The next era of unified communications

The unified comms industry is struggling to find a balance between meeting rapidly changing user needs and having solutions from vendors that don’t quite fit together

 The next era of unified communications

‘Maintaining a hybrid unified comms environment, with a mesh of cloud and on-premise solutions, as well as multiple vendors, can be tricky’

 

Like most of the technological solutions businesses use every day, unified communications tools are relatively new. While the industry has been trying to perfect itself, its users’ habits are changing in the blink of an eye.

It’s no secret that remote working, the rise of the gig economy, and constant instant gratification has changed the way we think about and interact with technology, both in and out of the office. Official figures by the TUC has found that the number of people working from home increased by a fifth between 2006-2016 to reach a record 1.5m. Work has now become something people do rather than a place they go.

The unified communications industry has been attempting to keep pace with this change. But it’s not just our commuting habits that are changing – it’s the devices and systems we work on, too. Some company-owned devices, such as mobiles and laptops, are regularly upgraded, while others, including desk phones and desktop computers, are left behind.

This combination of new and old operating systems and people working from trains, cafes and offices in different countries means that, as well as user experience, unified communications solutions now need to have in-built security, too. It’s important to consider that people may be connected to less secure public wifi and could be sending and accessing sensitive corporate data on these networks, and choose UC platforms accordingly.

>See also: How to consolidate business priorities through unified communications

And it’s not just this – companies also need to consider how people will use these tools not just in isolation, but as part of a team. Increasingly popular agile ways of working require continuous feedback, and unified comms solutions need to facilitate this. Tools that enable real-time collaboration, editing and sharing aren’t just a bonus – they have become a necessity.

When all of these factors are considered, it seems as if the unified communications industry has plenty of problems to be dealing with.

The solution is to stop viewing all of these problems in isolation. Businesses don’t need another solution to link up their phones, when its conference call capabilities don’t connect to its video conferencing system. What they do need are solutions that slot easily alongside existing business systems that employees are used to using every day.

Maintaining a hybrid unified comms environment, with a mesh of cloud and on-premise solutions, as well as multiple vendors, can be tricky. A lot of internal resources are required to clarify what each provider contributes and how the pieces overlap and work together as a whole. Sometimes, the pieces simply don’t fit. A recent survey of UK and US SMBs found that only 10% of small and medium-sized businesses are using unified comms solutions. Arguably, the difficulty in ‘unifying’ unified communications is what prevents businesses from taking advantage of it.

However, installing a range of hardware can be extremely expensive, and also prevent business agility, as companies can’t scale their technology up when they need to. We are likely to see a move away from on-premise solutions and a move towards cloud-based solutions with minimal hardware and an open-API. This not only allows businesses to easily implement UC solutions alongside existing business sytems, but they can also upgrade these business systems with minimal disruption if they need to.

This scalability is incredibly important. Businesses are always looking for ways to communicate and collaborate more effectively and may not know about the resources they will need to do this in five or ten years’ time. It’s possible that organisations will require additional platforms that could require more data use, and often, on-premise solutions can’t accommodate this. Cloud-based platforms are significantly more flexible and can give organisations the ability to upgrade their technology if the need arises.

>See also: Top 5 collaboration and communication predictions for 2017

With installation and future flexibility covered, another important aspect to consider is usability. End-users have become accustomed to all of their needs being available at the click of a button, whether that’s a personal app, text or Google search. When workplace technology lags behind this, it can be incredibly frustrating. User experience needs to be at the heart of any unified communications solution, and switching between different platforms should feel seamless. Ideally, solutions should also enable users to communicate and collaborate in real-time, and should be available on mobiles as well as desk phones.

Security and disaster recovery also need to be carefully considered. Remote working can bring a whole host of security concerns, and solutions should be monitored consistently by a dedicated team to ensure that any problems, such as downloading a suspicious email attachment on a company-owned device, can be prevented.

It’s clear that the next era of the unified communications industry needs to focus on the user. Adapting to changing user habits, enabling business agility, providing a seamless experience and powering communication across platforms are all becoming increasingly important. When it comes to the unified communications industry, providers need to evolve to survive.

 

Sourced from Matt Johnson, CTO, Intercity Technology

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