This content is part of the Essential Guide: Integrating unified communications products and other UC trends

Consider consolidating your collaboration features

A new report suggests enterprises should consider consolidating many of their collaboration capabilities, as communications platforms now offer more bells and whistles.

As unified communications providers offer more features across their platforms, enterprises should consider consolidating...

their services and vendors, according to a new report.

In the unified communications space, voice and email communications now include video, messaging and mobile collaboration. UC providers are now offering more of these collaboration features on their platforms, while also targeting multiple modalities.

While enterprises today have a multivendor unified communications and collaboration (UCC) environment, they should consider consolidating at least two UCC capabilities into one offering, according to a report from Aragon Research, an advisory firm based in Morgan Hill, Calif.

Most enterprises have top-of-the-line capabilities from multiple vendors, the report found. For instance, a company might buy three different UCC services that are deemed top-notch from three different vendors.

Some enterprises, however, are starting to consolidate collaboration features. By consolidating to work with fewer providers, enterprises can cut costs and boost productivity with a streamlined user experience, Aragon's report said.

The report also advises enterprises to:

  • Examine UCC use cases for application integration and mobility support.
  • Evaluate communications and collaboration providers beyond their core strengths.
  • Ask UCC providers for roadmaps on future offerings.

A cache of collaboration apps

Business users want different collaboration features, and many UCC providers are starting to offer more options, said Jim Lundy, CEO and lead analyst at Aragon Research. But how many features are too many?

It's not like one vendor wins it all. You're still going to have multiple platforms.
Jim LundyCEO and lead analyst at Aragon Research

Most enterprises today have three to seven different collaboration features, Lundy said, because they bought them from different vendors that are strong in voice, video or collaboration. But companies need to evaluate their cache of collaboration apps. If they have 10 different capabilities, for example, should they really only have five?

Additionally, many enterprises have a mix of legacy, on-premises systems and software-as-a-service deployments. With this assortment of technology, companies should have vendor commonalities among mission-critical services, such as customer support and corporate communications.

"Enterprises should look at the vendors that will allow them to have more capabilities in one platform," Lundy said. "It's not like one vendor wins it all. The reality is you're still going to have multiple platforms."

Mobility, messaging and modalities

A key shift in the UCC industry has vendors and customers looking toward video, messaging and mobility across multiple modalities, or endpoints, such as desktops, mobile devices and room-based screens. This integration of modalities for collaboration is in its early stages, the report found.

But enterprises should consider how internal and external collaboration features can be improved by offering end users a more seamless and integrated experience across modalities. Some stitched-together platforms might not offer seamless experiences among applications and endpoints, Lundy said.

One way UCC providers could upgrade their platforms is to invite integrations and partnerships with other vendors, which help enterprises customize their workflows. Platforms, by definition, should be open and allow for integrations via APIs and software development kits.

Many communication applications and platforms, for instance, integrate with Salesforce to help with customer relationship management. These integrations are fairly easy, Lundy said, and don't require an expert integrator.

"That's the new race," he said, "building ecosystems of partner apps that give the end user more capabilities than something that's just native out of the box. It gives customers choice and allows them to autoconfigure what they want to do."

The rise of the chatbots

While many unified communications and collaboration platforms offer similar features -- such as voice, video and messaging -- a newer trend and capability is emerging. Namely, intelligence features can help streamline collaboration workflows and automate scheduling and other tasks. 

Large vendors like Cisco and Microsoft have already been working on this capability. In addition, some voice codecs are "getting smarter" by eliminating white noise, said Jim Lundy, CEO and lead analyst at Aragon Research. Video conferencing intelligence can be seen in autofocusing cameras and the ability to move phone calls to video room systems.

Chatbots, another form of intelligence, are an extension of virtual assistants that can automate conversations, transactions and workflows. By the second half of this year, Lundy said, chatbots will fuel the demand to deploy messaging platforms, such as Microsoft Teams and Cisco Spark.

Some enterprises are starting to realize they need to deploy a messaging platform before they can deploy a chatbot. The enterprises, for example, want to automate help desk tickets and have a chatbot answer certain end-user questions.

"Will we get to a point where [intelligence] is a decision criteria?" Lundy said. "Where it's an intelligent UC and collaboration system, and not just a collection of features?"

'Fewer throats to choke'

The Aragon report, the first of its kind for the research firm, ranks 14 UCC providers as leaders, innovators, contenders or specialists based on their strategy, performance and reach. Some vendors in the report include Cisco, Microsoft, Google, Unify, RingCentral, BroadSoft and Fuze.

The report suggested looking at vendors' strengths and roadmaps to make sure those elements align with your goals. By completing this checklist, enterprises might realize that top-of-the-line apps no longer fit their needs. 

If enterprises consider vendor consolidation, the report suggested buyers should focus on providers that can deliver at least two or more UCC capabilities, which include voice, video conferencing, collaboration and mobile messaging.

By consolidating vendors, Lundy said, enterprises have "fewer throats to choke. And as a result, you should have a better user and customer experience."

Next Steps

Expect larger enterprises to consolidate on one vendor.

Collaboration trends are shaking up the UC market.

Artificial intelligence and messaging are top UCC trends.

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