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Unified Communications must ‘differentiate’ to sell to SMEs

Analysis: PwC report recommends customer service focus.

By Alexander Sword

While Unified Communications (UC) as a term is fairly new, as a concept it has been around for decades. In the 1980s the early pioneers started to argue for the potential of combining voice messaging, interactive voice response and email. In the 1990s it became better known under the name of Unified Messaging, as mainstream technology companies started to get in on the action.

Newly invigorated by the enterprise mobility revolution, uptake of UC and recognition of its importance remains on the rise. But take-up has still been lacklustre in many sectors. A recent PwC report explains that while UC "is a common buzzword in today’s ICT marketplace…there is still a long way to go to turn all that buzz into business."

The UC market is still dwarfed by traditional telephony. Worth $21.1 billion compared to an overall worldwide telephony market of $1.65 trillion, the sector is nonetheless a fast grower. PwC expects it to grow at a CAGR of 11 percent through 2018, compared to 2 percent for the overall market.

Smaller enterprises generally show a lower rate of adoption of UC. The report finds that roughly half of UK SMEs remain "stuck in either an entirely pre-UC world or one whereby selected disparate UC functionalities are employed in a limited capacity, but not integrated."

PwC divides the market into two camps, UC 1.0 and UC 2.0. The former status, enjoyed by 55 percent of UK SMEs, means that a company enjoys either a degree of integration between fixed and mobile telephony routing and billing (Fixed Mobile Convergence [FMC]) or uses a desktop-based UC application which integrates with the company’s directory to offer presence, staff information and IM.

UC 2.0, meanwhile, refers to companies which have both FMC and desktop-based UC applications, with 21 percent fitting into this category. As the report says,

"Smaller companies have historically been slower than medium-sized companies to embrace collaboration technology, with usage of UC 2.0 amongst 10-49 person companies less than half that of companies larger than 50 employees."

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However, slow adoption among SMEs is not due to unawareness of the technology, with the report finding that 66 percent of SMEs are aware of the leading Enterprise UC Suites, such as Microsoft Lync or Cisco’s Jabber. It is also pointed out that the difference in take-up is not just horizontal but also vertical:

"Some industry verticals are also slower adopters than others. While professional services firms enjoy high UC 1.0 penetration, other areas, for example the public sector (utilities, admin, education) lag."

What is driving the take-up of UC? PwC explains that it is generally down to ‘bottom line-oriented benefits’. Of these, productivity gains is the most commonly cited factor, with 52 percent of buyers identifying it. Also ranking highly at 51 percent and 45 percent respectively are Opex savings and Efficiency gains.

UC isn’t just magic beans, either, according to the report: 93 percent of buyers reported some benefit realised after deploying. Collaboration, employee demand and morale were realised post-deployment by 62%, 57% and 54% of all UC buyers.

Among other predictions, PwC expected Hosted UC services to grow at 14 percent per year through 2018. 39 percent of SMEs claimed that they were already inclined towards a cloud-based deployment.

"Characterised by an OPEX model and boasting quick implementation, scalability and automated upgrades, it is also particularly well suited to SMEs."

The report offers five pieces of advice to UC vendors. The first is to invest in the right technical skills, as there is a significant skills shortage in this area. Secondly PwC recommends that ‘genuinely differentiated customer service’ is offered; this includes "higher and more personalised levels of customer service and account management."

The other three recommendations focus on customer service: vendors must "deliver pain-free deployment/installation, offer a range of pricing models and develop trusted advisor relationships with customers."

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