Before you take the leap into unified communications, make sure your top choice will meet business and users’ needs
Despite its inception as enterprise technology, unified communications (UC)—with its convergence of voice, video, and data communications on a single IP-based network—offers small businesses several benefits. Users can easily make a call, send an email or instant message, or launch a voice or video conference through a single interface on their computers. In addition, UC can help- keep mobile workers more closely connected to the rest of your employees and enable better collaboration among everyone in your company.
Companies are recognizing these benefits and turning to UC more and more. In fact, according to research firm AMI-Partners, small to medium-size businesses in the U.S. are expected to double their spending on UC solutions by 2015.
If you’re among the many small businesses planning to add UC to your network, you may be shopping around for a solution right now. Before you decide, you’ll want to take these five considerations into account:
1. Can your existing technology investment be preserved? Unless you’re just in the process of building a network for your small business, you already have an email program, productivity software, and other business applications. You don’t want to have to rip out your current investments to get started with UC. The UC solution you choose should give users additional tools to use with the software they already have; for example, the solution should interoperate with your email program to provide unified messaging.
2. Is the UC solution compatible with users’ mobile devices? UC makes it easier to collaborate with mobile workers, so any solution must be able to support your users’ mobile devices. Look for a UC solution that offers support for a variety of devices, including Windows and Mac machines, iPhones and iPads, Android-based devices, and BlackBerry smartphones. After all, many people bring their own consumer devices to work, and you want them to be able to use your UC solution on whichever mobile device they prefer.
3. Does the UC solution deliver a consistent user experience? For UC to make collaboration easier and more efficient, it needs to provide a user experience that’s the same no matter how people are accessing the communication tools. The solution you choose should be flexible and robust so that employees connecting to the same WebEx meeting from the office, a local coffee shop, a home network, or even a car will have the same easy-to-use, secure experience.
4. How will UC impact your company’s network security? One of the potential downsides to UC is that it can complicate your network security. UC requires you to open up your network to mobile users and personal devices like smartphones and also enables more data sharing, which can be risky. Your UC solution should support advanced security measures, including intrusion prevention, spam blocking, and encryption, while still providing seamless connectivity to the UC tools.
5. How do you want the UC solution delivered? You can choose to install a premise-based UC solution, such as Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series for Small Business (UC500), on your local network or subscribe to a hosted cloud-based service. This decision comes down to the expertise you have on staff, the number of users you need to support, and the UC features you want to use.
Of course, these five considerations represent the first steps in a longer process, but they can help you determine which UC solutions to put on your short list. Before you begin installing a solution, make sure your network is prepared for the additional traffic brought on by UC, particularly voice and video. This Technology Roundup provides some helpful resources to help you determine the UC solution that’s best for your business.
What factors will influence your decision when it comes to purchasing a UC solution?