The “C” doesn’t always get the emphasis that the “I” does, but it’s always worth pausing to examine the “C” in Information and Communications Technology (ICT).
How a business communicates is a fundamental part of its DNA. It dictates the style and speed in which things are done, and it affects how effectively the business deals with customers. Done right, it can also play a role as a competitive differentiator, enabling faster speed to market by boosting productivity as a whole.
With the trend towards mobility (and a growing number of people working from outside the office) it can also be argued that having the right communications systems is more vital than ever before.
For SMEs, the communications landscape has been shifting. Better bandwidth, the emergence of cloud services, and a variety of new tools mean that 2012 is a good time to re-examine your communications technologies.
For most businesses, I think the priority should be to improve staff productivity and reduce costs, while keeping the lines of communication open to promote good customer service.
Some specific options worth considering are:
I’ve blogged before about Unified Communications (UC) and the fact that there are now many solutions on the market designed specifically for SMEs.
UC is, in short, about making use of real-time information to make your business communications smarter – from being able to see whether a colleague is available before you call, to assigning everyone in the business a single phone number that reaches them wherever they are.
By making communications more efficient, UC opens the door to many potential benefits, including higher customer retention (through better service and fewer missed connections), and faster speed to market (through increased productivity). Using “drag and drop” call routing in combination with presence technology, which reveals whether a contact is at their desk for example, receptionists can often double their call handling efficiency. Many businesses are now considering UC as a replacement for aging PABX systems.
There’s always Skype and similar products, but it’s also good to know that the expense of dedicated video conferencing systems is coming down.
These are especially valuable for businesses with offices in different locations, allowing “face to face” meetings without the cost and downtime of air travel and so forth. (Typical estimates of savings from video conferencing versus air travel are around 30%.)
With the rise of virtualisation and the cloud, and with geographic boundaries becoming less important, businesses are also becoming less concerned about in-person meetings.
Video conferencing is thus a good means to strengthen the relationships you have with the (hopefully growing number) of customers you have outside your geographic region.
Of course, visual and aural communications are only part of the communications equation.
Fast, secure and permanent network connectivity (whether in the office or out) is increasingly a priority for SMEs, especially those who have made, or are in the process of making, the switch to the cloud.
Indeed, a recent survey from CSC revealed that the primary driver for businesses switching to cloud technology wasn’t cost saving (though 82% of respondents said they saved money), but instead the need to deliver services to employees regardless of their location and device.
In translation: expect access to a reliable, affordable and wide-reaching data network to become a vital element in your business communications arsenal.
And the more important mobility becomes, the more important data infrastructure will be to those trying to reap the benefits. Being able to execute business tasks when and wherever is required (including on the premises of your clients, for example) is a powerful competitive differentiator.
Perhaps what’s most important when it comes to business communications is that customer expectations are changing. Demands for accessibility, speed and responsiveness are intensifying. Social media is playing a part here, with its instantaneous nature raising the bar for responsiveness across the board.
What it all boils down to is the fact that having the right communications technologies is critical if you want your business to stay ahead of the pack. It’s as much about customer service as it is organisational efficiency.
Dave Stevens is MD, Brennan IT
(This blog post was first published on the SmartCompany website on December 15 2011).