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A Few Mundane Thoughts on the Small Business Market

Cisco Systems last week celebrated the one year anniversary of its Small Business initiative and it got me thinking about how the Small Business market for communications systems and solutions almost always gets the short end of the stick when it comes to articles, presentations, and discussions in general within the industry. Most of the focus is on large customers who buy so-called big ticket items for products and applications. Search through the first two years of No Jitter blog posts and articles and discover for yourself how much attention has been give to Small Business or check the VoiceCon agendas; the scarce results should not be surprising.I remember years ago when I wrote an annual KTS/Hybrid market update for Business Communications Review, an article distinct from my PBX market update. Business Communications Review also ran occasional small system product reviews, but relatively few feature stories on the lower end market segment. During the 1980s and 1990s, the now-defunct Teleconnect had a strong focus on small system solutions. Though there are many current publications (print and online) written for Small Business customers I am not aware of any focused on communications, though Small Business Computing is close (but no cigar). In the mid-1980s I developed and hosted several industry conferences and seminars on KTS/Hybrid offerings, but no trade show or conference is currently likewise dedicated. Next month's Consumer Electronics Show will have some small business communications systems on exhibit, but those offerings will be drowned in the sea of video games and consumer gadgets.

I find it interesting that two hot industry topics of late are Communications as a Service (CaaS), or Hosted Cloud Services, and open source software. What is interesting is that both have been widely used offerings by Small Business customers for several years. Only now that larger enterprise size customers are showing more interest do the two offerings come to the promotional forefront.

Several of the enterprise communications system suppliers that focus on the Small Business customer, such as Toshiba and Panasonic, rarely get mentioned or discussed with the Ciscos and Avayas of the market, though several of the large system providers do more than just dabble in the Small Business segment. When the acquisition of Nortel ES is completed, Avaya's Small Business operation will far more than double in sales revenues, and as a result, Avaya's executive management will be more attentive to the Toshibas and Panasonics of the market than they have been the past few years. There was a time when the company, during its days as part of AT&T, was the big player in small system solutions, and Key Telephone System (KTS) competitors received almost as much attention as the PBX system competitors. I know this for a fact, because I was there doing competitive analysis too many years ago to count.

A major problem that occurs when discussing the Small Business market is precisely defining what the market is. Checking online definitions is of little help, because each source provides a different definition. Is a Small Business customer defined by revenues, total employees, or communication line size requirements? Note that employee and line size counts are not always closely correlated. It's easy to classify a customer with only a few employees as a Small Business, but what is the demarcation line that turns them into a Medium or Large Business customer? Too often Small and Medium Business customers are lumped together, because they are not at the Large (Enterprise) level.

I know that there are many employees focused on small system solutions working for system suppliers who are primarily focused on the enterprise market. I also assume that a few No Jitter readers are from the world of Small Business. Now is your chance to make your voice heard. Maybe I will someday have a RFP for a Small Communications System workshop at VoiceCon if your voice is loud enough. We welcome your feedback.