Small to medium-sized busineses seeking a cost-effective communications system which is easy to deploy, use and manage without sacrificing access to advanced business applications, are finding their solutions in unified communications (UC).
This technology reduces cost and complexity by introducing embedded applications which extend mobility and functionality, and provides simplicity for both IT managers and end users. UC also delivers enhanced mobility support, a critical element for any SMB, plus the flexibility and future-proofing benefits of a cloud environment.
A recent Frost & Sullivan survey of enterprise communications found more than 50% of businesses use a mobile extension capability. Leading vendors are responding to a broad range of customers’ needs by rolling out new and enhanced capabilities that include embedded applications, cost-effective mobility and simplified management through open architecture. There is also strong demand for voice virtualisation, and top vendors are rolling out innovative solutions.
Embedded applications include conferencing, which provides multiple-party conferences with capacity to host up to 20 conferences simultaneously. Basic embedded voicemail is being enhanced to offer completely unified voice messaging.
Cost-effective mobility is being delivered by functions that provide single number support and calling capability between a user’s desktop and mobile devices. As many as 10 associated devices are allowed within a group. This technology also delivers message waiting warnings and hands-off push and pull for all devices.
The value of open architecture
More advanced vendors are utilising open architecture, which simplifies management control and offers a huge advantage in delivering the freedom for end users to interface with all industry standard applications.
Think how frequently people change mobile devices, then consider how open architecture gives them the freedom to make their own choice of end devices, including mobiles and tablets, which all run under an open architecture.
Businesses which are not running their communications on an open architecture are merely buying legacy hardware when they invest in a PBX or IP Pbx. Since hardware changes constantly, their new devices will soon have compatibility problems. The flexibility of open architecture avoids this problem, as it is compatible with all industry standard applications, devices and hardware.
An advanced open architecture also encompasses rich functionality. For instance, a user web portal allows end users to view and configure their communications settings, including do-not-disturb, manual call forwarding, dynamic extension express, presence status and voicemail messages, call history, meet-me-conferences and account information.
Embedded reporting capabilities added to a system administration and diagnostics client can provide a rich interface for graphical representation and quick filtering of system data and metrics. Open architecture interface toolkits can enable more transparent integration with third-party applications, such as those developed by members of Mitel Solutions Alliance (MSA).
Bring your own phone revolution
In the near future, mobile phones will dominate as businesses move to a ‘bring your own device’ strategy, while voice virtualisation will assume more importance in business networks, according to survey results(¹) taken by Mitel. The survey also shows that businesses feel stronger ROI can be achieved with a best-of-breed network approach.
Survey highlights include:
- 53% of respondents felt mobile phones will become the dominant communication device in the workplace. These respondents also said their organisations will move to a ‘bring your own device’ strategy in the future.
- 90% of respondents said virtualisation will take on greater importance in their network in 2011, with 34% of these saying voice virtualisation will take on the highest level of importance. Cloud virtualisation and desktop virtualisation followed in priority at 31% and 25%, respectively.
- 74% of respondents believed they could achieve a stronger ROI using a best-of-breed network approach versus a single vendor.
These results demonstrate that open architecture is directly addressing customers’ communications needs. It provides the flexibility to break free from a ‘walled garden’ vendor model and design a communications network based on best-in-class technologies. It also allows organisations to deliver a tailored, in-office experience to all employees, extending UC features to any device, enabling the ‘bring your own device’ approach which we believe will become prevalent.
Frost & Sullivan’s recent survey(²) on mobility usage supports these findings, showing 49% of respondents identify mobile phones as primary endpoints used for business communications.
Clearly organisations are driving the use of mobile unified communications applications to help reduce cost, enhance mobile worker productivity, enable work/life balance, provide better customer service, reduce travel and increase collaboration across distributed teams.
Frost & Sullivan further reported that 75% of small/mid-sized companies would describe their communications infrastructure as multi-vendor as opposed to end-to-end single vendor. According to the survey, this trend will continue over the next 24 months with most businesses shifting to more tightly integrated multi-vendor environments.
Opportunity in the cloud
A new alternative to the traditional phone option exists in cloud-based communications services. Delivered through broadband networks utilising VoIP technology, these services are remotely hosted by a voice service provider.
Cloud offers exciting opportunities to the channel. Traditionally resellers have sold phones, but today all solutions in the mobile world are cloud-based, and that’s where the dollar spend lies. This creates opportunities focused on a recurring fee for service rather than up-front product sales. It is a disruptive change that will oblige resellers to develop a strategy for the successfully transition to this new cloud-based business model. Resellers must make sure they can operate cloud solutions – not everyone will, but the opportunity exists. Leave it too late and it will be much more difficult to move to UC.
In the past it was rare for the management of an internal phone system to align with an organisation’s core mission. But cloud-based communications services offer end-customers a new alternative with a utility, per-user pricing model that delivers complete enterprise-class communications services at a very compelling price.
Today’s technology allows an organisation to subscribe to communications services that include dial-tone, system management administration, maintenance, advanced call features, and applications (such as unified messaging and mobility), all without a significant capital investment. The customer realises overall savings, and reclassifies what was once a capital expense to an operating expense. Additionally, the service provider builds a recurring revenue model instead of the lumpy revenue associated with equipment sales.
The emerging cloud-based communications business promises to deliver significant opportunities. Numerous studies and reports predict explosive growth in demand for these services globally, while market data points to a clear and consistent conclusion: the time is right to embrace the cloud-based communications services market opportunity, technology, and model. Leaders in this transition are already offering a robust and scalable communications services platform designed for service providers.
With advanced UC technology, SMBs can move forward into the cloud, or a new server, or virtualise. The investment in products will be massive because savings on future maintenance, and on future management and upgrade costs, will protect customers’ investment.
(¹) Mitel survey conducted during the Mitel Freedom webcast on November 15, 2010