The communications marketplace has evolved.
In an environment where communication tools are as dynamic and flexible as the people they serve, unified communications as a service (UCaaS) is leading the way to the arrival of the ultimate DIY comms stack. By 2024, UCaaS will be worth around $79.3 billion. It’s about time every business understood the true value of communications as a service.
There’s more to maintaining crucial business connections today than making the occasional phone call or sending an email. Businesses have access to everything from immersive web-based conferencing tools to video communication, instant chat and more.
What Is Unified Communications?
To truly understand UCaaS, you first need to understand unified communications (UC).
Unified communications refers to the unified framework that companies use to combine various forms of real-time and asynchronous communication. UC delivers an interconnected system of enterprise devices and software solutions, from video conferencing to email and fax.
For years, the communications system of the average company consisted of two crucial parts. First, there was the business phone system, complete with a few basic features like call recording and routing. Besides the phone system was email, allowing for digital communication through the rise of the internet.
However, as time went on and technology evolved, we began to discover new and improved ways of connecting. Calls became more streamlined and efficient thanks to advancements like VoIP technology, and we learned how to send new media over the web, like video and instant messages.
Over time, companies discovered that if they wanted to access the best communication stack, they needed a way of bringing all the tools that they used together into a single, easy-to-manage environment. UC ensures that today’s users don’t need to jump between applications to access video, messaging, and audio calls. At the same time, from an IT perspective, there are fewer tools to keep track of.
Unified communications providers give today’s businesses a cost-effective and efficient way to rein in the complexities of a communication stack, with convenient solutions for various modes of conversation. UC is easy to set up, brimming with scalability, and packed full of simplicity for modern businesses.
Unified Communications Definition: Common Components
Unified communications definitions are constantly evolving as new technology enters the UC landscape. When UC first emerged in the marketplace, it combined essential tools like voice, messaging, email, and fax into the same platform. Now, the majority of UC systems also include access to things like video conferencing and collaboration tools.
To fully understand how unified communication works, it’s worth noting that the average UC solution is comprised of client and server-side components. The server-side or application server component can be offered as a cloud-based unified communications solution, or traditional on-site IT solution. On the back-end, most unified communications tools will include features like:
- A traditional, cloud-based, or IP branch exchange
- A single or multi-vendor UC server or platform
- Devices like headsets, phones, microphones, and cameras
- Business communication gateways like Session Border Controllers (SBCs)
- Multipoint control units and video bridges for video conferencing
- Project management and team management tools
User-facing tools of a UC system include:
- Web conferencing platforms and virtual meeting spaces
- Interactive whiteboards for collaboration
- Real-time presence systems and instant messaging
- Enterprise collaboration platforms
- Video services for conferencing and telepresence
- Voice-based applications like telephony and voicemail
- Text-based tools like text, social media, chat, and email
Collaboration tools have quickly emerged as a vital part of many UC environments these days, as collaboration and UC tools often overlap. Collaboration tools often come with access to communication features like team chat and video conferencing. Additionally, UC can also overlap with contact centre offerings too.
How Does Unified Communications Work?
Unified Communications integrates multiple forms of real-time and asynchronous communication. UC providers give their clients an opportunity to replace old-fashioned voice-centric private branch exchange (PBX) systems with unified communications systems to allow for a single point of management for all of their communications initiatives.
Unified communications environments are supported by one, or multiple back-end systems or platforms that allow for integration among various services. For your UC strategy to work seamlessly, your platforms need to allow you to access and potentially integrate all forms of communication within your landscape.
For instance, within a UC environment, you would access VoIP for your audio and video conferencing technologies. Your web conferencing system might make use of an audio-conferencing environment, which is also built on an IP telephony platform. Additionally, your unified messaging platform client would allow for things like click-to-chat and click-to-talk functionality by integrating with that IP platform.
Unified communications also allows business users to jump from one method of communication to another in the same conversation. For instance, you can start communicating via email, but then click a button in your email client to access a video conference.
The components of unified communications systems can be deployed in a range of environments, from on-premise solutions to private or public cloud environments. Cloud-based UC offerings are otherwise known as UCaaS.
