Jeff Valentine, chief marketing officer at Fonality, shows us how he believes small and midsize businesses can take advantage of the latest telecommunications technologies in 2014
Telecommunications technology is driving sweeping changes in the way people work, where they work, and how they work together. These advances aren’t available only to big companies, but to small and midsize businesses that embrace the latest tools. Now, as we start 2014, we see opportunities for SMBs in four areas: cloud computing, bring your own device, virtual collaboration and workplace mobility. The key for them will be determining exactly how each of these capabilities can positively impact a specific business and obtaining the right services and equipment to make certain that happens.
Cloud computing is here to stay. More and more, small and midsize businesses are seeing the value of entrusting someone else to be their IT shop and not standing up different servers and products or running and managing it themselves. In fact, Gartner Research predicts the cloud industry will grow at a 16.7% compounded rate through 2017.
But with so many SaaS (software as a service) applications moving to the cloud, SMB owners and managers can’t help wondering where to start. One of the most obvious ways to tap the power of the cloud is to shift a company’s phone system to a VoIP provider.
Putting a phone system in the cloud shrinks calling rates, expands access to UC features like chat, video, CRM and contact-center apps, and hands off software and hardware support to a VoIP provider. All this boosts the competitive footing of SMBs because now they can do telecom like corporate giants.
Yet only an fifth of businesses have moved to VoIP. No doubt many SMB owners are put off by the river of hype about cloud computing. But it’s worth noting that the concept of the cloud is far from new.
Computing has always happened in the cloud. All that’s really changed is the blizzard of devices and apps that can use the cloud to streamline their operations.
BYOD Approaches Will Surge in 2014
Bring-your-own-device computing lets workers connect to all their favorite apps across all their devices, making them more productive and their companies more efficient. The popularity of BYOD approaches is being driven by three trends impacting the modern workplace:
- An increasing number of younger workers are unfamiliar with the concept of a desk phone. Much of this generation doesn’t use land lines at home.
- The rising mobility of knowledge workers. It’s not just companies unleashing their people from their offices; it’s about hiring the best talent, not merely the closest talent.
- A society that increasingly views work as an activity rather than a location.
The combination of cloud-based business phone systems, unified communications features and the growing adoption of smartphones and tablet computers means users will be able to do the same computing tasks on any device, even ones they own.
All this is great for users, but it poses some challenges for companies, smaller ones in particular. As Comms Business reported in August 2013, employers think 15% of their workforce are using their own devices to access work files and data, but one survey revealed that fully half of employees are using their personal devices for work-related tasks.
It’s only natural for people to prefer using their own computing tools, so companies will have to make their peace with BYOD. But in doing so, they need to keep several points in mind:
- Adapt BYOD approaches to your needs. Your requirements might be as basic as email or as complex as full-motion video and Wi-Fi connectivity. Make sure to choose what you need and avoid the urge to pile up a bunch of features you don’t need and won’t use.
- Keep your network secure, which starts with passwords and extends to making sure there are no back doors into the networks.
Collaboration Opportunities Will Grow
Across the board, technology has made it easier than ever for SMBs to go up against the big guys and win. But going toe-to-toe with corporate giants poses two significant communications challenges.
Large companies can bring all their employees, vendors and customers under the umbrella of a comprehensive communications-technology platform, which gives them a real competitive advantage in communication tasks. Big corporations also can build contact centers to take orders, answer customer queries, provide product support and deploy software to streamline these processes and measure outcomes.
But today’s always-on connectivity puts a premium on quality over location. If the perfect partner for a project is 1,500 miles away, UC can provide all the necessary collaboration tools. The key is the UC interface, which can find anybody on the company network with a few clicks, indicate whether he or she is available and instantly add them to conferences, sales calls and strategy meetings. This dramatically cuts down time lost answering lingering questions and securing stakeholders’ input.
Plenty of SMBs already enjoy 24/7 Internet connectivity. To streamline online collaboration, they also need a one-stop hub that combines email, voicemail, audio conferencing, and seamless integration with CRM software. That’s where unified communications comes in.
Mobile Workers Will Be Even More Agile
These days, employees work from wherever they are: in the field, at a satellite office, or from home when a child is sick. That trend will only solidify in 2014.
Desk phones and personal computers will increasingly give way to laptops, tablets and smartphones. As Forrester Research put it, “We may be reaching the crossover point where your company pays for more smartphones than employees do.”
Studies find the rise of mobility and flexible work schedules makes companies and workers more efficient. Furthermore, mobility makes it easier to retain top talent because it improves people’s work/life balance and reduces their commuting costs.