Why the cloud is the key to boosting workforce productivity in the mid-market

Multiple studies have highlighted the contribution of mid-market companies as the engine of the UK’s economy. These companies are increasing revenue by an average of 6.7% per year, according to professional services firm Grant Thornton International; thus putting the sector’s growth ahead of small and large rivals alike. New research from Node4 suggests that while IT budgets are increasing, the mid-market sector is still facing some challenges, particularly as the economic climate becomes more dynamic and unpredictable. Can IT spend in the cloud help the mid-market boost productivity and compete in a post-Brexit economy?  

A key challenge the mid-market needs to overcome is meeting the workforce collaboration, mobility and flexible needs. However, historically, unified communications (UC) solutions available in the market have been slightly out of reach for many mid-market companies as costs have been high.   

According to Node4’s recent research into mid-market IT priorities, 56% of mid-market companies say workforce productivity is a top priority; but only 52% have invested in a UC system. More interestingly, the majority of these firms are missing out on the full collaborative potential of UC for their businesses. However, the development of cloud-based collaboration solutions now makes it possible, and affordable for smaller and mid-sized companies to deploy collaboration technology. Can the new breed of UC as a Service (UCaaS) solutions help breathe new life into the sector?  

Keeping up with workforce demands 

As the mid-market continues to drive growth for the UK economy, it becomes ever more important that they can attract top talent. The workforce is increasingly demanding access to on-the-go, easy to use technology in the workplace, and organisations that fail to deliver risk high turnover of staff. Enabling real-time, location agnostic collaboration is an absolute must if businesses want to boost their employees’ job satisfaction and productivity that is true for organisations of all sizes.   

If mid-market businesses want to attract and retain the right talent; it is crucial that employees in mid-market companies are able to move seamlessly between multiple communications platforms to collaborate with colleagues.    

Yet, while supporting the needs of the modern workforce is a priority for 40% of the mid-market, the uptake of tools to support this is seemingly lagging behind workplace expectations. Only 18% benefit from fully-featured UC including voice, video, mobile convergence, file sharing, presence, integration with social media and other business software.   

Just one in five mid-market firms is ‘very satisfied’ with their UC system, which is perhaps not surprising given that 70% are missing out on full collaborative features and making do with voice functionality, fixed mobile convergence, video conferencing, and a few additional collaboration features.    

Why is the mid-market falling behind?    

Our research found that the number one problem mid-market companies have with their UC systems is cost.   However, it is also disappointing to see that the quality of basic UC functions, such as audio conferencing and even voice quality feature are on the list of major bugbears. 

It is also clear that integration with social networks, is an issue for 28% of UC deployment. Our research study found that social network integration is becoming an important priority, something that UC providers need to take into account if they are going to deliver value to their users.  

There is no doubt that mid-market companies are the hotspot when it comes to income growth and creating jobs in the UK; but even though they are making a significant impact to the overall economy, they still don’t have access to the budget levels of large enterprises. Inevitably, this hinders their ability to acquire and deploy IT systems.    

Traditionally, the mid-market has been slow to embrace UC, partly because of cost. Historically, UC vendors have developed and brought to market big, costly solutions that relied heavily on ‘on premise’ infrastructure and came at prohibitive prices. In addition, these systems required a level of dedication from the IT department that small and medium organisations simply can’t afford. It seemed that, for some time, the potential of UC solutions was out of the mid-market’s reach.   

Moving beyond ‘on premise’ to reduce costs   

Over the past few years, we have seen a shift in the UC industry as some of the big vendors saw an opportunity to sell into mid and small enterprises with plug-and-play solutions such as small, mobile video conferencing units with lower price points encompassing good audio and video quality. Whilst these technologies have helped and made communications better and easier for smaller players, they haven’t solved the fundamental problem; mid-market organisations needed enterprise-grade functionalities, but they couldn’t keep up with a traditional capex model.  

It is the rapid development of cloud-based infrastructures which has truly opened a host of new possibilities for smaller organisations.  Today, however, the arrival of new cloud-based models means that the mid-market is set to gain access to enterprise-level solutions which provide all the benefits of UC at a much more attractive price point.   

UCaaS for the mid-market

With the introduction of unified communications as a service (UCaaS), most of these problems are solved. Cloud companies that operate opex models and have control of their networks, such as Node4, have started to deliver advanced UC functionalities at affordable prices through the cloud. For instance, Node4’s recently launched UCaaS product includes all the features of Cisco HCS. These include voice, video, instant messaging and presence, Telepresence, voicemail and integrated messaging, mobility, and contact centre functionality. By removing the need for on premise deployment, and offering managed and adoption services to customers; these cloud-based vendors have found a way to meet the mid-market’s needs in a way that’s economically viable for both parties. 

As new models such as ‘as-a-Service’ gain momentum, more mid-market companies are gearing up to join the UC bandwagon. In fact, according to Node4’s recent research, those that haven’t yet implemented UC are either running a pilot (17%), planning a trial in the next 12 months (12%) or considering various UC options for their business (12%).    

The mid-market’s brighter future 

The new generation of UCaaS products that have emerged are bringing enterprise UC capabilities into the mid- market, together with attractive pricing and comprehensive service options. Thanks to these UCaaS solutions, the mid-market is now able to provide its workforce with the collaboration tools it needs to fulfil the economic promise of this sector. Cloud-based solutions have given mid-sized organisations access to more ‘feature-rich’ solutions that provide substantially better quality of experience, at a more affordable price, and adoption is growing. If the trend continues, we will see the mid-market’s growth accelerate even more as they unleash the full potential of collaboration solutions.   

Mark Phelps, collaboration product manager, Node4

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