The Benefits of Unified Communications
By giving today’s users the power to collaborate and communicate in a more intuitive way, unified communications can do everything from improving employee productivity to enhancing collaboration in the workforce. The demand for UC is constantly growing, with a market size expected to reach $167.1 billion by 2025.
Here are just some of the major benefits of switching to a unified communications environment:
- Streamlined communications stack: Unified communications provides instant access to services like messaging, phone communications, data sharing, and various modes of conferencing. This allows every staff member to move seamlessly between the tools that they need. By bundling these services, businesses gain extra opportunities to scale and develop productivity across all business operations.
- Scalability: A UC plan gives you the power to tap into new communication technologies and tools according to your needs. You can implement new services and solutions as your business evolves, without having to worry about seeking out a separate vendor.
- Better productivity: Because employees can access all of the technology that they need to communicate and collaborate in the same environment, there’s less time spent moving between applications. At the same time, you reduce the strain on your IT team, because there are fewer issues to monitor, and fewer systems to set up and manage.
- Improved analytics: When all of your communications are combined into the same landscape, you not only get a single bill, you also get a single view of your stack. This means that you can evaluate the performance of all the components of your business in one environment, without having to worry about losing track of what’s happening in one part of your enterprise. A single point of truth allows for better decision making.
- Enhanced customer service: Unified communications gives your customers more opportunities to serve customers quickly and seamlessly. You can even have calls transferred straight from one employee to another when an agent isn’t available or offer the option to evolve an email into a call or video conference.
How Can Small Companies Take Advantage of UCaaS?
While all businesses have the opportunity to benefit from UC, the advantages can be particularly significant for smaller companies. Unified communications offers plenty of opportunities for smaller organisations to reduce costs and accelerate performance at the same time. You can integrate all of your systems into a singular comms platform, and therefore reduce the strain on your IT team. Additionally, by bringing all your communications into the same platform, you reduce your need to pay multiple bills for your technology.
Of course, like any transformational strategy for a small business, the path to UC will be smoother when it comes paired with the right strategy. This is where your communications revolution begins.
Step 1: Decide what you want to achieve
A good first step for any digital project is deciding what you want to accomplish with your new strategy. When it comes to implementing UC technology, you might want to decide whether your focus is on streamlining your current communications stack or accessing new technology. Maybe you want to reduce costs and eliminate some of the bottlenecks in the efficiency of your workforce?
Deciding what you want to accomplish from day one will help you to work with a vendor to create a plan that can work for your needs. At the same time, you’ll be able to successfully track the results of your new UC implementation and determine whether you’re moving in the right direction.
Step 2: Find the right UCaaS vendor
The thought of implementing a new communications strategy can be daunting to any business. However, smaller businesses can find the process a lot more difficult – particularly when they don’t have a great deal of technical support in-house. If you’re not sure how to transform your technology into a new UC environment, then you’re going to need a vendor that can help you to make the migration.
The right vendor, like RingCentral, will guide you through the steps involved in implementing unified communications technology. They’ll also help you to decide how you want to access your new UC solution – whether it’s on the cloud, on-premise, or in a hybrid combination of both solutions. With the right vendor, you can access everything from specialist support and provisioning to expert knowledge and training.
Step 3: Dedicate time for training and learning
Even with professional support from unified communications providers to guide you every step of the way, you might find that your team needs some time to get used to the new unified communications tech stack. Make sure that you put enough time aside in your deployment strategy to help people experiment with the technology and explore the benefits.
Choosing a unified communications platform that’s built with simplicity in mind will help to ease some of the adoption woes that companies can encounter when choosing new tech. Make sure that your UC platform is built with user experience (UX) in mind.
What Is Unified Communications as a Service?
Unified communications as a service (UCaaS) is the new and improved way to provision unified communications technology. Taking advantage of the software as a service (SaaS) strategy, UCaaS allows businesses of all sizes to access all the benefits of unified communications through the cloud.
Like UC, UCaaS means that you can integrate all of your communications requirements into the same platform, through a cloud vendor. However, unlike other deployment methods, you also get all the scalability and flexibility of a cloud platform too. This means that companies can quickly and easily expand their communications technology with new features, ranging from call routing and video conferencing, to artificial intelligence.
