Ask Steve

What do SMBs Want?

Ask Yankee Group analyst Steve Hilton. Send your questions to Please include your name, city, state and a phone number. Only first names and locations will be published.

Welcome to the new PHONE+ column, Ask Steve. Ive received some great questions so far and plan to tackle as many as I can in the coming months. This month, I am going to look at unified communications and VoIP two great tastes that taste great together. Keep those questions coming; Ill get to as many as I can.

Q: How will the unified communications movement impact small businesses? Are they likely to get this function from a hosted or premises-based solution?
Kevin, St. Charles, Mo.

A: First, lets start with a definition of unified communications. In its most basic form, unified communications is integrating all communications voice, video, text over IP. Businesses can choose to enable unified communications over hosted or premises-based solutions. By integrating communications, unified communications creates productivity gains for businesses and helps employees better balance their business and personal lives.

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Even in a small firm, integrating presence, location awareness, voice, video and messaging can make employees more productive; but knowing which particular applications most appeal to small businesses is tricky. Some of the most relevant applications include messaging (e-mail and IM) in both fixed and mobile environments, as well as some simple collaboration tools such as calendaring and file sharing.

While not many small businesses currently are demanding the more esoteric unified communications functionality (e.g., high-resolution video-based collaboration), we believe employees experiences with consumer-based technology (e.g., online video gaming, DVR, blogs, mobility) will impact their demand for enterprise-based technology in the future. We believe productivity and lifestyle gains from unified communications and the impacts of a highly collaborative workplace will drive increasing numbers of small businesses to adopt unified communications in both hosted and premises-based models.

Q: Steve, last month you wrote about demand for hosted and premises-based VoIP solutions. What can you tell me about managed VoIP solutions, like the one offered by Linksys?
Paulette, Ann Arbor, Mich.

A: Managed solutions mix aspects of hosted and premises-based solutions. There is CPE at the SMBs site, but the day-to-day management of the system is handled by a service provider which addresses the No. 2 top IT challenge for SMBs not enough IT staff.

SMBs pay a per-user-per-month fee to a service provider for a managed solution. Solutions like LinksysOne are good alternatives for SMBs that dont want to deal with ongoing management and support of their systems, but still want some semblance of control by having CPE. Many managed solutions include the PBX functionality, wireless LAN gear and other ancillary features, including enhanced mobility, unified communications and managed security. Linksys is coming out with its second release of LinksysOne through service providers, including Sasktel, CommPartners and others. Verizon also has a managed VoIP solution for SMBs called Verizon Managed Communications Solution, powered by Alcatel-Lucent.

Steve Hilton is the vice president of Yankee Groups Enterprise Research Group with an expertise in converged solutions for SMBs. Hilton manages a team of analysts delivering consulting, research and programs to help vendors and service providers better serve SMBs, midmarket enterprises and large enterprises globally. Visit Yankee Group online at

Read more about unified communications and its impact on SMBs.

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