Availability is key, but take free services and you risk it all, says Maintel’s David Groves.

You only really notice how important availability is in an IT system or service when it isn’t there. Technology is now so reliable and so well-built, that we take it for granted.

So it was with some concern that I read that Skype had been down for 12 hours, at least for some consumers.

I know several people whose personal life relies on Skype – to see and hear loved ones on continents far away. More have based their business communications on it as well. Small consultancies and other burgeoning businesses have taken to Skype and come to rely on it – and why not? It’s affordable, available everywhere, you can use it from home, the office, or even the coffee-shop and it’s incredibly easy to use.

Compare that with the “bog-standard” business telephone, which can sometimes seem the opposite – expensive, lacking in features, difficult to use, and worst of all, tethered to the desk in the office.

I’m not going to tell you that the business phone is the perfect solution to all problems – it plainly isn’t. But it does provide that least appreciated and most needed thing: availability.

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of the bog-standard phone, we had proper business-class communications that were as easy to use as Skype, and which provided all the advantages of messaging, seeing who’s available, conferencing, application sharing and video. And whilst we’re at it, something that was always (or nearly always) available for you to use.

Of course, if I were in sales mode, I’d immediately tell you all about the benefits of our ICON Communicate managed service –how we’ve achieved 100% uptime on our platform since we launched it 18 month ago, how satisfied our various customers are, and how you can get a full Unified Communications user experience that matches or even betters anything available for the consumer.

As I’m a product manager, not a salesperson, I won’t – but I will remind anyone who asks that it’s much easier to be cheap if you don’t have to make it work all the time.

In this, as in all else, you get what you pay for.