Cloud makes Unified Communications a reality for SMEs

By Corrie Lynch, ICT Delivery DSM Expert: Connectivity Services at T-Systems South Africa

Quality video conferencing, together with the added features of presence, document sharing, screen sharing, and mobility capability, also known as Unified Communication (UC), has typically been considered the domain of large corporates that can afford the associated high cost. However, smaller businesses had to ‘make do’ with inefficient, low quality and usually insecure platforms. Fortunately, this is changing, providing these smaller businesses with access to enterprise quality solutions.

Smaller, more agile businesses often need these tools just as much, if not more, than larger businesses, as they tend to leverage a more mobile workforce. Without the right tools, collaboration and effective communication becomes difficult.

As a fall back, SMEs have resorted to using free or cheap UC platforms, such as social media instant messaging platforms, face-to-face video applications, and free online PABX and communication tools. While cost effective, these methods aren’t always secure, nor are they usually very reliable. Free platforms are also unlikely to offer any support. If a voice or video call fails, or cannot be initiated to start off with, the business has no form of assistance or recourse.

There has, however, been a major shift in the market where the introduction of cloud and the hosting of PBX services in the cloud now also makes quality UC services affordable to SMEs through pay-per-use cost models.

The cloud has opened the opportunity for SMEs to make use of corporate grade UC solutions without having to buy the solution or subscribe to a set number of licenses. Offered as a monthly pay-per-user fee, businesses are able to leverage quality UC tools, including voice, video conferencing, secure instant messaging, file and screen sharing, and more, scaling up and down as they require.

SME’s are able to benefit from a system that enables anytime, anywhere communication, that will grow as they do. When they reach a size where it makes sense to invest in business suites that offer UC as an add-on, they can decide to do so, or continue to use the subscription-based model, integrating it with their suite for maximum productivity.

These tools can be provisioned over the hardware that the business already has, or bundled together with the required hardware, handsets and video equipment. The services also extend to mobile users, allowing for the same tools to be accessed on a user’s mobile device, from any Internet connection. This allows SMEs – or businesses of any size, really – to make voice and video calls over their data connection, saving on expensive mobile tariffs.

The ability for teams to communicate and collaborate from anywhere and at any time boosts a business’s productivity and encourages a collaborative team environment. However, for UC solutions to be effective, they need to be reliable, secure and be supported by measurable and contracted service levels.

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