Telus has partnered with networking product manufacturer Cisco to deliver unified communication suites to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
Telus will be offering “clear and simple” wireless plans on its 4G wireless networks together with models of Cisco’s unified communications (UC) appliances designed for companies with 100 employees or less.
The products under the Future Friendly Office selections are:
- Cisco UC 320W – A product that provides full key system and small private branch exchange (PBX) features for organizations with up to 24 employees. The system supports Cisco IP (Internet Protocol) phones and includes integrated wireless networking
- CISCO UC 540 – A UC appliance that enables voice, data, voicemail, automated attendant, video security and wireless capability. The device also integrates with existing desktop applications such as calendar, e-mail, and customer relationship management (CRM) programs. The product supports up to 32 phones and voice mailboxes as well as a wide array of IP phones and public switched telephone network (PSTN) and Internet interfaces
- CISCO UC 560 – This UC device offers the same functionalities as the UC 540 but is designed to support up to 104 phones and voice mailboxes
Although Cisco and Telus said the bundles under the Telus Future Friendly Office line will be affordable for SMBs, the two companies have not yet released any pricing. “It would be very hard to mention specific price ranges because they differ depending on the sort of deployment a business requires,” according to Jim Senko, senior vice-president for SMB at Telus.
He said the key benefits offered by the UC suites are savings from reduced complexity and ease of set-up and management.
“Generally, SMBs cobble their UC solutions from various providers. This often results in deployment of disparate systems that are complicated to manage and maintain,” Senko said.
The UC packages under the Future Friendly Office line eliminates the need complex IT support, added Paul Brady, director of product and sales for Telus. “All the appliances small businesses need for their Internet voice and data communications are there.”
SMBs’ unified communication demands
Despite its label, unified communications comprises a long list of components that are rarely purchased together at one time, according to Paul Edwards, director of SMB and channel strategies at IDC Canada.
“SMBs will choose those components that meet their specific requirements over a period of time,” he said. The acquisition approach can also differ from company to company depending on the organization’s size.
Mobile access and audio conferencing were top priorities among small businesses, according to a 2010 IDC survey that queried businesses on their UC purchase practices.
“Close to a quarter of business with one to 99 employees were using mobile access and audio conferencing tools,” Edwards said. “An additional three components – Web conferencing, customer contact/CRM and presence/instant messaging – were used by some 15 per cent of the respondents.”
Approximately 10 per cent of respondents were planning to acquire mobile access, audio conferencing and web conferencing tools. “However, the vast majority of small business weren’t using most components and had no plans to add any for that year,” Edwards said.
Compared to small businesses, medium sized businesses (100-499 employees) were more receptive to UC, according to Edwards.
The top four UC components used by medium-sized businesses were:
- Audio conferencing (43 per cent)
- Web conferencing (38 per cent)
- Mobile access (34 per cent)
- Presence/Instant messaging (33 per cent)
- Customer contact/CRM (10 per cent)
SMBs attracted to bundled services
Approximately half of SMBs that have UC components purchase them separately.
About 23 per cent (small businesses) and 30.8 per cent (medium sized business) purchase UC as a bundled offering from telecom providers, said Edwards.
Considering the value SMBs attribute to bundled services, it’s probable that bundling UC components will resonate with prospects, said Edwards. “Bundling however would probably need to be confined to those components that are most appealing to SMBs.”
The Cisco and Telus offering could be attractive to SMBs if the companies hit the right combination of choice and pricing, he said, “What will make this offering a success is the pricing wrapped around a laser-guided value proposition.”
Offering bundled UC services is not an uncommon strategy when targeting SMBs, according to James McCluskey, senior research analyst for Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.
Among Cisco and Telus’ rivals in the space, McCluskey said is Iristel Inc., which recently partnered with Berlin-based Snom Technology AG to develop desktop VoIP (Voice over IP) phones for Canadian SMBs.
“Avaya is also offering its IP Office 7.0 products which are targeted at SMBs looking to migrate data from their legacy Nortel and Avaya phone systems,“ he said.
Bell Canada as well partnered with Cisco this year to deliver the network company’s UC 300 and UC manager Business Edition 3000 line of products.
“The company that is able to provide SMBs savings in terms of configuring and managing costs will lead the market,” said McCluskey.