I’ve just been preparing a talk I’m giving on behalf of the Internet Telephony Service Providers’ Association (ITSPA) at UC Expo in London on Tuesday. When I was asked to do this talk a few months ago I proposed the title “SMB – the forgotten majority of UC?”
The title held an element of provocation intended to attract punters to hear me speak. However when I dug in to the market numbers on the face of it this is very much the case. SMB represents roughly 15.% of the total market for Unified Communications equipment. This is despite the fact that his sector represents over 50% of the PBX market and, according to the EU, 99% of all businesses in Europe.
I guess this is down to two factors. Firstly most UC vendors provide the functionality as part of a bolt on to big PBX systems, presumably as part of their added value sell. A small business might not necessarily have the expertise or be able to afford to implement UC. A vendor may also not be able to afford the cost of selling these systems in to SMBs.
Secondly when I looked into some old market research into the use of individual components of UC, (Instant Messaging, presence, Unifed Messaging, collaboration , conferencing etc) the benefits of these functions when used by a business were expressed in time savings and moreover the bigger the business the greater the compound benefit.
So by and large UC remains the domain of big business.
There is no real reason why this should be the case. Many of the features mentioned above are openly available as low or zero cost somewhere on the internet. Some even have an element of integration, which is how UC is sold to bigger companies. Skype for example has integrated voice, video, IM and an element of conferencing. There are very few service providers that provide a true UC experience on a hosted basis (Timico is one). An experience that matches the functionality of expensive systems bought by large enterprises.
In fact ITSPA dropped the UC category from its Awards because Timico was the only service provider entering in that category (bit of a shame 🙂 ). Timico today does a lot of business with companies with between 250 and 500 staff but when we started selling VoIP we were firmly in the game of selling mainly to small business. As small business owners become more internet savvy I think their responsiveness towards the use of technologies such as Instant Messaging is changing. This has been recognised by the likes of Cisco who have been introducing new products into this space, albeit at the upper end of the spectrum.
Because UC market share statistics are gathered largely from traditional voice equipment vendors I doubt that the true level of penetration of UC features into the SMB market is known. The fact is that due to the cost of selling to SMBs UC services for this market will have to be cloud based and not based on a piece of kit in the corner of the office. I would expect that over the next few years, as SMBs grow comfortable with outsourcing services into the cloud, we should see a change in the penetration of UC into this market which will redress the balance of market segmentation to be more along the lines of the PBX market. This has to be a large opportunity.