The Top 6 SMB Communications Pain Points

A new Siemens-sponsored poll of SMB communications "pain points" lays out the top communications barriers facing small and midsize companies. But the study also presents some stark contrasts with bMighty's own UC research.

By bMighty.com • Feb 2, 2009 Originally published Feb 2, 2009

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Fredric Paul

Among other things, a Siemens study conducted in December reveals that small and midsize companies share similar unified communications (UC) pain points as large enterprises. And those pain points carry similar costs:

As usual, SMBs face the same challenges and requirements as large businesses, they just can't afford the solutions, said Karl Hotz, Siemens' VP of business development for the channel.

According to the study, the top six pain points are:

  1. Waiting for information
  2. Unwanted communications
  3. Inefficient communications
  4. Barriers to collaboration
  5. Customer complaints
  6. Planning to plan

Furthermore, the study says 70% of SMBs have dealt with the top five pain points, rendering an average of 17.5 hours per week per knowledge worker into "unproductive" work time. This costs an average of $26,041 per knowledge worker per year, or $5,246 per employee per year.

Tricia Cooper, Siemens' director of strategic marketing, acknowledged that "even with the most effective communications solution, all of the hidden costs can't be eliminated," but claimed that "at least 20% of a knowledge worker's unproductive time can be avoided with UC technology," such as conference calling, presence, and personal call routing.

And Hotz estimated UC software costs at about $225 per knowledge worker per year, depending on whether the solution is on-premises or hosted, among other factors. That doesn't include hardware, of course, but it's a lot less than the promises of $5,209 savings per knowledge worker per year.

Sounds good, maybe even too good to be true. And some of the Siemens study's other findings also were more optimistic than those of a similar bMighty.com Research Report from earlier in 2008: "Unified Communications In Small And Midsize Companies."

For instance, the Siemens study found that "83% have at least heard of UC." But 69% of the bMighty survey respondents had NOT heard the term unified communications. On the other hand, once they understand what the term unified communications means, SMBs are pretty clear on what capabilities and features they think belong in the UC mix -- beginning with voice mail, e-mail, VoIP, conferencing, and instant messaging.

And while the Siemens study said 62% were able to name a UC provider, with 30% of respondents naming Microsoft, followed by Siemens with 18%, and IBM with 11%, less than half of the participants in the bMighty study were able to name a UC vendor, led by Cisco at 43%, followed by AT&T at 28%, Avaya at 16%, Microsoft at 16%, and Nortel at 12%.

Finally, the two studies do agree on some things. For instance, both surveys show that many SMBs already are using a variety of UC technologies -- they're just not integrating them into a unified solution.

More to the point, while 41% of the Siemens respondents stated that having a solution to reduce the time spent addressing the top five pain points is very or extremely high, the bMighty study indicated that by far the key UC purchase driver for SMBs is potential cost savings, exactly what the Siemens study promises. Other significant purchase drivers include a need for specific features (43%), a breakdown in existing communications systems (38%), and outgrowing the current communications system (35%).

Still, it won't be an easy sell, as most of the savings come company-wide, while the costs all reside in the telecom department. According to Cooper, "education is key. Once you educate them, they can connect the dots."

The Siemens telephone survey was conducted by SIS International Research, and polled 513 respondents from companies with fewer than 400 employees in eight countries, (U.S., U.K., Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, and Russia) in the communications, finance, health care, insurance, manufacturing, professional services, real estate, and W/R trade industries.

See more columns by Fredric Paul.

Fredric Paul is publisher/editor-in-chief of bMighty.com and SmallBizResource.com.

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