Europe's large enterprise and small-medium enterprises (SMEs) see the dilemmas and challenges of unified communications rather differently, according to a recent advisory report from Current Analysis, based on surveys and analysis of the European market.

The report's authors - Rob Arnold, senior analyst for enterprise communications, and Dustin Kehoe, principal analyst for telecom services in Central Europe - discuss the different levels of awareness, how buying decisions are made, deployment types, vendor selection, and make some recommendations to unified communications users and potential users.

More or less aware

First, the large enterprise and SME have substantially different levels of awareness about unified communications. Not surprisingly, most large enterprises are not only aware of unified communications but nearly all have plans to deploy it, according to a 2007 EVUA survey. According to the report "while nearly 30 percent of SMEs [across Europe] are deploying unified communications in some form, another 30 percent have no plans at all (or have not even heard of the term unified communications before). They are often confused between unified messaging and unified communications and tend to take them to mean similar things."

When making a buying decision, large enterprises "tend to see unified communications as a 'strategic' move towards developing new workflow patterns, improving business processes, increasing collaboration through virtual teams and reducing human latency times through applications such as IM and presence." However, "SMEs are more tactical in their approach ... [they] tend to focus less on the long-term roadmap than they do on bottom line price and cost-savings ... [and are] driven by short-term gains."

As for deployment types, "most unified communications deployments within large enterprises ... tend to focus around IP PBX investments" while "a typical [SME] ... could deploy voice over broadband (eg. cable or DSL), managed/unmanaged IP PBX, hosted IP Centrex or SIP trunking. Calendaring and email capabilities could be provided by Microsoft, IBM or others; IM and presence could be provided by free services such as Skype, Yahoo or Google."

The vendor selection approach between the large enterprise SME also differs. Since large enterprises "tend to have sizeable IT budgets, as well as ample internal resources and expertise around a number of areas, there is a tendency to go for a best-of-breed approach for unified communications." The SME, on the other hand has limited resources so tends to pick the unified communications vendor based on value-added resellers and local suppliers. Rather than looking at one vendor as the panacea to their business challenges, they will attempt to deploy solutions from multiple vendors and trade off between managing them in-house or via a third party.

Finally, our colleagues offer this advice: "Enterprise customers are correct to take a 'wait and see' approach; SMEs should continue to focus on unified communications point products that add immediate benefit or value; large enterprises and SMEs should consider solutions from carriers that have a good mix of strategic partners from the hardware and software side, as well as mobile network operators; and large enterprises and SMEs should continue to pressure their existing suppliers for tighter mobile integration with unified communications services."