How SMEs can future proof unified communications

By Jonathan Wright, below, Director of Products and Operations, GCX

Many SMBs have relied on the same telephony technology for years. But now both push and pull factors are forcing them to rethink their traditional contracts and technologies. The switch-off of PSTN , the copper-based telephone networks, in 2025 by BT Openreach is one such push factor. In fact, one recent survey revealed the switch-off will impact the large majority of UK businesses, as 88% still rely on PSTN. These organisations have a very clear incentive and, indeed, a deadline to review their approach to communications.

But while many British organisations’ hands are being forced at this time, the productivity-boosting benefits of building a future-looking unified communications strategy far outweigh the pain. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone systems better serve a more distributed, hybrid workforce. With nearly three-quarters SME employees in the UK working either fully or partly remotely – the highest of any G7 country – VoIP offers improved service mobility where the phone line is assigned to the user wherever they are, rather than a fixed location.

There are also a number of products that are now leveraging AI to augment their services. Microsoft Teams, for example, now leverages OpenAI to automatically transcribe meetings, generate notes and even recommend actions as follow up. This means that no matter what the meeting and who is participating, everyone has the experience of someone ‘taking minutes’ to help them improve their organisation and to enable them to respond faster and more effectively to what has been discussed.

Future proofing for productivity

No matter whether it’s a push or pull factor which is driving the change, business and IT leaders at SMBs need to seize the opportunity and ensure their new unified communications strategy will boost employee productivity, and serve the needs of the business in the long term.

But what should SMBs be looking for when making this decision?

  1. Select platforms that are likely to accelerated user adoption, as many IT professionals will confirm, user adoption can make or break a new project rollout. If users are already accustomed to the graphical user interface (GUI) or the service, like MS Teams or Zoom, they are more likely to adopt the new features delivered by augmenting a UC platform onto the existing GUI. Further, where there is a high level of day-one user equity, users are more likely to explore deeper collaboration options quicker.
  2. Opt for the platforms that are demonstrating their innovation with new AI tools, such as transcription and summary features. Over the past year, OpenAI has catalysed a wave of new products and enhanced features in existing products that are leveraging the Large Language Model (LLM) to offer enhanced capabilities. While some of these services come at a higher price point than more traditional VoIP offerings, it is important to consider what productivity benefits this will offer your team. For example, how can the time typing up meeting notes be better put to use? Or how could an automated, almost instantaneous wrap-up with suggested actions support a more prompt response to customers following a call and enable team members to deliver a higher quality of service. Focusing on AI-enhanced solutions doesn’t mean every SMB needs to buy services with all the bells and whistles. But assessing what common tasks could be automated to improve efficiency, service delivery and the user experience of your employees will be a valuable long term investment.
  3. Find cost efficiencies by looking at where you can add voice onto existing collaboration platforms or optimise multiple services under a single platform, rather than procuring separate licences. Particularly since the pandemic, many companies are already using online platforms to support their internal and external communications, like Teams and Zoom. Rather than expand your IT estate with yet more applications and, in turn, more licenses, seize the opportunity to take a holistic view and see whether optimisations can be made to ultimately do more with less.
  4. Look for automated activation capabilities to reduce the IT burden. Automation shouldn’t just benefit the end user, IT leaders and practitioners should be actively considering how it can support them in the onboarding and ongoing management of unified communications (indeed, of all of their IT services). Save time by looking for solutions that can automate the onboarding and activation when provisioning a new tenant, as well as for selecting the correct routing priorities and ongoing policy management for users. This not improves the speed of provisioning, but it reduces human error and enhances security. And for Microsoft Teams users, it can even eliminate the need for Microsoft PowerShell.
  5. Consider your working practices. The days of sitting behind a desk in an office 5 days each week are a thing of the past for many employees. For some this means a mixture of office- and home-based working. Others have embraced the lifestyle of digital nomads and the ability to work anywhere. And for many it’s reembracing travel and the opportunities to meet clients near and afar in person. This all needs to be actively considered when planning your unified comms, particularly where employees may be working outside the UK, by selecting a geo-agnostic service.
  6. Consider Security: Future-proof your UC platform by prioritising security and data protection. Consider UC platforms that use strong encryption, authentication protocols, and other security measures to safeguard sensitive information and prevent cyber threats, but be mindful of the whole ecosystem and compliance especially when elements like trans-scripting and call recording come into play. 

Making the right choice for your business 

As many SMBs start planning the switch from traditional PSTN to internet-based systems, it’s important that this change is looked at holistically. Don’t just look at it as a change to the platform you use to communicate, but as an opportunity to enhance the way that these platforms serve the communicator. Understanding the unique needs of the business and the working practices of its employees will be critical to making the right, productivity-boosting choice when making the switch.