SMB Communications Pain Points: Is UC the Answer?

A new study reports that communications problems lead to "staggering" losses that unified communications can solve—but will you believe it?

A recently released study by SIS International Research, sponsored by Siemans Enterprise Communications, identified the top 5 pain points in communications for small to midsized businesses (SMBs). Part of the objective for the study was to examine SMBs' interest and use of nontraditional technologies and how unified communications (UC) could help companies improve business processes and cut costs.

Top 5 Communications Pain Points
The top pain points identified by this study certainly seem to point to UC as the answer. As reported by the study, here are the top 5 communications pain points for SMBs:

  • Inefficient coordination—This points to wasted time setting up meetings and possibly queries sent to the wrong individual because you don't know who has the answer.
  • Waiting for information—Tied in with inefficient coordination, this latency can delay important business decision.
  • Unwanted communications—In addition to spam, think about the time wasted on forwarded joke email messages, or unsolicited sales calls and other low-priority communications.
  • Customer complaints—This includes time required to deal with negative customer experiences, which can be a result of not being able to reach you in a timely fashion.
  • Barriers to collaboration—This item includes difficulties establishing collaboration sessions as well as accessibility problems or not having the right communications tools

Study respondents reported an average of 17.5 hours a week addressing these pain points, which is equivalent to 40 percent of a 40 hour work week. That's a significant problem for overall productivity—if it's true.

Problems with the Study
Here's where my cynical side kicks in. As Homer Simpson says, "Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true." Or, to put it another way, how much can you trust a sponsored report?

I often wonder how many of these sponsored studies never get released because the results don't match the marketing message of the sponsoring organization. And even with a study such as this one that does get released, you have to watch out for the organizational spin.

For example, in the Conclusions section of the study, it's reported that the cost of these pain points could be "$5,246 per year per employee, assuming that 100% of the time reported addressing these issues is unproductive. Thus, for example, a SMB with 100 employees could be leaking a staggering $524,569 annually as a result of inefficiencies in communication."

The problem here is with that assumption of complete unproductivity. Yes, you might spend 3.5 hours a week waiting for information, but it seems unreasonable to say that you're not doing something else productive during that time. Using such an assumption to get to "a staggering $524,569" potential loss annually for SMBs seems like blatant scare tactics to scare up business for Siemans' UC solutions.

UC Could Be the Answer
Don't get me wrong—I've read a lot about UC that really does impress me about its usefulness and potential cost savings to businesses. (And I can still remember the joy I felt the first time I got a voicemail message through web mail when I was working from home.) But I'm suspicious of "studies" that sound too much like marketing. You can download the full study from Sieman's website to judge for yourself.

I'd love to hear from our readers about your feelings on UC. You can go to the Exchange & Outlook Articles page and chime in on the current Instant Poll, "What's your stance on unified communications (UC)?" Or leave a comment below to let us know about your experiences with UC.

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