Five percent (5%) of small businesses use Skype, mostly for quick chats. That little tidbit was part of the findings in a research report issued by AMI Partners yesterday. And that little factoid also symbolizes how far the world is changing when it comes to handling voice calls and other forms of communication. Think about it. You have an e-commerce/auction company (eBay, the parent company of Skype) providing a telephony solution -- and one that's free or almost free, at that. It's a textbook definition of a disruptive innovation. And Skype is just one example. The entire telephony space has been turned on its head. Increasingly we use software and the Internet to make and manage voice calls, instead of using traditional phone lines. This has opened up options for how we manage our communications. It used to be that data relating to our phone system was kind of marooned off by itself. But now our many systems are converging, allowing us to consolidate and manage data in one place using software. Some day, multiple communications systems (e.g., email, voice mail, Web conferencing) will be integrated into a seamless whole. The vendors and their roles are shifting, too. In the past if you wanted a business phone system, you had one choice: the phone company. Now, you have multiple choices. Software companies, hardware vendors and, yes, even e-commerce companies like eBay have gotten into the voice communications space. Sanjeev Aggarwal, AMI's Vice President, notes that small and medium businesses (SMBs) with between 1 and 999 employees are increasingly interested in IP-based communications solutions: "The SMB IP communications market is sizzling, leading to increased interest and competition from global and regional voice/data vendors, software vendors, internet/portal vendors, and large traditional telecom service providers. In addition to voice communications solutions, over the past few years telecom service providers have started to offer an expanded bundle of complementary services -- Internet connectivity and managed services, including security, online backup/business continuity, web hosting and e-commerce, hosted e-mail and collaboration solutions, and hosted applications and databases," Mr. Aggarwal says. "However, no single dominant vendor has yet emerged in this rapidly evolving space." If it sounds confusing, then you're not alone. The new products and choices are exciting. But it's going to be a messy marketplace for a while. Until the new solutions shake out and settle down, you could find yourself facing a confusing range of choices and vendors when it comes to communications systems for your business.