By Rebecca Leach, Cisco Canada

They say communication is the key to success in a relationship, and that rule certainly applies to the relationship between business owners and their employees and customers. Collaborative technology solutions facilitate that communication through a variety of channels that include voice, conference calls, instant messaging, video conferencing, enterprise social software, and mobile applications. Cisco’s collaboration tools allow employees to be less dependent on physical presence and travel, and be more productive and responsive to the needs of customers and partners. This results in better customer service and an efficient, more innovative workforce.

So, how do you decide what’s right for you? When looking to deploy collaboration solutions, there are four questions all small business owners must ask.

What products and services do you offer?

Collaboration is a broad term, and can include services such as Unified Communications, Cisco IWE, Jabber, and TelePresence. It’s important that small business owners are aware of the various types of technology under the collaboration umbrella and any integration limitations for each. Look ahead and consider emerging technologies, as implementing video collaboration services may differentiate your company from competitors. And some industries, like healthcare, have industry-specific security requirements your collaboration solution must support.

How does your solution support employee devices?

Once you’ve chosen what collaborative products you want your employees to use, you have to consider how they will access them. As more employees purchase their own smartphones and tablets, how these devices are supported becomes paramount in the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) movement. A small business collaboration solution that works with all devices can deliver greater mobile productivity benefits than one oriented to a single manufacturer or desktop systems. So look for a collaboration solution, such as the Cisco BE 6000 that works with mobile devices and desktop computers from any device manufacturer, any operating system and any wired or wireless network location.

How secure are your products?

When selecting a single collaboration service or suite of services, especially with a cloud delivery service model, small business owners need to ensure that there are adequate security precautions in place. Too often small businesses use consumer technology not designed to meet their security needs. Ask about the security of their solutions, and work with your technology partner to define policies and procedures to secure your collaboration services. Look for ways to control who can access your wired and wireless networks, how servers and confidential data will be protected and how you will control remote access from any device while ensuring the security of sensitive or confidential communications.

How much will it cost?

This is a big issue for a small business, it is imperative to implement a collaboration solution that integrates with your existing IT investments because costs are reduced when you can build on top of previous applications. How will the products you’re considering integrate into your current environment? Will additional costs be incurred if customized solutions are required? And don’t be afraid to ask about the Return on Investment (ROI) of the solution. While the initial setup cost for collaboration may be expensive, the service will reduce business expenses such as long distance, utility costs and travel expenses.

It’s important to know the answers to all of these questions before you decide on the collaboration solution that’s right for your small business.

Do you have other questions that SMBs should ask before choosing collaboration technologies? List them in the comments below!

For more of our four-part series on small business technology, read my post on how to find the right financing plan for your business. And for more small business technology solutions, visit our website.


Cindy Toy

Small Business Support Community Manager