I noticed a tweet earlier this week from an old colleague of mine, Rudi Hamann from Siemens Enterprise Communications. The tweet went like this:
Why do you think SMBs do not recognise the immediate value of unified communication and presence?
Having now worked in a rapidly expanding medium-sized business for a month, I think that I can answer his question.
My company should be a perfect customer for unified communications: we are a multi-site business with complex operations. We are expanding rapidly internationally. Yet – although we have all of the component parts – we don’t use a unified communications solution right now. Why? Because the benefits of unified communications are not being clearly and simply articulated to customers like us – and certainly not clearly enough to displace the other IT challenges that we are tackling in our list of priorities. I have been thinking about this and believe that there are three main areas, where vendors are missing a trick:
- Firstly, in fast-growing companies like ours, line-of-business managers have a significant influence on the IT strategy. Yet there are very few vendors out there that invest the resources to articulate the real value of unified communications in a coherent, jargon-free way. Ironically, Rudi actually was part of a good attempt at doing this when Siemens launched HiPath OpenOffice (now OpenScape Office) in 2007. That solution covered many of the needs of growing businesses: unified messaging, presence, mobility and Outlook integration. If more line-of-business managers understood the value of unified communications, then this would almost certainly raise it up their priority list.
- The consumerization of IT has a massive influence. We know that we need to communicate but tools such as IM, Skype, the Apple iPhone and various other smartphones help us meet that need. They’re not perfect, but they are simple, consumer-focused tools that are easy to understand. So these are the tools that many businesses use to fill needs that could be covered by UC solutions. I am not arguing that this is right: there are security issues, management challenges and significant costs – but end users don’t consider such issues. Gartner recently said that the consumerization of IT will be a key trend over the next decade. If they are right, then unified communications vendors need good arguments as to why their solutions offer real value to business that business can’t get elsewhere.
- Last, but definitely not least, ease-of-use, installation and management are all important factors in growing businesses. We expect unified communications applications to be easy to install, reliable and for them to work seamlessly with the applications and devices that we already use. Not the complicated proprietary stuff, but at least the standards that we use every day, such as Microsoft Office, Outlook, Blackberry and iPhone. And when I say integration, I mean simple out-of-the-box integration – not integration requiring consultancy or professional services.
At the heart of all of these issues is one recurring theme: simplicity. I believe that there is a real craving for simplicity in business IT right now. As consumers, we are all spoilt by companies such as Apple, Sky and Google articulating their propositions very clearly and making their solutions so easy and intuitive that we don’t need manuals to work out how to use them – we just instinctively know. Unified communications has a massive dependency on user adoption in order to ensure the return on investment of solutions. Yet many vendors have still to realise that communicating their propositions in a straightforward manner and making them unbelievably easy to use is key to users desiring and adopting them. Until that happens, the value of unified communications will bypass many of the influencers in the IT decision making process…