UC&C: Getting Big in the Middle

In my last No Jitter post, I discussed where we're at with unified communications and collaboration in the SMB and public sector markets, with an emphasis on the lower end of the segment. This post discusses my observations and view of opportunities in the middle market.

First, let's define what the middle market of the SMB space is. Although there are no precise parameters, a variety of helpful definitions exist. Gartner defines middle market as organizations with 100 to 999 employees. Investopedia provides another revenue-based definition and assesses mid-market organizations at $10 million to $500 million in revenue. Although the numbers vary by industry, these are useful starting points. By some estimates there are approximately 200,000 mid-market organizations in the United States.

Many of my consulting engagements are with mid-market enterprises. From a technology perspective, here are some common themes I've observed:

  • IT often struggles with innovation to support their organization's growth initiatives (Please note, this is a general comment and there are exceptions). The challenge for IT staff is to continue to support the burden of existing infrastructure and the user base while learning how to incorporate new technology that enables process change, cost savings, etc. The stress that I observe in these IT organizations is palpable.

  • Unfortunately, I often see missed opportunities with IT aligning with lines of business goals. A trigger event such as a major equipment failure, end of support notice, physical move, or invasive construction provides an opportunity for an infrastructure upgrade and to change the way the organization does business. In the majority of my consulting engagements, I'm disappointed to report that often the technology change does not facilitate a commensurate change in processes. Recently some of my mid-market clients have decided to move voice/UC/CC services to the cloud to provide some administrative staff relief. This, in itself, is considered a win.

    In many of my consulting engagements, we begin by assessing the business requirements with the line of business managers and IT. Depending on the limitations of the existing platform in question, line of business management and IT are typically satisfied with incremental changes; the opportunity for significant process change is missed. IT staff are unable to provide leadership to demonstrate how a new technology approach can facilitate process change.

  • As I mentioned in my last post, there is a significant need for affordable managed services in the SMB space. Whereas the smaller part of the market is a candidate for moving most workloads to the cloud and having a third party manage 100% of the IT environment, the mid-market is better suited to selective outsourcing of distinct elements of their infrastructure (i.e. security). IT may maintain operational support of network, desktop, etc. It's been my experience that if the managed service vendor performs well, they will be given additional responsibilities as IT offloads additional operational tasks.
  • Somewhat related to the above bullet point, middle market companies are continually asking their existing strategic IT suppliers to provide additional services. For example, in my client base networking vendors are being asked to also provide voice/UC, server, and storage products and/or services to clients in this market space. The ability to provide a complete portfolio of services appears to be a key reason why channel partners continue to merge. The added abilities of these more capable trusted partner organizations also allow IT staff to learn about cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and other technologies that may soon disrupt their businesses.
  • Although smaller than large enterprise size organizations, many mid-market organizations have significant IT complexity, often from legacy applications. I recently helped a 600-person client upgrade from Microsoft OCS to Skype for Business (SFB) Server primarily for UC (Those who have done this know you must upgrade to Lync first and then SFB). The added project complexity came from a requirement to maintain an integration with their Cisco Unified Call Manager. This required a search for a new integration approach, as Microsoft had radically changed its approach to Remote Call Control.

Today's middle-market segment is challenging for IT professionals. The need to leverage the cloud, trusted integration partners, and managed service providers is growing in importance. The market has recognized this opportunity and is providing these required services through a variety of channels.

One last thought for the mid-market: Opportunities for process improvement can only be realized with line of business management driving the change. IT and possibly their consulting and partner organizations should be at the table providing insight to how technology can enable this.

BCStrategies is an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.