At the outset of this series, we explored what exactly unified communications as a service (UCaaS) is and its evolution. This context is critical because once an enterprise evaluates the business case for UC, and sees the benefits of the cloud, another business case decision emerges.
Realizing that UC provides more business value than voice over IP (VoIP) alone is rather straightforward. In many ways, VoIP is the litmus test for IP communications, and once that passes, the business will be ready for UC, which then introduces strategies beyond VoIP in terms of IP-based applications and new business benefits.
The next decision would be whether to choose a premises-based UC service or one that is cloud-based. The following analysis should help decision-makers understand if cloud-based unified communications is right for their business.
The key business benefits of the cloud
On a business level, three key benefits of the cloud stand out to support a move to UCaaS:
- The SaaS model is proven: Most businesses are already using cloud-based software applications more than they think, with common examples being Salesforce for customer relationship management (CRM) or hosted email. The scale, reliability and performance of the SaaS model have reached the point where communications platforms such as UC can effectively be hosted, even for real-time modes such as voice.
This trend will continue as costs keep declining and as private cloud adoption increases. The latter is particularly important where data sovereignty and IT compliance requirements call for a more secure and localized source of hosting.
- Improved agility: Full-scale UC is far more complex than VoIP, and the do-more-with-less mantra that most IT departments face is only going to continue. Not only does IT have to juggle shifting priorities, but securing new budgets is getting harder, especially for capital expenditure (Capex) initiatives.
Despite all this, agility has become a corporate mantra, as businesses must be more responsive, not just for customer satisfaction, but also for adapting to changing requirements. For employees to make the business more agile, business processes must flow smoothly and communication needs to be seamless.
Both of these requirements are well-served by UC, but its complex nature poses a challenge to IT departments and has been a barrier to adoption. And this is a key reason why UCaaS appeals to IT staff -- since the UC complexity is managed in the cloud, IT managers can focus resources in other areas where their expertise can still add value.
- Employee productivity: The third key benefit that cloud-based unified communications provides is speed and ease of deployment. Not only does UCaaS make life easier for IT, but the business becomes more agile as employees now have the tools to work more productively.
This matters because consumer-based innovation has long outpaced the business world, and now customers have expectations that businesses cannot match. Cloud UC helps close that gap.
Catching up with today's customer demands is a big step forward, but it will be equally important to keep pace with new applications. For example, UC still faces a slow adoption of mobile devices, and vendors have only just started using predictive analytics for communications applications.
By nature, UCaaS providers are focused on keeping their offerings current, something an IT department would be hard-pressed to do if going with premises-based UC. On a business level, the cloud provides ongoing value by enabling productivity with the latest applications at all times.
UCaaS use case #1: Cost control
The rationale for buying cloud-based unified communications can also be built around use cases that showcase the inherent cost benefits of the cloud. IT and management are often looking for cost savings and certainty to better support longer-term business planning. UCaaS is here to help.
Without UC, communications applications are used in a standalone fashion, meaning separate budgets for voice, video, conferencing and storage. Many departments have their own budgets for these applications, making the total cost of communicating difficult to manage. With UC, all of this can be integrated and managed by the IT staff, providing overall savings to the company.
Furthermore, as workforces become more dispersed and contract-based, overall demand for UC capabilities can be highly variable. The scalable nature of UCaaS helps to right-size coverage, regardless of where employees are located and without needing new infrastructure.
With the only cost variable being the number of UC licenses in use, the hosted model provides budgeting certainty that premises-based UC cannot offer.
UCaaS use case #2: Shifting from Capex to Opex
This factor, related to the above use case, is not exclusive to UC. As businesses increasingly virtualize and shift away from hardware to software, their operating costs decline, but they also become more agile and, by extension, more competitive. Anything that aligns with this trend can form a strong use case, and cloud-based UC is a prime candidate.
Premises-based UC is rooted in legacy telephony, which has long been capital expense-intensive. Times have changed, and all forms of communication -- including telephony -- have become software-based and no longer require Capex funding.
Now that UC can be hosted in the cloud, it fits the SaaS model where the business only pays for what it uses, making it a cash flow-friendly form of Opex. Of course, the main tradeoff is that the organization's IT department gives up ownership of the communications platform, but in return IT gets a high-value service that can comfortably be factored into its monthly operating budget.
UCaaS use case #3: Supporting a dispersed workforce
Today, most people don't work solely at their office desk, and many don't even go to an office at all. This trend will continue because it satisfies two competitive objectives for businesses.
First, a decentralized workforce lets management keep operating costs under control, both in terms of labor and office space. Second, this communication mode supports a lifestyle that today's generation values. Many workers now prefer being remote so they can balance work and life demands, and this makes for more motivated and productive employees.
UC in the cloud supports this use case by delivering a consistent user experience for any connectivity scenario. For employees to collaborate effectively, they need to use the same tools and a common interface for sharing information. If using different versions of an application, or if a browser or operating system doesn't support it, collaboration will suffer, defeating the purpose of having widely dispersed teams.
These are key benefits of the cloud, as all end users will be routed to a common server where the applications are optimized for use across all types of devices, screens and network environments. Premises-based UC can only do this to a limited degree, with success largely dependent on a business' existing infrastructure and IT expertise.
Allaying UCaaS ownership concerns
Many other use cases exist, but these examples provide a strong foundation for deploying UC in the cloud. Premises-based UC certainly has its virtues, but the cloud is gaining acceptance as businesses consider the range of challenges associated with deploying UC. The cloud is still evolving, but the complexities of UC can be managed there now, even for large-scale deployments.
Businesses may not be happy giving up ownership control of their UC platform, but this has not hurt them with other cloud-based applications. And as these use cases become proven over time, those concerns will pass, validating the decision to go with UCaaS.
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