Partly because of its emergence from telecoms, unified communications has had a slightly troubled childhood. Bertrand Pourcelot from Centile Telecom Applications thinks that UCs' time has come, and explains what this means in practice
Unified communications (UC) has been a talking point for years and en route it has encountered a number of false dawns, but now it has reached a critical point in its evolution, with accelerated adoption gaining real momentum. A report published in May 2018 by Grand View Research Inc. predicts that the global UC market will reach 143.49 billion US dollars by 2024.
There are a few reasons behind the current expansion of the UC market. With European providers, including BT, planning to switch off ISDN lines over the next few years, organisations will have to find alternatives, so it makes sense to consider how to enhance the performance of telecom services, as well as the replacement of the outgoing technology. Simultaneously, cloud-based UC technology has developed rapidly, including the ability to rent hosted UC platforms which neatly swerves substantial capital investments. Where they exist, SIP trunking relationships and API enabled integrations between diverse cloud-based applications, such as CRM, communication-enabled business processes (CEBP) and automatic transcript of recorded audio calls to text, can be ported across.
This makes it easier for suppliers to become UC service providers, in turn offering more market choice as they seek to differentiate themselves with more customised packages that target the budgets and needs of smaller businesses, and not just large enterprises. One such example might be services aimed at vertical markets. Providers could offer education sector customers reduced charges outside term-time, or in the hospitality market, pay-per-use based on guest numbers. SMBs that have international requirements can give remote employees the same access to team UC services as though they were in the office.
There is also the ability to put mobility at the centre of communications. Cloud-based mobile UC can fit around the user's preferences, location and status, instead of being driven by devices, networks and applications. Also, telecoms and IT finally become more integrated, rather than operating as separate silo based entities. This of course brings us back to what UC should be about: the bringing together of a variety of communications and information sources, in real-time. For instance, the conference call that starts in the car switches to the enterprise WiFi as the employee walks into the office, without interruption.
So, what should businesses consider when shopping for UC? Solid integrations and open APIs are essential to ensure that UC fits in properly to an organisation's existing IT setup. Whether provided by the UC platform provider or a third party, it is essential to understand who is responsible for security, especially in the cloud, how often the technology will be refreshed with new features, and how easily and quickly it can scale to support new users.
Pricing should be predictable and transparent, without any hidden costs, such as maintenance. Flexibility is important, for instance the accommodation of fluctuating usage. The service should be tailored to make access to UC services very simple, without multiple login requirements and ideally one-touch. Obviously, the system should be intuitive, requiring little or no training.
Finally, consider handset strategy. Will BYOD need to be integrated, and what about softphones? While one device for everything is possible, most users will likely carry on having more than one phone, and in our experience sales of desktop handsets remains steady.
It is important to ensure that the mix of services being offered is tailored to the organisation and its users. With modern UC technology this is not only feasible but should emerge as standard practice. The technology to be innovative exists, the market choice is expanding, and with the ISDN switch-off imminent, the interest around UC should continue at its current pace. NC