Unified Communications for the SME

Dave Paulding, Regional Sales Director, UK, Middle East and Africa, Interactive Intelligence says VoIP and SIP have created a broader significance for Unified Communications.

“In addition Microsoft’s entry to the market has caused everyone to sit up and take notice. However, as a term Unified Communications has been “marketised” to the point that its meaning is confusing to potential buyers. In fact, Unified Communications is just the latest term to be taken over by marketers to the point that it no longer has any meaning (joining “artificial intelligence”, “client/server”, “Web 2.0”, and a whole host of others). As such SMEs can become confused by the conflicting messages that vendors are promoting.

When SMEs are looking at investing in a Unified Communications solution, there are a number of factors they should consider. The first is to look for a product based on open standards. Many of today’s UC solutions are built on a VoIP foundation. However, by selecting a solution that utilises the SIP standard for VoIP, SMEs can achieve a greater degree of choice in terms of the endpoints and other devices that can be used. For example, a SIP based solution means that SMEs are not tied to purchasing endpoints from one vendor, any SIP compliant device can be used, which widens the choice available in terms of both price and functionality.

Secondly it is important to examine the user interface provided by the solution. A true UC solution will provide a soft-phone client application with access to presence management, instant messaging and video, user directories and so on. The real value of a UC solution is dependent on access to a rich desktop application that augments the basic functionality of the telephone.

When it comes to vendor’s UC offerings, many have their own in skin applications for SMEs that resellers can quickly plug into. These offerings can vary in terms of functionality and more importantly the ability to integrate into other applications such as email client software, CRM applications and other back office software. Again, the real value of a UC solution is when the basic voice and interaction functions can be integrated to other business applications.

For those SMEs looking to the viability of third party applications and ensuring they will work together in a mixed vendor environment it is important to look for solutions that provide pre-integrated plug-ins. Customer Interaction Center (CIC) from Interactive Intelligence does just that allowing users to manage calls and presence settings directly within Outlook, Exchange 2007, Dynamics CRM and GP, Word and Excel, and Office Communications Server 2007.

These pre-integrated plug-ins allow SMEs and resellers alike to quickly access out of box integrations to some of the most common third party applications in use today.”