Cloud-based unified communications solutions remove the stress and headaches that come from implementing a UC strategy on-premise. With a cloud solution, you can access all the software that you need instantly, and immediately upgrade or downgrade your system according to your individual needs. UCaaS features can include everything from presence technology and enterprise messaging, to video conferencing, and more. Additionally, many UCaaS vendors are quickly adding communication platform as a service (CPaaS) capability and application programming interfaces (APIs) into their cloud platforms too.
An Insight into the Evolution of UCaaS
UCaaS, like most cloud-based solutions for communication, is evolving at an incredible pace.
Today’s companies, no matter their background or size, know that if they want to compete and succeed in the modern landscape, they need flexible and adaptive solutions for communication. The one-size-fits-all stack simply doesn’t apply anymore. Legacy unified communications systems are quickly being phased out by people in search of the flexibility of cloud.
According to Gartner, by 2021 will be cloud-based and UCaaS, having risen from only 50% in 2018. Already, countless companies are using UCaaS in some way to help them drive their strategy for digital transformation.
UCaaS was a natural evolution from the UC environment. While in some unified communications deployments, businesses were able to access some of the technology that they needed through the cloud, many companies started to recognise the benefits of having everything from communication to collaboration running through that same OPEX strategy. The cloud-based strategy for unified communications secures the single-pane-of-glass experience that modern companies are looking for while lowering costs.
Additionally, UCaaS offers both security and reliability in the modern landscape by creating performance redundancies to protect against downtime. In a world that’s more competitive than ever, companies can’t afford to deal with sudden downtime issues. However, because UCaaS backs data up over the cloud, it can keep businesses running even in complex situations.
Going forward, it’s likely that the demand for UCaaS will continue to grow, particularly as new technology appears on the marketplace. The continued rise of distributed and mobile working combined with the growing need to collaborate across global boundaries means that on-premise solutions simply won’t be suitable anymore.
As-a-service solutions will give companies the flexibility they need to evolve to suit a changing workforce and a more demanding customer base.
Unified Communications and Collaboration
One of the major transformations that businesses have seen in the UCaaS environment over the last couple of years has been an evolution from UC to UC&C. In other words, companies aren’t just looking for communications anymore, they want collaboration too.
Unified communications as a service solution, built with collaboration tools baked in, allow today’s businesses to access all of the tools they need for a more streamlined and efficient internal workforce. That’s something that’s becoming increasingly important in the age of remote working, where diversified teams present both opportunities and challenges to any company.
In the average workplace, UCaaS enables everything from video to instant messaging (IM) and presence tools, desktop sharing, audio conferencing, and more. As businesses continue to embrace the era of integration and interoperability, many UCaaS solutions also come with the option to bake in third-party tools. For instance, RingCentral Glip is a natural part of the UCaaS environment from RingCentral, bringing teams together from around the world.
With RingCentral Glip, users can chat in real-time, using text, video or voice to connect around the world. At the same time, they can create and manage tasks within their workplace, share screens during online meetings, and work seamlessly on the go with mobile applications. Additionally, RingCentral offers integrations with apps like Box, Asana, BitBucket, and dozens of other alternatives so that team members can pull all of the different aspects of their workday into the same environment.
Unified communications and collaboration tools on the cloud are likely to grow increasingly valuable in the new decade, as mobile workforces continue to grow. By the end of this year (2020), International Data Corporation predicts that mobile workers will make up around 75% of the total workforce in the US. UCaaS solutions with collaboration tools built in will mean that employees on the go can not only access business phone system tools, but can also connect with their team members wherever they are on the cloud.
UCaaS and collaboration tools allow members from different teams to review and change documents, spreadsheets, and projects, from wherever they are, with access to mobile applications and services that adapt according to their individual needs. As business models change, organisational teams and departments can even be trained as a group at the same time using UCaaS, so the whole workforce remains cohesive. After all, if everyone in your team knows how to use the same tools and knowledge to complete their tasks, companies run more smoothly.
What Are the Benefits of UCaaS?
