By Cassandra Balentine
As cloud adoption continues, it enables a collaborative working environment targeting continuity and increased efficiency for a variety of businesses.
Unified Communications (UC) represents a range of products, including equipment, software, and services that aid in enterprise communications. UC enables businesses to control, manage, and integrate channels, networks, and systems. The performance of UC as a cloud-based service is known as Unified Communications as a Service—or UCaaS.
UCaaS solutions provide an all-in-one solution for businesses, encompassing communication tools from voice, conferencing, video, messaging, and screen sharing. Cloud-based communications enable easier integration and the elimination of solution siloes that hinder a holistic view of business processes.
“Businesses commonly employ synchronous or real-time communications—such as voice and video calling—in combination with messaging, web conferencing, document management, and social collaboration,” explains Rich Shaw, VP, voice and collaboration, AT&T. “Furthermore, they are prioritizing collaboration solutions in the digital workplace and embedding them into the business process. Most recently, the convergence of web, audio, and video conferencing is helping to improve productivity.”
Colin Doherty, CEO, Fuze, points out that today’s workforce is on the go and increasingly mobile. With this, people want tools that help enable them from anywhere on any device, at any time. “According to a survey we recently conducted, CIOs are most often charged with managing and maintaining at least three communication tools used across multiple categories—from voice and video conferencing to screen sharing, instant message, and office collaboration.”
Doherty says within its own customer base, Fuze commonly displaces five to seven tools. “We see some distinct trends in usage patterns when looking across employee age brackets—for example, the rising cohort of millennial and App Generation employees often prefer text-based communication or video conferencing to traditional email and voice calls. Within Fuze, some members of our engineering team are logged into a video conference throughout the day as they are doing their work. If someone has an issue or wants to chat about something, they can easily collaborate regardless of being in separate locations.”
However, by working with large enterprises to implement communication solutions, one thing that has become increasingly apparent is that every individual has its own unique working style and with that, their own preferred communication tools that they rely on the most to be productive, comments Doherty. “This is where a unified solution is critical in enabling employees to effectively collaborate and communications, regardless of their device or channel preference.”
Addressing Business Challenges
UCaaS provides an all-in-one solution that enables better business continuity and cost savings.
Curtis Lee Peterson, SVP cloud operations, RingCentral, says today’s digital enterprises are challenged to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to technology enablement while also managing an increasingly mobile and distributed workforce. “UCaaS provides employees with a way to communicate and collaborate across any mode and location, empowering deeper connections. In fact, the modern workforce wants a unified solution and says it will increase efficiency.”
Peterson points to a March 2017 survey commissioned by RingCentral that finds the average U.S. knowledge worker uses at least five tools to communicate at work. “Of the 500 people surveyed, 73 percent said they are interested in having their communications and collaboration capabilities in a single solution. This same group reported that using this type of single solution could save 20 to 30 percent of their time, leading to greater productivity and efficiency.”
“Cloud-based UC deployments surpassed on premises deployments for the first time last year, according to IDC’s Worldwide Enterprise Communications Market Forecast 2014 to 2019. And cloud-based UC deployment is expected to account for up to 56.7 percent of enterprise communications solutions within a couple of years, the research firm says. Some of the challenges UCaaS addresses include cost control, the shift from CAPEX to OPEX, and support for a dispersed workforce,” shares Shaw.
Doherty feels that as organizations continue to embrace digital transformation, UCaaS allows employees to better collaborate and communicate, regardless of location or work environment. In tandem, it provides a streamlined approach that eases the burden on CIOs and their teams.
“UCaaS offers immediate cost savings by reducing capital investments and inefficient operational expenditures by migrating to the cloud. It also offers more flexibility to extend communications to new offices and employees; faster, enterprise-wide software upgrades of existing services; and easier adoption of IP-based communications technologies,” says Doherty.
He adds that a single-cloud platform reduces the cost of the traditional enterprise communication toolset by 50 percent. “UCaaS allows IT to focus scarce resources on helping lines-of-businesses achieve their business goals so that IT can play a bigger role in the digital transformation across the enterprise. And thinking ahead, a global platform can provide real-time visibility on enterprise communications. Digital channels allow IT administrators to gather data on actual usage and the context of multi-channel communications. Such insights can be used to optimize workflows, employee collaboration, and customer engagement in contact centers and offices,” says Doherty.
