Small businesses under pressure to cut costs and save money in the face of a worldwide recession and falling demand are looking to new technologies to help improve efficiency and streamline costs. Voice over IP, which allows users to make phone calls over the Internet, is one of the ways midmarket companies can reduce communications expenses.
Don Witt, president of VOIP telephony distributor cyLogistics, recently wrote that the down economy will actually boost VOIP usage in the small and midsize business market in 2009 and show growth rates between 4 and 12 percent. But for the average small-business owner whose knowledge of VOIP may be limited to a few trial calls on Skype, where can one turn for information on business application of Internet telephony?
One option for midmarket business owners is Conjungo, a Web-based technology supplier search portal. The UK-based company recently announced a new series of guides on VOIP as part of its "Go Understand" resource pool, aimed at SMB decision makers. The resource offers guides to the technology underpinning as well as key business benefits and implementation considerations. The guides also provide disadvantages and potential pitfalls as well advice for conducting a trial and evaluating various vendors and products.
"Technologies such as VOIP [have] been a de facto requirement for larger enterprises for over a decade, but as licensing costs for the software have declined over the last few years, adoption by SMBs has risen dramatically," said Conjungo CEO David Cruse. "For many small-business users, it is difficult to get independent advice and to understand what these technologies mean in business terms. Our new guides provide a useful resource, written in clear English, to help buyers find the best solution without bias toward any particular vendor or service."
Cruse, whose company is currently exploring options for a hosted VOIP solution, said the basic dilemma facing SMBs is the lack of understanding of technologies such as VOIP. If they don't understand what a technology can do for their business, he said, they simply won't buy it. "It's a term often bandied about, but if you ask SMBs about VOIP, they probably align it to Skype, and that's as much as they know," Cruse said. "You don't buy something you don't understand."
Several large vendors have extended VOIP offerings to the midmarket space, including Dell, which partnered with Fonality in January 2008, and Speakeasy, a Best Buy-owned company, which launched its Integrated Voice offering a month later. Cisco, which rolled out its Business Communications Solution aimed at SMBs in 2005, has long targeted the midmarket VOIP space.
Cruse said VOIP is a big part of cost reduction for any business, but knowing how the technology can work for your business is only half the battle. "If we can break down the fundamental barrier to buying it, then we can help SMBs access the local suppliers who can provide VOIP solutions," he said. "That's why we provide a search interface that allows businesses to access local providers."
The basic issue of education is the same in the United Kingdom and the United States, Cruse said. "If SMBs don't have IT departments that the people running that department are business people," he said. "From our limited research, we have established that the issue is the same on both sides of the pond."
Conjungo's guides cover basic concepts such as hosted versus on-site deployment, steps required for integration, and explanations of the various modules that make up modern ERP and CRM systems-the focus of two other new guides. Although this won't be of much use to stateside SMBs, the company also said it plans to carry out an e-mail campaign through January to 250,000 small businesses in the United Kingdom to highlight the availability of the guides.