needs. While we use different tools in our day-to-day routine, we generally use them in a stand-alone fashion.

Using multiple modes of communication can be effective but not particularly efficient. It's not always easy or even possible to switch from one mode to another during a conversation, and most SMBs lack a centralized hub for managing communications. This is precisely the problem unified communications for small business addresses. Rather than introduce new applications, UC provides a better way to use existing communications applications in a consistent, integrated fashion.

2. Lower cost through consolidated apps

An unintended consequence of stand-alone communications is the duplication of both applications and effort. Workers, for example, may use multiple chat platforms, voice over IP clients and conferencing applications. Aside from the inefficiency of juggling multiple tools, the business wastes money by spending on overlapping applications. This is especially problematic when lines of business or specific departments have their own communications budgets and only invest to support their own needs.

The more widespread overlapping applications there are across the company, the more wasteful for the overall business. While unified communications for small business should not be deployed strictly on a cost savings basis, consolidating apps is one area where SMBs should realize some financial benefit. By centralizing these applications, IT will be in a better position to negotiate volume pricing with providers, especially for services like conferencing.

3. Better employee engagement

Employee engagement is a more strategic benefit and has everything to do with providing workers with the right tools to be productive. Not only does UC provide value by driving better productivity, it makes workflows, processes and communications easier. Employees are happier in their work when less effort is needed to get results, especially for everyday tasks.

Think about how many phone calls end up in voicemail or how many emails get buried in spam. SMBs don't have the luxury of employees working at half-speed. Today's digital economy is rife with competition, and the pace of business is only increasing.

The key benefit of UC is employees can focus on getting actual work done because they're spending less time managing communications. This benefit should be foremost in your mind when building the business case. UC won't be the silver bullet for all your workers' issues, but it can address a fundamental set of needs.

When workers can communicate with ease and minimal effort, they will be more engaged, and their quality of work will improve. Engagement may be difficult to measure, but it's an outcome that management will certainly understand and fully support.

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