By providing an all-in-one solution, businesses can give employees a one-stop-shop for all of their communications and avoid application sprawl. “This helps IT better manage data sharing and security, and also provides employees with a seamless way to communicate both internally and externally,” says Doherty. Additionally, he says UCaaS gives CIO and IT departments on demand scalability and built-in redundancy to ensure business continuity as an organization grows or expands to new regions. Technology stakeholders no longer have to worry about managing solutions across departments or geographies.
Doherty says a UC platform provides a centralized system to create continuity in billing, experience, and security across the business, whether employees are in the office or working remotely. “And, speaking of business continuity, UCaaS can help with cost savings. Managing multiple vendors, carriers, and technologies separately and regionally is expensive and challenging. IT teams can be overwhelmed in handling and negotiating different contracts, billing terms, support agreements, service expiration dates and invoices—not to mention the logistical nightmare of managing an array of on premise equipment,” he says. This traditional approach to business communications leads to wasted spending on different and often overlapping technologies that are fundamentally solving the same problems—communication and collaboration. Since UCaaS is in the cloud, it requires fewer IT resources for set up and management, and eliminates the need for a huge capital investment. At the same time, mobility has enabled more people to access these solutions from anywhere on any device.
“Additionally, managing multiple communication vendors can not only put a strain on IT teams, who may be handling and negotiating different contracts, billing terms, support agreements, service expiration dates, and invoices, it can also be a financial nightmare. A UC platform can streamline implementation and maintenance that ultimately cuts costs for a number of enterprises.” says Doherty.
While implementing a new, cloud-based UC platform is a big move, several factors are driving adoption, including the desire for a seamless collaboration experience and all-in-one solution.
“With UCaaS, basic business-based technologies such as voice communications can be combined with office communications,” says Shaw. “This will inevitably transform the business landscape to have a single productivity application of business workstreams rather than email being the primary driver in the way we do work,” he explains.
Shaw adds that another change is how enterprises are putting more of a priority on collaboration technologies in the digital workplace and embedding them into the business process. “A truly productive collaboration solution available with the latest technologies bring those worlds together in such a way that businesses realize innovative productivity.”
Shaw adds that PBX systems combined with a desire to avoid ongoing PBX maintenance is furthering IP telephony and making UCaaS technologies a seamless addition to business’ collaborative strategy.
Peterson says many enterprises looking to make the move to UCaaS are migrating away from legacy on premises systems where their communications functionality is limited; current costs are high; existing solutions don’t scale well; and integrations with third-party applications are not supported. “UCaaS solutions from a pure-play cloud solutions provider are more cost effective than legacy hardware, and offer the ability to scale communications globally at the click of a button versus having to set up multiple hardware systems worldwide. In addition, cloud solutions enable the flexibility to work with other cloud-based solutions, which contribute to more streamlined workflows and greater workflow efficiency.”
Doherty says that as the traditional office space evolves, several factors have influenced a shift in the way we communicate and collaborate, driving enterprises toward a UCaaS solution. “First and foremost, the growing push and desire from employees for remote and flexible work options have put pressure on organizations to find solutions and tools that help enable the workforce to be productive regardless of location. In the absence of a cohesive approach to communications, employees often explore ad-hoc tools and applications to meet personalized needs in real time. Whether it’s the sales department turning to one solution to answer its video conferencing needs or finance downloading a free trial of another app to ease document sharing, this scattered approach to communications can create confusion, harm productivity, and pose a significant risk from a security and system management perspective.”
Additionally, a UCaaS solution that features voice, video, messaging, and content sharing all-in-one-platform that works on any device allows for people to choose how to do their best work, rather than pushing all employees to one mode of communication. By having a tool that is inclusive of different preferences, IT leaders can ensure their organizations develop digital dexterity among the traditional solutions and across the organization,” says Doherty.
Considerations for Evaluating UCaaS
Implementing UCaaS is a major investment that requires significant research in finding a provider.
When vetting UCaaS partners, Peterson points to four primary areas to focus on, including the breadth of the product, customer support, platform openness, and its ability to scale.
Shaw highlights three key factors when evaluating potential UCaaS partners, considering the deployment models offered, provider stability and global expertise, and the flexibility of offerings. “While most providers support on premises services, not all have the same level of cloud expertise, and their hosted collaboration offerings may be less robust than their on premise services. Most vendors support a hybrid option as they recognize not all businesses are ready for a complete cloud-based deployment. Additionally, cloud reliability, security, and scalability are all prominent concerns for businesses, so many opt for a mixed deployment at first,” he explains.
