Study: SMBs Not Addressing Communication Challenges
A report by SIS International Research sponsored by Siemens Enterprise Communications found communications barriers and latencies can cost small and medium businesses up to 40 percent of their productive time.
On average, 70 percent of employee respondents with up to 400 employees said they spend 17.5 hours each week addressing the pain points caused by communications barriers and latencies. The study found the top five pain points for SMBs to be inefficient coordination, waiting for information, unwanted communications, customer complaints and barriers to communication.
"The idea behind the study was to better understand the SMB pain points around communications," said Siemens' vice president of SMB product management Rudolf Hamann. "We found the impact on SMBs is huge."
The study surveyed a total of 513 knowledge workers in Brazil,
France, Germany, India, Italy, Russia, United States, and United
Kingdom. The knowledge workers also represented eight key vertical
industries: communications, finance, health care, insurance,
manufacturing, professional business services, real estate, and
wholesale or retail trade.
The study discovered the top five pain points, though ranked
differently, were the same among SMBs and enterprise-level companies.
Another finding of the study is that SMB employees are highly mobile,
with more than 50 percent identifying themselves as mobile workers,
either traveling outside the office, roaming inside the office or
working from home some or all of the time. Overall, SMBs placed a high
or very high priority on improving communications for mobile workers.
The hidden costs of the pain points could translate into $26,041 per
knowledge worker per year, and up to $5,246 per employee per year,
which means that in theory, a 100-employee SMB could have up to nearly
$525,000 in annual hidden costs. "It's a huge number," said Hamann.
"Honestly it did surprise us."
The researchers also confirmed that SMBs are increasingly using various
communications technologies, including phone, instant messaging and
video conferencing, in an effort to increase productivity. However,
they found that the proliferation of these technologies has created
multiple points of presence for individual employees with which other
employees must contend. The resulting fragmentation of the SMB
communication fabric can create a barrier to effective communications
"Unified communications means a lot to you and a lot to us, but
sometimes we have difficulty trying to transform this into something
everybody understands," Hamann said. "It is important for SMBs to
understand they don't need to completely replace their system, but they
can move from their PBX system to a unified communications solution
Sixty-eight percent of respondents have trouble coordinating
communications among team members, affecting their ability to respond
quickly to time-sensitive customer requests. They also average 3.7
hours per week attempting to coordinate communications across team
members, slowing the realization of goals and deadlines.
Sixty-eight percent of respondents also said they experience work
delays while waiting for information from others that they have
attempted to reach live multiple times using multiple methods. The
average delay is 3.5 hours per week per knowledge worker. Unwanted
communications, including low-priority calls and voicemail, were
experienced by the survey group by 77 percent of respondents, who said
they spend two or more hours per week dealing with unwanted
According to Frost & Sullivan analyst Vanessa Alvarez, in general SMBs
currently have very ad-hoc communications strategies in place. "With
the SIS research suggesting that unified communications can help SMBs
eliminate as much as 20 percent of hidden costs due to fragmented
communications, it's clear that the return on investment is
significant," Alvarez said.
Despite the current economic climate, when SMBs are hunkering down and
trimming (or slashing) budgets, Hamann said midmarket companies need to
consider the benefits in unified communications investments. He said
many SMBs hesitate in investment, even though they recognize these pain
points as a significant issue, because many SMBs don't have a complete
grasp of what unified communication really means. "This comes down to
education, and the smaller SMBs, the less educated they are, because
it's not their main focus," he said. More education from resellers and
vendors is required.
"Although we are seeing strong adoption in this market, based on this
study's findings, we believe that more than 60 percent of SMBs are not
currently using a UC solution and are missing out on a major
opportunity to cut costs. In addition, they can gain new levels of
competitiveness, productivity and collaboration," he said. "Even by
assigning hard costs of more than $5,000 per employee a year for these
pain points, there remains the soft costs of lost opportunities and
customer dissatisfaction due to the lack of responsiveness caused by
As more and more SMBs turn to mobile communications solutions to stay competitive in a mobile marketplace, Hamann said SMBs must choose solutions that offer flexibility and scalability. With clients using various technologies such as VOIP, along with the plethora of mobile devices and operating systems, finding a solution that achieves widespread compatibility is no easy task, especially for small businesses with limited budgets and technical experitise.
The study found 61 percent of respondents find difficulty in
establishing collaboration sessions with colleagues and average 3.3
hours per week attempting to address issues of inaccessibility or lack
of full collaboration with colleagues. "An SMB with 300 people has an
IT department and it becomes part of their job," Hamann said. "It comes
down to consultants, to a certain degree, but primarily the resellers
and the vendors to really do this training and explanation on unified
These pain points also hurt business opportunities and relationships
with existing clients, he said. Seventy-four percent of respondents
said they average 3.3 hours per week dealing with negative comments or
complaints from customers, specifically because the customer was unable
to reach them in a timely fashion.
Hamann said this eight percent loss in productivity is itself significant, but the true cost of customer dissatisfaction may be much greater. "It adds up quite significantly across the overall company," he said. "Everyone who is communicating through whatever means should have felt these pain points in some way."