By Dave Dyer, SME Marketing Manager at Siemens Enterprise Communications

We're in the age of efficiency. Private sector organisations are under constant pressure to do ‘more with less' whilst boosting customer service. While small and medium-sized businesses have seen telecommunications as a tool for day-to-day contact, the technology is also emerging as a means to improve efficiency and tackle difficult economic times head-on.

One particular improvement solution is unified communications (UC), owing to its ability to increase employees' individual productivity, mobilise the workforce (independence from location and devices), and improve both workflow and business process efficiency.

The term UC has been in active use for about five years now but it is only in the last eighteen months that small companies have woken up to the potential benefits that expert providers can deliver to their business. UC is a simple proposition, in that it can be boiled down to an IT layer or overlay application that gives a clear view of all of your disparate IT and telecomms systems, so that you take control of how people contact your business and how you contact others.

With so many communication options available at work and at home, UC is an essential solution to frequent communication frustration and breakdown. Most importantly, it speeds up communication and provides benefits such as faster call handling and enquiry resolution at first call. It makes workforces more flexible and helps them locate the right information to enhance customer service, irrespective of the installed network, device or physical location.

Before commencing on any drastic communication change however, it is important that the organisation assesses the health of their current system by asking the following questions: are costs tracked; does the system have presence services, chat and voicemail; does it use web conferencing; are your mobile devices connected to your LAN and could tools be layered over existing equipment/platforms?

Cost is a primary concern for any size of business and it is imperative to ensure that telecommunication costs are tracked and assessed on a regular basis to ensure the system is providing return on investment (ROI) within a clear timeframe, frequently over twelve or eighteen months.

In addition to ROI, you need to assess the value of the features the current system includes: does it have voicemail, presence and web conferencing? Can you deliver on Carbon Reduction Commitment targets and green taxes with the first reports due in July 2011. UC enables you to assess and deliver system features that support these business objectives, ROI needs or green targets.

A unified communications system ensures that when in range the mobile device will connect to the LAN, therefore significantly reducing calling costs across the workforce. Call costs, and in particular mobile phone costs account for around 30% of the overall monthly communications bill. These costs are often passed through the organisation as an un-avoidable expense, but correctly implemented unified communication platforms can significantly reduce this high capital cost.

Operational costs are a major drain on small firm success. A recent study by Siemens found that small businesses are wasting as much as 40% of productive time on a variety of different "pain points" associated with multiple and poorly integrated communications channels, amounting to a waste of up to €3,900 per employee every year because of communication fragmentation.

UC is at the forefront of the next generation of communication platforms as it enables SMBs to tackle costs whilst improving productivity and customer satisfaction. UC can be realised, so long as small firms develop a clear strategy for migrating to UC platform in manageable stages. With so much spending frozen, the funding of any migration needs to be delivered from operational costs, such as monthly payback, rather than capital budget.

Migrating to UC can be a pain free experience for your business as it is a question of assessing the current platform and ascertaining where beneficial changes can be made to simplify and integrate all forms of what is too often, fragmented communications.

For more information visit http://www.siemens-enterprise.com/uk/