Internet service provider Star has launched what is said was the UK's first unified communications services for small businesses. The service, Worklife Productivity Suite, is available now

Unified communications, the integration of telephony, videoconferencing, web collaboration and email, into one complete communications suite has been around for some time but has been offered by the large vendors, such Microsoft, Avaya and Cisco.

Star's director of convergence and network strategy, Hugo Harber said that the company's goal was challenging the way that SMEs think about IT, acknowledging that the technology hasn't had a good press up to now. "Part of the reason why it's failed, is that it's pushed hard by the vendors and it's so expensive. It's been pushed as a product when it should be a service. It doesn't work if you present people with a box and say that "that will cost £150,000" – you're not going to get too many takers."

The Worklife suite is based on Microsoft applications, such as Microsoft Exchange Server, SharePoint Server, Office Communications Server The modules are offered either individually or as a whole for £45 per user per month and require no installation of extra hardware or software.

Harber said that companies can appreciate technology being charged as a service and certainly see how unified comms could benefit a company. "Forrester says that unified communications can improve company productivity by 40 or 50 percent if they're knowledgeable, so it makes business sense." He added that unified communications could enable organisations to change their working practices, a move that could have some financial benefits. "For example, if you're a London-based company you could offer employees flexible working. If you can recruit from outside London, you're making savings of around £8000 per person on desk and floorspace."

Installation of the Worklife suite causes minimum disruption, said Harber. "We can deploy a service within days. We could also integrate with customised legacy applications if needed," he said.