A review of SMB communications needs-fixed, mobile or unified
Businesses of all sizes adopt technology to make them more productive, cost effective or flexible and help them compete. Over the years, the adoption of tools such as mobile phones, wireless laptops, the internet and email have all been driven by such expectations. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are often at the forefront as it can give them a lead on their larger competitors. But what starts as a useful extra tool for a few soon becomes the accepted norm for all, bringing further challenges and costs.
The internet has become a vital conduit and tool for many SMBs
Widely accepted as a fundamental part of business IT, the internet has moved far from its academic routes. Around two thirds of SMBs have been online for over 5 years, and for more than half of these companies, this commercial use of the internet is part of a formal business strategy. Around a third of SMBs are selling online, over a quarter are using IP telephony, and one in six have some form of network video collaboration capability. The internet is now a central element of the business and the working life of its employees, and its selection process must bear in mind the impact of current and projected usage.
- Email addresses and mobile phone numbers are the primary business contact points for all employees An email address and mobile phone number are the most consistent and prominent contact points on SMB business cards. Surprisingly, the fax machine is not yet defunct as many still have its number on their cards-more so than list a web address. Beyond telephony and text messaging, many SMBs use mobile phones for email, web browsing and instant messaging both inside and outside the office. Even at a desk with a fixed phone, the mobile is the first preference for many employees wanting to make a call, despite the difference in cost.
- Working from home is widespread, but is not ideal for communications and is still relatively ad hoc Most small businesses have some employees working at least part of their time from home and, for a quarter of them, this applies to more than 10% of the workforce. Most of these employees are provided with a laptop computer, around half a mobile phone, and a third of employers pay for home workers' broadband connection, but there is less support for fixed phones or PBX integration. More than a third of SMBs notice problems getting mobile phone coverage at work, but at home the problem is, if anything, worse, with almost half of companies noting that some employees have difficulty getting coverage on their business mobile while at home.
- Communications costs are high, assistance to understand and control them would be valued The flexibility, especially of mobile communications, might be worth it, but costs are still an issue. SMBs are open to ideas like fixed/mobile convergence-offering both services from a single device-providing it delivers value without requiring substantial upfront investment. Most of them think this is an area where mobile operators can help, giving those operators an opportunity to grab fixed call minutes and revenues.
Technology advances are creating all sorts of new methods of communications, and the IT and telecoms industries are trying to bring these together through products that offer ‘Unified Communications' or ‘Fixed/Mobile Convergence'. However, for SMBs the problem is not one of converging technologies, but simplifying the way they communicate. Their core need is one of capable and robust connectivity. This means internet connection services providing sufficient bandwidth, responsiveness and reliability and for mobile connections, decent quality, coverage and flexibility. What they need to seek from their suppliers is an understanding of these basic communications needs. They need to then be presented with products that meet those needs simply and in a way that does not try to radically change the current working practices of the business, but allows them to evolve.
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