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At the outset of this series, we explored what unified communications as a service is and its evolution into enterprise IT over the years. This context is critical because, once an enterprise evaluates the business case for unified communications as a service (UCaaS) and sees the benefits of the software as a service (SaaS) model, additional decision points emerge for evaluation.
Realizing that unified communications (UC) provides more business value than voice over IP (VoIP) alone is rather straightforward. In many ways, VoIP is the core foundation upon which other IP communications services are built. Once an organization gets comfortable with VoIP, it'll soon be ready for UC, which then introduces strategies beyond VoIP in terms of IP-based applications and 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 UC is right for their business.
The key business benefits of UCaaS
On a business level, three key benefits of the cloud stand out to support a move to UCaaS:
- Proven SaaS model: 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 it can host communications platforms, such as UC, or even real-time data flows such as voice communications. This trend will continue as costs continue to decline -- and as public cloud adoption increases.
- 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 budgets is getting harder, especially for Capex
Despite all this, agility has become a corporate mantra for most, as businesses must be more responsive. This is true 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.
UC fills both of these requirements, but its complex nature poses a challenge to IT departments and has been a barrier to adoption. This is a key reason why UCaaS appeals to IT staff -- since the UC complexity operates in the cloud, IT managers can focus resources in other areas where their expertise can still add value.
- Employee productivity: The third key benefit cloud-based unified communications provides is speed and ease of deployment. Not only does UCaaS make life easier for IT staff, 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 can't 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 applications. For example, UC still faces a slow adoption of mobile device application integrations, and vendors have only just started using predictive analytics for communications applications.
By nature, UCaaS providers focus on keeping their offerings current, something an IT department would be hard-pressed to do 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 revolve around scenarios 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. UCaaS is here to help.
Without UC, communications applications operate in a standalone fashion, meaning separate budgets and siloed features for voice, video, conferencing and chat. Many departments have their own budgets for these applications, making the total cost of communicating difficult to manage. With UC, IT teams can integrate and manage everything in a single platform, 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 an employee's location and without requiring 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 instance, is not exclusive to cloud-managed unified communications. As businesses increasingly virtualize and shift away from hardware- to software-based business platforms, operating costs decline. At the same time, 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 a capitalized expense proposition. Times have changed, and all forms of communication -- including telephony -- have become software-based and no longer need large numbers of telephony appliances that require Capex funding.
Now that UC can deploy 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 full control of the communications platform. In return, IT gets a high-value service that can comfortably factor into a 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 remote 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 employees now prefer working from home 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 no matter where the employee resides. For employees to collaborate effectively, they need to use the same tools and a common interface for sharing information. If they're 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 internet-hosted server where applications are optimized for use across all types of devices, screens and network connectivity 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 uses exist, but these examples provide a strong foundation for deploying UCaaS. Premises-based UC certainly has its advantages, but the cloud is gaining acceptance as businesses consider the range of challenges associated with deploying UC. The cloud also continues to evolve at a rapid pace. Because of this, it's likely that future UC advancements will come to the cloud well before UC providers offer the features for on-premises counterparts.
Andrew Froehlich contributed to this report.
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