What Are Unified Communications Platforms?
Unified communications platforms support the various ways modern businesses work, streamlining the network to seamlessly connect people through various channels and collaboration tools. With today’s workforce being so dispersed, unified communications is a must-have for any organization that wants to increase workforce productivity, reduce costs and enhance the user experience.
Gartner says unified communications “provide and combine multiple enterprise communications channels, such as voice, video, personal and team messaging, voicemail, and content sharing. This can include control, management and integration of these channels. UC products can also be integrated with networks and systems, IT business applications and, in some cases, consumer applications and devices.”
The Need to Expand Connectivity
We have to look no further than COVID-19 to see the importance of unified communications. An estimated one-third of workers were sent home when the pandemic began, giving companies little time to adjust. Those that already had a unified communications platform in place were able to adapt faster than those who relied on on-premises networks, disconnected systems, and no standardized toolset to enable efficient remote collaboration.
One of the issues back then was that no one knew how long the office shut-downs would last. At the time, many believed that virtual would only last a month or two. Most assumed they could make do until the virus subsided.
Flash-forward to the present and we see that while we are further along than we were in the spring, today’s workplace is still a shadow of its former self. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the old way of working will never resurface again.
A Slack Future Forum Survey in October 2020 found that out of the 4,700 knowledge workers questioned, the majority said they never want to go back to the old way of working full-time at on-premises offices. Only 12% said they wanted to return to full-time office work, and 72% said they prefer a hybrid remote-office model moving forward. PwC discovered sentiment among workers remains the same this quarter in its US Remote Work Survey released in January 2021.
Companies must determine not only what their businesses will look like post-pandemic, but how they will support different ways of working.
The Benefits of Unified Communications
Enabling a remote workforce is only half of the story. Some people will return to the office, and they need to be able to work uninterrupted with those who are remote. Connecting the two is vital. Whether people are in the office, in a home office, or traveling, they need to be able to communicate and collaborate with their teams, customers, and partners in a secure, reliable way.
A unified communications platform brings all of the disparate pieces of technology together in one consolidated system. For many, Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) is the smartest way to go.
Instead of purchasing and maintaining all of the technology, it makes more sense to pay for it as you go, allowing the provider to own and manage the system instead. Before COVID-19, IDG found that 28% of small to midsize companies already have UCaaS, and 56% planned to integrate it into their network in the next three years. Additionally, the report estimated that 70% of unified communications deployments would be cloud-based in 2020 and nearly all would be cloud-based in five years.
Managed UCaaS supports both office-based and mobile employees. The result of UCaaS for businesses?
Increased business speed and responsiveness
Today’s business is all about speed of response – response to the market, customers, and even a pandemic. The supply chain is inherently risky, making it a business requirement to be able to adapt quickly to whatever comes your way. Unified communications gives you an agile platform that enables you to move the business faster without the limits of your IT systems. Employees spend less time and effort on disparate tools and technologies and more time collaborating and executing work that drives business value.
Reduced and more predictable costs
Old technology can quickly drain resources. You’re also likely to be paying for licenses you no longer need or never used. Keeping up with emerging technology isn’t much easier, requiring large upfront cash outlays and a team of people to manage installation and maintenance. With the as-a-Service model, you can get rid of obsolete technology and pay only for what you actually need right now, with the predictability of knowing exactly what you will pay month-to-month. The vendor, not you, takes over all of the upgrades, maintenance and troubleshooting, saving you significant money and time.
More streamlined operations and billing
The more you can consolidate your technology, the fewer vendors you have to manage and the more simplified your network. With unified communications, you partner with one vendor to provide all of the functionality your workforce needs to be productive. That means less time managing multiple vendors, contracts and invoices.
Greater flexibility and scalability
When you make a significant investment in purchasing technology, you are married to it for better or for worse. As your business evolves, you have to piecemeal and retrofit newer technology onto an older platform. The network becomes complex, unreliable and unsecure while still not meeting business needs as it should. Unified communications enables you to build out your network as your business needs change, giving your company the ability to match technology to requirements much easier and faster.
Greater reliability and security
Legacy systems are often incapable of providing and sustaining the right level of reliability and security required to ensure uninterrupted communication and collaboration. With so much risk that comes with a remote workforce and personal devices, it is imperative that companies gain control over their network. Unified communications as a service platform provides instant disaster recovery and business continuity. This redundancy and failover component means your employees can remain connected to each other and external people without you having to worry about uptime issues or regulatory compliance.
Access to innovative technology
With technology advancements happening at break-neck speed, it’s nearly impossible for businesses to stay up to date, particularly if you are tied to on-premise, aging technology. With the UCaaS model, businesses can afford the latest and greatest, keeping their workforce as productive and efficient as possible as they meet their current business needs. Remote workforces are just as equipped as those in-office, and network enhancements are included in the service model.
The as-a-Service model nullifies the barrier to entry for a unified communications platform, making it affordable for most businesses. Instead of settling for basic phone and unintegrated apps, small businesses can enjoy what their enterprise counterparts do – traditional phone features of VoIP, plus a contact center, business intelligence, robust collaboration and messaging capabilities, integrations, and 24/7 mobile accessibility.
Understanding The Differences Between Unified Communications Solutions
With the increased demand for unified communications platforms comes an increase in solutions. It can be challenging to know the differences and what to look for.
As with any technology, what works for one business may not be ideal for another. It is important to assess your current and future needs, budget, internal support capacity, and other factors before you choose a provider.
Nearly all unified communications solutions provide capabilities for chat, video, and voice calls. Additional functionality will vary. Some of the options are business SMS to allow users to text customers directly from any device using the business phone number; digital fax; a mobile app; advanced call routing; file sharing and annotation; and third-party integrations with other business applications. One of the most beneficial integrations is with Microsoft Teams. Some also have download-free video conferencing to make it easier for outsiders to join in without having to have a particular video conferencing app downloaded.
Beyond features, service comes into play. IDG found that more than half of survey respondents cited technical support as a key criterion for selection. Any provider that offers a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t taking the time to understand your business needs to customize a solution. With technology being similar, the primary difference between solutions can be the expertise and attention the provider offers.
This may mean they have a dedicated team to partner with your internal IT team, using proven best practices with full transparency, being technology agnostic so you know their recommendations are truly in your best interest, and on-site technical support no matter how many locations you have. You need to know that the provider will be there after installation as well, acting as an extension of your IT team at whatever capacity is required to ensure the utmost reliability and security of your platform.
Unified communications platforms are a necessity in today’s unpredictable world. The diverse workforce requires an agile network that evolves with it. Platforms differ in their features, and companies must determine which features are most important to them; however, the biggest difference between providers is the service they offer. Partnering with the right UCaaS provider is the key to getting the full benefits out of your unified communications platform.