The unified communications market has diversified, progressed and spread rapidly in the past few years, driven by private and public sector demands for more efficient, affordable and powerful collaboration solutions to compete in the modern era. Small businesses have been among the more aggressive pursuers of enhanced UC frameworks, especially tools based in cloud computing environments, given the immense financial benefits that accompany these deployments.
Taking that a step further, while large enterprises with massive IT departments and much more flexibility in the budget have plenty of options to build their UC infrastructure, entrepreneurs can only select the solutions that will be safest and most affordable. Luckily, extreme competition among UC providers has yielded a buyer's market that truly does benefit the small business sector significantly, meaning that cloud-based options are not necessarily sub-optimal ones.
However, there are steps that entrepreneurs will need to take to ensure that their UC solutions function optimally, come back with high returns, are resilient to disruptions, and can be easily used by the entirety of their staff. This can be a tricky endeavor for leaders who are embracing the technology for the first time, but might be alleviated through the recognition of several best practices and notes of guidance regarding the strategic oversight of UC.
Remember that the modern workforce member, as well as the average consumer, expects businesses to be able to offer the most advanced communication tools out there, including Voice over Internet Protocol phone systems, video conferencing solutions and instant messaging. Failure to oblige these demands can hinder staff engagement and productivity, while also hurting the brand image in the eyes of current and prospective clientele.
Here are seven steps entrepreneurs can take to improve their returns on UC investments:
1. Deeper analysisFirst and foremost, business leaders who do not have a comprehensive and exhaustive understanding of their current communications frameworks and strategies will be far more likely to find themselves stuck, with a more difficult path toward performance improvements. When entrepreneurs do know every single moving part involved in their UC strategies, they will be better positioned to identify shortfalls and inefficiencies in need of swift eradication.
2. Measurement strategiesSimilarly, if there are no measurement plans in place to keep track of activity, performance and the like, it will be nearly impossible to boost return on investment down the road simply due to a lack of control and transparency. Data management as it relates to UC, such as performance metrics, ROI analysis itself and other reports, can help to shed light on the areas in which the small business might be able to improve upon its current communications strategies.
3. IntegrationIn far too many cases, ROI will be stifled by poor integration of systems and tools, as this is the first step toward poor functionality, disruptive outages and a proverbial universe of problems that will hold the company back from optimal collaboration. This is sometimes the result of a company trying to go it alone without the in-house expertise necessary to handle every aspect of deployment, most importantly integration.
4. MobilizationThe average workforce member is more mobile than ever before, as telecommuting programs and remote processes have begun to shape the modern private sector. As such, UC solutions should be made available through mobile devices and apps, which is possible with some of the more progressive VoIP, video conferencing and instant messaging services. Mobilizing UC significantly enhances the user experience.
5. Employee trainingUnfortunately, few technological deployments are accompanied by relevant training, awareness and learning programs in the average small business today, and this has obvious negative implications for the solutions' success. If employees - not just those within the IT department but virtually all who use the UC tools - do not understand the solutions in the slightest, then they will rarely use them to their greatest advantage.
6. OptimizationUC optimization is another step that is sometimes missed simply because of how quickly new tools are entering into the workplace, as well as the perpetual need for maintenance and upgrades. However, the path toward optimization is not all that winding, and can often be embarked upon through more intelligent approaches to general UC strategy management, such as including provisions that test each tool on a daily basis.
This particular testing process will often reveal exactly what the organization needs to do to optimize its UC frameworks and sustain ideal performance over time.
7. Stronger service providersFinally, some small business owners will have either bought UC products that they then intend to manage internally, while others will not put much effort into finding a managed solutions provider. In both scenarios, issues might arise regarding the functionality, reliability, cost-effectiveness and user-experience aspects of the UC investments, which will have inherently negative impacts on the ROI a company can expect to enjoy.
Working with a managed service provider that specializes in the types of UC tools the business intends to use, and offers plenty of support and guidance to leaders throughout the deployment, management and optimization process, will be the best bet. Small business owners will tend to be the best-suited to this approach given the fact that they need to make the most out of every corporate dollar and rarely have a fully staffed, expertise-rich IT department in place.