Unified Communication Considerations for Small Businesses

By Lori Shepherd
Updated: January 31, 2011

As unified communications are ostensibly becoming a dominate player in the advanced phone systems space, small business owners will want to seriously consider these revolutionary services for transforming how their operations stay connected. One of the most common forms of unified communications is found in Voice over Internet Protocol technology (VoIP). VoIP’s are a sure fire way for business owners to stay connected by integrating technology comprising internet and phone services; customer-service applications, instant messaging, and email.

Flexibility Reigns!

However, i t is unified communications in general that ensures flexibility in terms of how customers and businesses stay connect and the variety of communication tools they can use to do so. Additionally, these services also make it easier to track mobile staff as telecommuting becomes a common work option for small business employees. Of course, different service providers vary how they charge for extra features, and which features comprise a package offering. One common service package offering might combine inbox services comprising voicemail collection, emails and faxes and making them all accessible by Smartphone or computer. These charges may/may not include the cost of individual cell phones or data plans for those phones.

Another common package offering would include an instant-messaging program which gives employees the option of checking the status of their colleagues, holding a video conference, and sharing desktops on a team project. If a business is hosting an off- site meeting requiring the entire staff to be at a remote location, an employee can use a cell phone to answer the main number and respond throughout the day. Additionally, with unified communications systems, one would also have the option to screen calls. For instance, customers calling after 6 p.m. might be connected to an answering machine, while calls from fellow employees would get through until midnight and family members could call at any time.

Options & Costs

While generally speaking, costs associated with using unified communications can be negligible, adopting these new communications tools may require an upfront investment, especially if entirely revamping a company's phone system is the goal, or if the new products are not compatible with older phone systems. In which case, if a business owner has recently invested in other phone equipment, he/she may not be eager to abandon it and start anew. On the other hand, when the price is right and the services attractive, some small businesses may be motivated to make the switch.

So, making the switch leaves buyers with a choice of hiring a service provider to host a company's phone service which tends to cost less than buying lots of new equipment even though buying hosted services does require relinquishing some control of operations. And, many business owners don’t mind letting the host provider take control, if it means reaping cost savings. One unified communications hosting company, Alteva in Philadelphia reported growth of new customer’s intent on saving phone services costs of up to 60 percent over a 12-month period, according to a Wall Street Journal article, published on June 2010.

Decide, then Buy Carefully

For business owners considering purchasing unified communications systems themselves, they’ll want to be cautious about what they purchase. Some products are designed for large business operations and require specialized IT staff. Even for companies anticipating rapid growth, will want to opt for a less lofty unified communications system than they need to avoid buying products they don’t actually need at the moment. Ultimately, It's up to the company's IT manager or owner to make sure the system is appropriate for the number of employees it currently serves, and plans to serve.

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