What Does Unified Communications Mean for Your SMB?

Updated: April 30, 2009

Employees often waste time and energy trying to reach a colleague through voice mail, email and IM (instant messaging). It is also common to find multiple messages concerning the same subject in different places. Unified communications seeks to simplify these problems by sending all communications to a single inbox .

How Unified Communications Can Help

Unified communications can offer significant time savings. Market-research company Sage Research Inc. found that, in companies that used unified communications, the average employee saved 32 minutes per day by being able to locate co-workers on the first attempt. In addition, employees saved an average of 43 minutes per day by managing all emails, voice mails and faxes from a single inbox.

In many business scenarios, employees need to reach someone with particular expertise , not a specific individual. A unified-communications system can offer a solution to that issue as well. It can give a customer-service rep access to a directory of available billing specialists, for example. This capability saves time dialing one unavailable person after another.

The ability to combine communications also enables employees to share information more completely. For instance, a text message about a customer problem could have the customer's account-history records attached. Voice mail can also have attachments, such as faxes or video presentations.

In addition, a unified-communications system can replace a number of machines around the office, including faxes, dedicated video conference devices and associated network interfaces. By streamlining infrastructure, an SMB (small- to medium-sized business) can yield additional cost savings.

Unified communications can also improve your SMB's mobility and continuity. Text messages can be translated to voice by unified-communications systems, enabling mobile users to manage their email from any telephone handset. It no longer matters whether mobile users have access to a computer terminal, wired phone or cell phone. The system also enables workers to track down mobile employees quickly so business operations can continue smoothly.

Web 2.0 components such as wikis, mashups and internal social networks are included in unified-communications systems as well. The emergence of presence applications such as Twitter are also part of the unified-communications paradigm. Essentially, these programs tell everyone on the network, "Here I am and here is what I am doing." This type of social-networking activity merges well with unified communications to give employees a sense of who is doing what.

More Options, but Still Pricey

Demand for unified communications is growing faster among SMBs than in companies with more than 1,000 employees, according to Cisco Systems, Inc.'s SMB unit. The company last year rolled out several new offerings aimed at this market, including unified-communications systems for firms with 20 or fewer employees.

But all is not perfect with unified communications. Price is still a barrier to implementing this technology. The cost of equipping a 22-person office with a Cisco Systems unified-communications system is estimated to run about $450 per month with financing. While some unified-communications features can be applied over conventional analog-phone lines, others require IP-telephony infrastructure and network modifications. Employees also need training to use the new system.

Most SMBs will implement unified communications piece by piece, starting with IP telephony. As workers become accustomed to this digital convenience, they will soon want voice mail in their inboxes, followed by other unified-communications components.

Featured Research
  • Is Your Phone System Stealing Profits?

    Having the wrong phone system can dramatically cut into your profits. Despite this, many businesses just sign up for a plan or platform that seems ‘good enough’. If you haven’t carefully considered your options and the included features, there’s a very good chance that you are leaving money on the table in some way. more

  • Phone System Technology Showdown

    VoIP and IP telephony are often misconstrued as being the same type of phone system, but the truth is they operate on different technology and deployment methods. This guide will explain the differences between VoIP and IP, go into the pros and cons of both VoIP and IP-PBX, and give insight into which type of phone system will benefit your business the most. more

  • Why Enterprises are Making the Switch to VoIP

    Your phone system is your most important business communication system. It allows you to connect with your employees, prospects, and clients. And wouldn't it be great if there was a solution that helped drive down costs while providing a competitive advantage? more

  • Business Phone System Buyer's Guide

    Communication has been a focal point in business since inception, but the industry is changing drastically in how people connect to one another and what tools and systems they use to do so. Less than 15 years ago, 90% of people relied on landline phone systems for communication. Today, less than 60% of Americans even have a landline and 40% rely solely on their mobile phone. more

  • The IT Manager's Survival Guide

    As an IT manager, maintaining physical fax servers and infrastructure is not a high priority. However, fax capability remains a business need simply because chances are your industry is dependent on its security. What if there was a way to reduce the amount of time spent handling fax complaints and maintaining physical servers? And this way took into account security, cost savings, and freed up your IT resources. Would you be interested? more