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Unified communications is hardly a new concept -- think how long Jabber, Skype for Business and Avaya's UC solutions have been part of the business infrastructure -- but it is an evolving one. The shift is now on to UC 3.0 and its increased capacity to handle what's on the horizon. Given the established nature of enterprise communications, why are organizations positioning their UC offerings differently today and how can they facilitate the shift to next-generation platforms?
The case for using unified communications 3.0
Though business use cases are the primary trigger for most digital transformation initiatives, one of the key factors driving the deployment of UC 3.0 platforms is the desire to support a workforce that's undergoing a transformation of its own. We're seeing large employee segments working from home, with collaboration sessions increasingly bringing together people from many different regions.
Even employees with a desk in the company's primary location are more likely to require remote access -- they may need to connect from home, while traveling, at local industry events or while working at a customer's or business partner's jobsite. In addition, younger, digitally-savvy workers expect to leverage tools and functionalities that are already native to much of the consumer world, where seamless support across multiple device types and sleek interfaces are table stakes.
Improved integration capabilities are also prompting organizations to rethink their UC strategy. Companies have historically had to navigate a labyrinth of disparate systems -- especially in large enterprises, where the infrastructure is often sprawling and multigenerational -- and time was spent trying to bolt systems together into a working structure. The result was often an environment that was cumbersome and didn't help deliver a seamless experience to end users. Not surprisingly, adoption rates were low, and users typically interacted with the platforms just enough to get the job done.
Modern UC platforms are much more integration-friendly and can be deployed as part of a holistic infrastructure designed to meet businesses' evolving needs. But challenges exist in the transition to UC 3.0 and enterprises are grappling with how to move forward in a way that makes sense financially as well as operationally.
The money side of the discussion is a significant hurdle, even as technology costs continue to drop. Businesses have already made substantial investments in their existing solutions and telephony is no different. Cloud may have lower recurring costs, but concerns remain when it comes to addressing the technical debt lurking within legacy platforms.
IT departments can often present a better ROI case for the move to UC 3.0 by exploring where it's possible to offset some of those long-standing costs. Shifting to a different consumption model based on how the organization will use the new service or platform could cast a more favorable light on the financial picture. There may also be the option to transition net new sites as they come online, thereby avoiding an all-or-nothing approach to migration costs. Similarly, locations where hardware has depreciated enough to make the case to management may also be strong candidates for the move to UC 3.0.
Transitioning to UC 3.0 has its complications
The prospect of disrupting the real-time communication aspects of telephony as part of the migration to the cloud is also daunting. Planning is key to ensuring collaboration capabilities remain intact for the enterprise's staff, partners and customers while the infrastructure is reworked. Understanding what is most important in terms of functionality provides a good base to maintain the necessary services to avoid business impacts. Telephony may be a higher priority than instant messaging and presence, for example.
The right integration support among systems can also provide additional flexibility, allowing the company to fall back in the event the transition reveals bugs with the new solution. Because concerns about interruptions across core communication channels often prompt organizations to simply stay with what they have, a solid plan will give stakeholders confidence that near-term challenges don't need to stand in the way of positive change.
The shift toward work from home (WFH) brings its own set of complications. Businesses need to not only enable remote access to their UC platforms, they also need to manage the right blend of security tools to support and protect a multitude of connection points and device types. Enterprises that promote a remote workface must also ensure their environments comply with new federal, state and local E911 laws. Emergency calls need to be properly provisioned and delivered to the appropriate 911 call center along with detailed end-user location data. For companies without the sophisticated tools to accomplish these mandates, they may be putting WFH employees at risk as well as inviting potential litigation or regulatory action. In most cases, compliance will require the purchase of a third-party solution unless the existing telephony systems natively support the technology.
Another factor hampering the shift to newer voice solutions -- but one not often discussed openly -- is the political climate within companies that sometimes makes it difficult to get everyone on the same page. It starts with the silos that spring up when people in the IT group have built their careers around the technology from a single vendor. That bubble expands when base telephony functions haven't been part of the company's internal strategic discussions around communication. As legacy platforms rub elbows with other collaboration technologies, the silos remain and the direction of the UC plan at the enterprise level continues to be scattered across multiple systems.
Changing the conversation to support a more holistic perspective -- one where UC solutions are included on the list of technologies core to the company's operations -- is imperative. A years-old telephony system sitting on the IT network may no longer receive security patches from the manufacturer, for example, creating potential exposure points in an otherwise protected environment. When viewed under a broader lens, the value of such an upgrade goes far beyond user-facing features and instead serves to maintain the organization's overall security posture.
Evolving into a more cost-efficient and user-friendly UC 3.0 environment requires a cultural shift as well as the acknowledgement that the status quo doesn't provide enough horsepower to move organizations ahead. Simply remaining competitive will eventually mean a transition to collaboration platforms that deliver greater functionality and improved access. Everyone from business leadership teams to solution providers to end users will need to step back and rethink the approach so UC 3.0 solutions can be more effectively leveraged to support the company's needs in the years ahead.
About the author
Tony McQueen is the vice president, UC & Collaboration for Carousel Industries, a leading national IT, cloud and managed solutions provider. In this role, McQueen is the technical strategy lead for Carousel's Unified Communications practice. He is responsible for ensuring continuous and tight alignment with sales, marketing, and engineering teams focused on Carousel's customers while ensuring the delivery of strategic communications and collaboration solutions that solve their business needs. During his 20+ years in the UC industry, McQueen has served in a number of implementation, architect and technical leadership roles, allowing him to facilitate innovative and impactful ideas for internal team members and customers alike.