UCaaS provides flexibility and advantages for businesses. “Hybrid deployments provide customers with the best of both worlds and the flexibility to gradually migrate fully to the cloud—or maintain whatever mix they are comfortable with,” says Shaw. He suggests considering how extensively potential UCaaS partners support hybrid deployments and with options/incentives they provide businesses to migrate to a full UCaaS solution.
It is also worth noting that the cloud is still new for communications applications, and that UCaaS requires particular expertise that is not well established. “Barriers to entry for the cloud are generally low, but sustained success requires operating at a fairly high scale as the core infrastructure is costly. Businesses should look for a provider the has expertise in UCaaS, is financially sound, and that can service a customer globally with excellent customer service,” says Shaw.
While flexibility should factor into deployment model considerations, as well as cloud architectures, Shaw suggests the same applies to the collaboration solutions themselves. “As business and employee expectations are evolving, so are the ways in which the communicate. This gives UCaaS a lot of advantages. UCaaS is on demand, allowing businesses to only pay for what is needed. This is an easier model for consuming services, along with keeping costs under control. Businesses should ensure their UCaaS partner has flexible offerings to meet their particular needs.”
“Enterprises need to understand their employees’ needs, as well as how their existing technology fits into workflows when evaluating collaboration solutions,” states Doherty. Many complex businesses are tied up in legacy communication tools, and a new collaboration solution should be able to meet both old and new business processes and create opportunities for better communication with employees, customers, and partners.”
Maximizing user adoption requires a consistent, consumer-grade user experience. For the enterprise, Doherty explains this means considering a single user interface for all of the applications part of a UC solution. “This may include other collaboration and social applications, which allow employees to tailor the experience to their preferred way of working. In addition, enterprises must provide easy accessibility across employees’ preferred devices, whether employer provided or employee owned, as well as transparent connectivity and real time synchronization cross devices.”
Many vendors provide UCaaS options. Here we highlight products from vendors that contributed to this piece.
AT&T offers a range of voice and collaboration solutions that can be customized to meet customer requirements. “We’re designing solutions that provide efficient and highly secure connections for people, processes, and assets to help businesses grow. Whether businesses have two or 20,000 employees, we have flexible solutions that allow quick communication between employees over highly secure network connections on virtually any device,” shares Shaw.
AT&T’s most recent offering in this space is AT&T Collaborate, a voice and collaboration solution. It can be used across internet-connected devices, requiring no additional hardware or infrastructure investments. Features can be tailored to the customer and customers pay on a per-user-per-month model.
Fuze is a global, cloud-based unified communications and collaboration platform that empowers productivity and delivers insights across the enterprise. Its reimagined user experience is designed to allow users transform how people interact in the workplace and provides a reliable, scalable, and secure solution to end confusing and disconnected experiences such as switching back and forth between applications.
The company primarily serves large enterprise customers and is the most widely used UCaaS technology among enterprises with more than 220,000 subscriber seats in the market segment for companies with greater than 1,000 employees, which Doherty says is approximately 93,000 more than its nearest competitor.
“In today’s evolving workplace, Fuze provides a reimagined experience for business communications unlike that of its competitors,” says Doherty, adding that the company realized the importance of hardware-to-software approach through the cloud early on and built its product as a mobile, cloud-based solution that is reliable, scalable, and up to speed with the quality of the cloud-based applications used in everyday life.
RingCentral goes beyond unifying different modes of communication, according to Peterson. The solution is designed to deliver an all-in-one communications experience that changes the way people collaborate, share content, and manage products—all with the goal of getting more work done with less effort. It is the only cloud provider to combine enterprise-grade telephony with audio conferencing, video, meetings, team messaging, and collaboration in a single solution.
In addition, RingCentral provides service in more than 80 countries, scales easily, and has a customer support team, says Peterson. The solution is built on an open platform on which enterprises can build custom integrations or use out of the box integrations with leading cloud applications including Google, Microsoft Office 365, and Salesforce to streamline workflows and enhance productivity. The RingCentral Connect Platform currently has more than 7,000 developers and more than 100 cloud application integrations.
According to the August 2017 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications as a Service, Worldwide, 8×8, BT, Orange Business Services, Verizon, and West are market share leaders.
Unified with the Cloud
Businesses continue to evolve with innovative technologies. As cloud adoption continues to gain acceptance, integrated, all-in-one solutions are implemented to enrich business continuity and collaboration. UCaaS enables businesses to better control, manage, and integrate channels, networks, and systems for improved processes.
Jan2018, Software Magazine