Key Considerations for Enterprise Unified Communications
With such a variety of unified communications (UC) services now available, enterprise IT managers and telecom directors need to consider a whole host of factors to choose the best option. Let's take a look first at what unified communications can do for your enterprise, and then consider some of the key decision points you may need to address when selecting a UC system or provider.
Starting with the Basics
Unified communications technology enables users to communicate in either real time or non-real time, switching seamlessly from one form of communications to another -- for example, sending an instant message to someone who just left a voicemail. Systems for unified communications also enable users to collaborate more easily across an organization, from department to department, and from one location to multiple others.
Enabled by both the Internet and the cloud, today's UC systems can integrate numerous communication services -- everything from phone calls and voicemail to e-mail, instant messaging and video conferencing -- all via a single network.
A Growing, Evolving Market
Once limited to on-site PBX telephony systems, businesses today have more choices than ever when looking to update their phones and communication services. In a recent report on the UC market, Infonetics analyst Diane Myers noted that the market for UC cloud services is continuing to grow, as businesses worldwide seek out hosted alternatives to their traditional phone systems.
Infonetics predicts that the global cloud-based PBX and UC market will reach $12 billion by 2018. With UC services increasingly available either through on-site deployment or hosting in the cloud, businesses need to consider a variety of factors before deciding which route is best for them.
Consider the Costs
When looking at the costs to upgrade or install a new UC system, one important consideration that UC provider ShoreTel suggests is whether you prefer to treat IT as a capital expense or an operational one.
On-premises UC systems are generally less expensive over the long term, but require large upfront investments in software, phones and other hardware. In-house systems also have ongoing operational costs for administration to consider.
Hosted UC, on the other hand, offers a pay-as-you-go option that makes it easier for organizations to scale up or down when needed, without making a large investment when growth is needed.
Security and Compliance
If maintaining total control over your systems is important, for security or other reasons, an on-premises phone system may be preferable. This consideration can be particularly important for stringently-monitored organizations involved with healthcare, finance or in other industries where sensitive information needs the best protection possible.
Which UC Capabilities Are Needed
This is an important question, though the answer won't necessarily restrict you to either an on-premises or cloud service. In the past, on-premise systems usually offered more features and flexibility than cloud UC services could provide. But cloud services have caught up and now include a full range of services for voice, instant messaging, web conferencing, video chat, mobility and presence information.
Quick or Temporary Deployment
If time is of the essence, a cloud UC solution may be the quickest way to get your unified communications system up and running. The UC cloud provider can handle initial configuration and eliminate the delays of installing on-site servers and storage.
Integrating UC with Enterprise Apps
If you want to integrate your communication system with your CRM (customer relationship management) or accounting system, perhaps for making sales calls or billing purposes, these are important considerations that could help determine which system will be best for your organization. While cloud UC systems are starting to offer more integration, an on-premise system may still be preferable if extensive customization is needed.
Ease of Use
If you're looking for simplicity, a cloud-based UC system may be the way to go. It leaves more of the maintenance and technical management to the pros at your UC service provider, taking the burden off your in-house team. Outsourcing to the experts can provide significant savings in terms of manpower as well as financial resources.
If you need flexibility to scale up your system instantaneously during peak periods, for example at call centers during the holidays, a cloud UC service can be a flexible solution. The UC service provider can usually just turn on or off the additional services, as needed -- so that you're not overpaying for equipment and service when business is slower.
Remote Workers and BYOD
Another important consideration for many enterprises today is finding a system that can flexibly and securely accommodate employees and associates who bring their own devices (BYOD), as well as those who work partially or entirely outside the office. The nature of today's mobile workforce makes it essential to find the right tools for enabling seamless communication across the enterprise.
A Hybrid UC Approach
Many organizations are finding that a hybrid UC solution is best -- for example, using an on-premises server to support IP phones, but also using a cloud provider for additional UC services, such as web conferencing and mobile device management (MDM).
ShoreTel points out that, "many organizations are taking their first step into the cloud with a hybrid approach, using their current IP PBX for existing UC functionality, but then providing new services or provisioning new locations with a cloud service."
Using a hybrid-cloud architecture can give you the benefits of a cloud-based service, but with the inherent reliability, scalability, and quality of service (QoS) that has long been the mainstay of a premises-based UC solution.
Ultimately, the key to success with unified communications is taking the time to assess the needs of your users, being able to predict how those needs may change over the next two to five years, and then working with a UC provider who can provide the features and flexibility, as well as the scalability and security you'll need.
Posted: 2015-02-03 @ 1:44am PT
Great article. And you definitely need to know your audience with UCs. That's why I think what Matrix.org is doing is so new unique. With the protocols they are designing, it allows you to host your own real time communication service which can be used for pretty much anything -- messaging, IoT or VoIP. They've also made it open source and interoperable so that others can integrate with it or build on top of it. They've picked up where Xmpp left of and are definitely going to influence Unified Communications in the future.