New developments open competition at all levels
By Alison Brewer, Marketing Manager, Mitel
Technology has redefined what it means to be a small to medium sized business (SMB). The Internet and all its communications applications for telephony allow SMBs to look and act like their much bigger counterparts. At the heart of this technology is “Unified Communications.” It represents the intersection of IP Telephony and advanced Internet applications and it can launch SMBs into more valuable and efficient consumer communications, customer relationships and employee teamwork.
For SMBs, Unified Communications is moving forward at high speed. Developments are:
• Collaboration: Collaboration technology will enable SMBs to share information on customers in real time.
• Reachability: provides simplified and more immediate access to employees who use mobile devices.
• Security: Advances by larger enterprises have pushed unified solutions to a par with traditional hard-wired solutions.
• New network protocols: Industry standards have enabled many of the advanced customer facing features that extend IP beyond simple telephony, such as internal and external text and instant messaging.
• Interoperability: Developments that have removed the barriers between Unified Communications and legacy networks have resulted in seamless communications with complex networks of customers.
Five Keys to the Unified Enterprise
Just as texting, mobile access, and social media have made the world wide open for a company’s customers, the same possibilities are available within companies. SMBs will be profoundly impacted by the change, or become vulnerable to more aggressive and technically savvy competitors. Unified Communications will put SMBs on a plane with much larger companies. An audit of current capabilities and an understanding of new technology developments will make a positive difference in workforce and customer communications.
Many of the features that SMBs are looking to integrate into their communications system are advanced Unified Communications applications, according to Alison Brewer, propositions marketing manager for Mitel, “Businesses are migrating to unified communications platforms that allow them to pull their voice, data and video messaging together into one system,” she says. “This provides significant cost reductions, and also helps them look and operate more like a big enterprise.”
Customers can share opinions on their experience with a company almost immediately via social networks. That’s Web 2.0. From a customer service standpoint, collaboration technology via Unified Communications has enabled SMBs to share information on customers in real time to improve service levels. For example, Unified Communications portals feature pop-up screens that coordinate a voice call with data screens identifying the caller and providing background on their call history.
Reachability may be the most compelling reason for SMBs to adopt Unified Communications. Given the global landscape of business today, most businesses have staff working from remote locations. Unified Communications solutions have enabled SMBs to stay connected with remote workers while presenting a seamless face to the customers. From a customer service standpoint, the capabilities delivered by Unified Communications solutions have provided significant competitive advantages for SMBs. For example, with teleworker solutions, contact centres are no longer limited to providing service only during the office hours of the headquarters.
Through their experience on the Internet, consumers have learned that tools like firewalls, anti-virus solutions and spam filters are essential to protect their personal computers. Those same concerns are multiplied for small businesses choosing an Unified Communications system. An SMBs intellectual property as well as customer data is on the line. In the past few years, security concerns kept many small businesses from adopting Unified Communications. Just as a network or Website could be hacked, so could customer data shared via Unified Communications. However, as the technology has become well established by larger enterprise companies, SMBs are realising that IP solutions offer a high degree of security.
Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)
It is critical for SMB managers to understand the underlying importance of SIP in driving the future of Unified Communications. An acronym for Session Initiation Protocol, SIP is a signalling protocol for Internet conferencing, telephony, virtual contact centre presence, events notification and instant messaging. SIP was established by technology vendor work groups in the communications industry back in 1999. It established features such as the “redirect,” which enables customers or employees to initiate and receive communications using the same phone number regardless of location or device. A company’s employees are never completely disconnected from each other or from their customers with mobile extension.
SIP, at another level increases “interoperability.” For SMBs it means that an upgraded communication system has to work together. For example, if a medium-sized international pharmaceutical company with diverse communications systems needs to have an immediate conference call to discuss a new patent, every
member of that team must have compatible technology regardless of location. Unified Communications guarantees that consistency of operations. Because standards such as SIP are now well established, it is relatively easy for small businesses to integrate applications from different media (email, voice, video) as well as equipment from different vendors (mobile devices, PCs, phones).
Above all, SMBs should understand that Unified Communications is within their budget and should be factored into their future investment plans. Employees and customers, will demand no less. The benefits of next generation networks for the small business are enormous, allowing business owners to have more control and flexibility in how they want to operate and the types of applications they want to use today and in the future.