Gift-Wrapped Unified Communications
There has been a historical struggle for CRM vendors to deliver a tailored solution specifically for small and midsize businesses (SMB): No one really wants to tout an "enterprise-lite" version of a more-complete offering. Looking to avoid that pitfall, Spanlink Communications, a Minneapolis, Minn.–based provider of unified communications (UC) and contact center solutions, believes it's ready to deliver top-notch functionality for SMBs with its latest bundled UC solutions.
There are three prepackaged bundles catering to this segment, according to information provided by Spanlink:
- SpanCom 50, an entry-level solution providing UC call and voicemail features for small businesses or branch offices, which can support up to 50 users;
- SpanCom 200, which supports 200 users, utilizes Cisco Workspace Licensing and includes licenses, maintenance, professional services, servers, support, switches, and integration with applications such as Microsoft Office Communicator; and
- SpanCom 200Flex, which includes all the features of SpanCom 200 but also incorporates advanced UC components such as presence and mobility.
Clinton Fitch, Spanlink's UC product manager, says that there were two fundamental reasons the company decided to produce the trio of bundled solutions. "First, this allows for customers to get into UC," he explains. "Also, instead of purchasing applications piecemeal, companies can make one buying decision and know what the costs will be at the end of the day."
Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst at COMMfusion, a Santa Rosa, Calif.–based market-research and consulting firm specializing in communications convergence, agrees. "Having bundled options takes much of the ‘pick and choose' burden off of IT's shoulders," she explains. "It integrates collaboration tools [including] email, voicemail, desktop video, fax, and instant messaging. SMBs specifically need solutions that are easy to purchase, implement, and manage."
Fitch also suggests that SMBs have been victims of misinformation. He posits this group did not know advanced UC applications on the market -- such as mobility and presence -- could be used at the SMB scale. Beyond even thinking these applications couldn't work, the supposedly prohibitive costs largely kept SMBs on the sidelines, he says. "This segment needs to open up its eyes to understand [that] you can get into advanced UC and you don't have to be a big enterprise to do so," he says.
Pleasant also believes the problem with UC hitting critical mass in SMBs has much to do with the innate complexity of the technology. "It [involves] the integration of several components or elements of a UC solution...such as messaging, presence, and collaboration, [all of] which requires a good deal of professional services work and expense," she explains. "Vendors like Spanlink are trying to make it easier for SMBs to break into this field, which has typically been more available for larger companies that have the...financial resources and the staff [necessary]."
Despite reports from research firms such as T3i Group showing that UC initiatives are being scaled back, Fitch believes that his company's offerings will meet a receptive audience. "We feel that the time is really right, right now, for these applications to come out and be [utilized]," he says.
Pleasant says Spanlink, which has primarily focused on larger enterprises, is well positioned to make gains with SMBs -- and it's about time. "SMBs have the same needs as larger companies in terms of wanting the benefits UC provides," she stresses. "By offering a packaged solution...[SMBs] can use UC and reap the benefits."
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