2011 – Two Key Telecom Trends for SMBs

Updated: December 27, 2010

Trend #1 -Telecom is Shifting Away From Deskphones

Whether you're using a legacy PBX, an IP PBX or even a Key System, chances are your employees are not using them the way they used to. For the immediate future, deskphones will remain an indispensible part of the work place, but surely you've noticed some changes. In most situations, these phones work perfectly well, provide a high quality voice experience and are familiar to all.

While there is nothing wrong with that, most phone calls occur in a vacuum, are not directly connected to other applications or processes. At the end of a call, the employee typically summarizes the essence of the message into some other mode, such as entering a meeting time into a calendar, writing an email to share with others, or sending an IM to a colleague. The vital information gets passed on, but not in real time, and with a fair bit of additional effort.

This of course, is the gist of Unified Communications, and when telephony is integrated with a UC platform, many of these problems go away. You typically need a SIP-based phone to do that - which isn't hard to find, or very expensive - but this doesn't always have to be a deskphone. As UC becomes more widely deployed, the notion of a standalone telephone will become counter-productive. IP phones will certainly do the job, but so will a PC-based phone interface, and in some cases, mobile devices.

I'm not advocating that desk phones will become obsolete in 2011 (but in another Focus Brief, I take that position for 2015), but I do expect in the coming year that the shift will be more obvious, especially for SMBs trying to leverage the exploding world of IP communications. To determine this for yourself, I suggest setting up a few simple benchmarks to track over the course of 2011.

With IP telephony, you have detailed activity logs, so it will not be difficult to track basic usage patterns - number of calls made and received using the deskphone, length of call, frequency of calling key people. If possible, also try tracking mobile telephony activity, as well PC-based calling. Some of this can be gleaned from log files, and some you may need to track on a self-reporting basis, but with just a little effort, you should be able gauge overall patterns for telephony. My guess is that you'll be surprised what unfolds, and if you'd like to share that with us here at Focus.com, I'd be happy to facilitate that.


Trend #2 - Communication is Becoming Less Voice-Centric

Until the advent of the Internet, telephony was the dominant communication mode for businesses, and in most cases that meant the PBX. We all know how that has changed, first with email, then IM, and more recently, VoIP and PC-based calling. Mobility is the next layer of top of that, and while this still involves telephony, the locus shifts from the deskphone to outside the office and beyond.

Over the course of various Briefs from 2010, I've touched on how these pieces work together. Each mode and each technology has distinct value, and it's hard to imagine any of them disappearing altogether. I'll continue exploring these in 2011, but to provide context for the bigger picture, I want to focus here on the overriding trend.

The first trend is part of this bigger picture, and it has to do with the notion that voice is no longer the center of communications. Voice will always be a primary - and preferred mode - but a lot has changed with VoIP. As the cost of VoIP service and IP phones falls, so does its value, especially as it now competes with other communications modes - most of which are just as economical as VoIP, if not more so. This means that SMBs can afford to use them all, making telephony just one of many services to work with. In this mode, voice doesn't fully lose its utility - rather it must now co-exist with other modes.

The world order here has changed for good, but telephony is not facing extinction - just a new reality. I believe that reality will crystallize in 2011, mainly on two fronts. First is the accelerating adoption of smartphones, and especially tablets. These devices certainly support telephony, but are really used for other things, many of which support collaboration. Video, of course, is a big part of this shift, and these devices will make video even more mainstream in 2011. In due time, making a video call - or initiating a video conference call - will be just as intuitive as a phone call, and with that, simple telephony will give way to video calling.

The second front is social media, which gained significant traction in the business world in 2010. Forward-thinking businesses will see benefits here if they can manage social media properly. The opportunity lies in recognizing social media as a legitimate business tool and showing employees how to use it in this context. This will take some basic training, especially in the contact center, where we see great promise. The key for success here will be for businesses to accept that communications is no longer voice-centric. Telephony still has a role to play, but it is really just one ingredient, especially where collaboration is the mantra for getting things done.

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