Migrating to Unified Communications - especially UC with voice - can present many challenges to Small and Medium Businesses. The need to deploy new server infrastructure, connectivity (like SIP trunking), deploy security layers (like session border controllers) and add new end user hardware and audio endpoint devices - not to mention getting the entire solution financed - can make the whole proposition seem daunting.
The good news is that solutions are beginning to appear in the market to simplify the process and ease the deployment of UC for SMB’s. To learn more about what companies are looking for and how these simplified solutions are taking shape, I spoke with Michael Cassady, the VP of Sales and Marketing from The Via Group, an experienced UC integrator. “The area where we are seeing the highest interest in the small and mid-market is around Microsoft Lync. The fact that it is part of Office365 and the overall Microsoft solution set makes the value proposition just too good to ignore for many companies,” explained Cassady. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that organizations are experiencing the cloud-based benefits of Office365 and its integration with the new Exchange, and are building on that success to move towards Lync and Unified Communications (not the least of which is how quickly Microsoft has skyrocketed in the Gartner UC Magic Quadrant). When asked if there was anything keeping companies from pulling the trigger on UC he had a quick answer. “They want a turnkey solution that fits in their budget.”
What SMB Customers Are Looking For in a Unified Communications Solution
According to Cassady, small and medium organizations are intrigued by the possibilities of Lync - from presence management and IM, to internal and external conferencing, to Enterprise Voice - but they are concerned with the complexity of the project it represents. “They want the benefits of increased productivity and efficiency, but they want it to be easy and fast,” he explained. No kidding...sounds like every tech project ever considered.
Cassady says that companies dipping in their toes are seeing benefits from the presence management and Instant Messaging aspects of Lync, and they quickly want to start realizing the cost savings associated with avoiding the PSTN with internal and external web conferencing, and by enabling inbound and outbound calls with Lync Enterprise Voice. “To get there companies have had to answer a number of questions,” says Cassady, “including how can we do this securely, how are we going to put the server infrastructure in place, how are we going to connect Lync to the PSTN, and how can we do it for a reasonable price.”
We discussed a new solution from AudioCodes called OneBox that they have been having a lot of success with. “OneBox is developed to take away those challenges,” says Cassady. “It is an appliance with wizard driven implementation that allows companies to stick it in the rack, put together a dial plan and get conferencing and voice on Lync up and running in a fraction of the time it would normally take.” The solution offers all the benefits of Office365, Lync and being on a Microsoft stack while making the deployment simple, secure and much more cost effective. “For most companies, voice is as mission critical as it gets. Having a turnkey appliance that allows them to keep that in house is very appealing for many.”
Planning for the Changes Employees Experience with UC
So now we have appliance-like solutions that take care of much of the heavy lifting to get Lync deployed. However, unified communications often results in a shift in the way a business people work, talk and collaborate. Instant access to colleagues via presence management, IM and desktop video conferencing, the ability to easily conference with external stakeholders, and a move towards softphones and mobility are usually quickly adopted and become the new way of doing business.
According to Cassady businesses are often not ready for what this means to the individual employee. “Remember, many companies migrating to UC have employees that are used to using deskphones and email as their primary means of communications. UC can be like going from 0 to 60 in three seconds.” Companies must be sure to not only offer training and support to employees, but also to put a lot of thought into the end user experience, especially when it comes to hardware and audio endpoint devices based on the use cases for each type of employee.
“We’ve noticed that companies that have deployed UC have a tendency to overbuy when it comes to deskphones. We encourage them to avoid this expensive mistake because employees quickly migrate to headsets for productivity purposes and to more easily take advantage of the capabilities of Lync.” The business case for headsets in a UC environment is clear, and is one of the reasons the headset market is growing so quickly.
Making it Easier for SMBs to Finance a UC Implementation
As we’ve discussed before, executing on a unified communications project requires a number of components companies don’t always immediately consider when it comes to financing the overall solution. These can include items like desktop hardware, wireless network upgrades to support the increased load, endpoint devices like wired or wireless headsets or UC enabled deskphones, video cameras, SIP trunking to handle communications sessions, software licensing, and professional services. Making all of that work on an SMB’s budget can be an additional roadblock to keeping projects moving.
This is another area where the market is responding by offering innovative solutions. “Many of our clients are looking for ways to be able to pay for their UC projects out of their operating budgets, and a new program from Jabra’s Vendor Services Group allows us to offer that.” The program allows businesses to wrap the cost of their deployment - hardware, software and services - into a monthly subscription payment model, giving them the ability to avoid large up-front capital expenses. This removes a major deployment obstacle faced by many IT and finance departments, and accelerates the successful implementations of communication and collaboration projects.
“This program allows us to handle all logistics, support and financing for the duration of the subscription agreement. At the end of the subscription term, customers can upgrade to newer solutions, return the equipment or keep what they have under a new agreement. It is a perfect compliment to a solution like OneBox which already makes the deployment faster and easier.”