Businesses of all sizes and backgrounds are beginning to turn to UCaaS to reduce the operational and capital expenses associated with deploying their own UC service. UCaaS takes the stress and legwork out of building, upgrading, and servicing your in-house communications platform. It gives organisations a communications infrastructure that can handle an ever-changing need for on-demand voice, chat, video, SMS, analytics, and more.
As integrations and APIs become more popular, UCaaS can even open the door to build-your-own communications strategies that integrate everything a company needs from end-to-end productivity. That means that businesses of all sizes can access best-of-breed technology from every environment to suit their needs. With UCaaS, you can:
1. Improve knowledge sharing
The silo effect in workforces is a common phenomenon for many businesses today. As companies evolve to embrace more remote and mobile working strategies, it’s common for gaps to appear in knowledge-sharing environments. However, UCaaS upgrades and consolidates communications strategies into a single source to improve how team members work together. This drastically improves the workplace and removes the bottlenecks that stifle work and communication flows. Through UCaaS, employees can instantly share and access information on any device, from any environment. You can share screens from your home computer, access whiteboard information on your smartphone, or jump into a video conference at the touch of a button.
2. Mobilise the workforce
UCaaS empowers the mobilised workforce in a number of ways. Not only does this technology deliver new opportunities for remote workers, but it also means that it’s easier for people to communicate when they’re on-the-go as frontline or field workers. For instance, a field worker can tap into a video conferencing tool to share contextual information about a topic they need help with from their team members. This can lead to the faster resolution of issues on-the-spot. At the same time, the mobility offered by UCaaS technology means that organisations can better attract talent from around the world. Your business can find the skillsets that will help you to evolve, rather than just settling for the candidates that are close by.
3. Spot opportunities and trends
UCaaS technology aligns all of your communication solutions into the same place. When you combine this technology with analytics and intelligent tools, you can uncover useful information about the trends and practices in your workplace. UCaaS makes it easier to identify the friction points and bottlenecks in the workflow, allowing for the constant optimisation of the communications environment. For instance, you might discover that your customers are being misdirected to agents that can’t help them. With UCaaS to highlight the problem, you can find a solution, like adding a virtual assistant to your enterprise, which can route calls to the right department.
4. Deliver world class customer support
In the age of customer experience, handling customer issues in an effective and timely manner has become a crucial consideration for any company. To accomplish this goal, businesses need a way to improve the speed and efficiency of issue resolution. For instance, organisations can take advantage of things like custom dashboards and reporting tools offered in UCaaS solutions to determine where customer satisfaction can be improved. At the same time, because UCaaS enhances team collaboration, it means that workers can combine their skills more cohesively to resolve customer problems.
5. Boost revenue growth
Because it’s delivered on the cloud, UCaaS is often sold as a cost-saving solution for those interested in a unified communications environment. However, UCaaS doesn’t just reduce the expenses of your communications system; it can improve your revenue growth too. When you can better navigate conversations with customers, eliminate friction points instantly, and keep your teams working successfully together, you see the benefits in your bottom line. Everything from more educated and collaborative teams to faster results for customers leads to an enhanced revenue stream.
What Is the Future of UCaaS?
The unified communications as a service market is growing at a vast rate. According to Synergy, the space is evolving at a pace of 29% per year. This means that IT leaders everywhere are starting to take advantage of the new digital landscape.
One of the primary drivers of UCaaS adoption is the desire to create better user experiences for customers and employees alike. At the same time, UC on the cloud also delivers benefits like employee productivity, improved time to market, reduced support costs, and a strong return on investment (ROI).
As we head forward into the next decade, there are a few trends that are likely to play a part in shaping the evolution of UCaaS. For instance:
- 5G will continue to transform mobile connections
In the age of remote working, UCaaS already contributes to the new and growing opportunities that employees have to connect with their colleagues at a distance. The rise of 5G technology, with low latency and high throughput, will solve the problems that have previously stopped 4K and high-quality video from being an option for all remote employees. At the same time, 5G will promise ultra-fast speeds and better reliability to employees that need to share information and documents with their colleagues in real-time.
- Collaboration will stay in the spotlight
Moving into the new decade of UCaaS, there’s also a good chance that collaboration will remain in the spotlight, driving more companies to access the UCaaS landscape. A good UCaaS platform provides companies with all the real-time tools that they need for communication in a single and easy-to-manage location. UCaaS will make it easier for team members to communicate quickly and seamlessly behind the scenes. At the same time, this boosted collaboration strategy should mean that businesses can offer their customers better experiences too. When team members can work well together, with access to the same information and technology, it’s much easier for them to solve client problems.
- The push for AI intensifies
We’re living in an era where big data and analytics are crucial. As companies continue to grow, the amount of data that they collect each day evolves with them. With so much data to consider, it’s practically impossible for anyone to analyse all this information manually. Sophisticated UCaaS platforms are likely to have analytics embedded into them and rely on artificial intelligence to analyse data. AI will allow companies to recognise the trends in their communications environment faster. The combination of UCaaS and AI could help brands to increase productivity by simplifying and automating tasks, while also responding instantly to bottlenecks in efficiency.
Going forward, there’s also a good chance that the demand for flexibility, integrations, and interoperability will grow in the UCaaS space. One of the main selling points of UCaaS is that it promises the golden opportunity for businesses to access a single-pane-of-glass environment for managing all of their communication tools. In the years going forward, businesses will want to take advantage of this idea by bringing more of their existing tools and operations into the UCaaS stack, through things like integrations with the contact centre, CMS, and more. There’s even a rising demand for CPaaS and API technology to be available within the UCaaS stack.
How to Choose between UCaaS Systems
How does a company select the right UCaaS system?
As unified communications as a service grows increasingly popular, more vendors are beginning to dive into the marketplace, offering their own selection of combined tools and solutions to meet the needs of modern brands. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy to picking the perfect system here.
- First, you’ll need to think about the different opportunities that are available for people who want to move into the cloud. For instance, RingCentral has access to everything from voice, contact centre, and collaboration via the cloud. Some businesses will want to go “all-in” with cloud technology immediately, while others will want to combine cloud tech and on-premise solutions into a hybrid environment. The right vendor will be one that can give you the service that you need to suit your own digital transformation strategy.
- At the same time, it’s important to find a UCaaS system and vendor that can help you keep moving forward in your digital transformation roadmap. It’s important to look into UCaaS solutions with an idea of the problems that you want to solve right now. For instance, you might want to open the door for more remote workers to join your team. Alternatively, you might want a single point of truth for your analytics, that combines all of your communication strategies.
- However, as well as thinking about what you need right now, it’s worth looking forward to the future too. The communication landscape is constantly changing. The rise of technologies like AI, IoT, 5G, and others will lead the way to endless new opportunities for businesses of all shapes and sizes. It’s crucial to find a UCaaS provider that can help you to reach your long-term objectives as well as your short-term goals. A vendor with an open platform that you can build on and adapt to suit your needs will be incredibly valuable in the years to come.
- Finally, when searching for the perfect UCaaS system, make sure that you put ease of accessibility and usability first. Ultimately, you need to get the foundations of your UCaaS strategy right before anything else. It’s important to know that you have five-nines uptime and a strong underlying infrastructure. At the same time, you want technology that’s easy to deploy and brimming with benefits for your employees. Adoption is one of the toughest challenges that any business will face when it comes to bringing UCaaS into its landscape. Simplicity is often the key to success. It always helps to have a partner that can offer specialist support and service too.
Exploring the Benefits of Unified Communications as a Service
Unified communications as a service is a solution that gives businesses access to all the benefits and functionalities of a UC system – with the flexibility of the cloud.
UCaaS ensures that businesses of all sizes and backgrounds can communicate and collaborate in the way that suits them. There are fewer expenses and less complexity to think about than you would get with a standard unified communications deployment. Additionally, for small and mid-sized businesses, UCaaS eliminates the need to have an IT department available to help you provision, implement and manage your communication strategy.
As we continue to move forward into the new age of business communications, cloud based unified communications is likely to be the go-to method of deployment for all businesses. The flexibility of the cloud combined with the specialist insights and support of the right vendor means that your business will be able to keep pace in a constantly changing marketplace. UCaaS ensures that you’re always ready to adapt to suit the needs of your evolving business, while still adhering to the demands of your customers.