UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) offer a holistic suite of communication tools but the 3 main components of UCaaS are typically identified as voice calls, messaging and conferences.
Voice calls cover everything related to voice calls, such as voicemail, call transfers, holding calls, three-way calls, and more. These were traditionally covered by telephony technology but this has since fallen out of favour due to being more inflexible than newer alternatives, such as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). VoIP instead transfer voice calls as data over the Internet - this makes them much cheaper than traditional telephony calls and makes calls accessible to software, so tools can be built around them.
Messaging includes technologies such as emails and instant messaging platforms. These are nothing new, but traditional email servers may store data on a particular network that requires physical access, such as an office’s local area network. UCaaS systems typically use cloud technology to make all of their services accessible from anywhere in the world. This is particularly popular in a post-COVID world, where hybrid and remote working is much more common. Being able to quickly and easily message colleagues from anywhere at any time helps to maintain smooth communication lines in work environments where colleagues may be spread across multiple locations and time zones.
The post-COVID world has also made video conferences much more common. No longer do conferences or meetings require all participants to be in the same location - web conferencing technology allows for potentially hundreds of people to connect to the same video conference from anywhere with an Internet connection. In addition to providing a video feed, participants can also share their screen with everyone, make annotations, and generally provide a much more flexible and visual approach to conference calls.
Unified communications (UC) and UCaaS are very similar concepts and offer a lot of the same functionality. The main difference between the two is their technical infrastructure - in UCaaS, all UC tools are provided ‘as a service’. This is just a particular implementation of the larger concept of SaaS (software as a service). What this means is that not only the tools are provided, but also the networking infrastructure. Rather than have to deal with the hardware and networking associated with UC tools, all of this is taken care of for you and provided as a service.
UCaaS (and other SaaS tools) are typically deployed in the cloud. This means that, rather than living on a particular physical server, they are distributed over many servers, often across the globe. They take advantage of large data centres for data storage and processing, which is often duplicated across servers in order to provide data using the closest physical server to the user wherever they are in the world. This helps to reduce latency and prevent lag, particularly for data-heavy communication tools like video conferences.
UCaaS is a lot more broad and far-reaching in terms of the communication tools it provides compared to VoIP. VoIP, as the name suggests, handles voice communication, such as telephone calls, conference calls, and other types of audio communication. UCaaS, by contrast, is a lot more holistic in its approach to communication - everything from voice chats to emails, instant messages, video conferences, and more fall under UCaaS.
VoIP is utilised by UCaaS as part of the services that it provides, so VoIP can be thought of as simply a subset of tools and services that are part of a wider package with UCaaS. Depending on your organisation’s needs, you may not need the additional tools that UCaaS services offer. In this case, VoIP may be sufficient, but in most cases, UCaaS offers more variety and flexibility in communication tools than VoIP by itself.
Yes, UCaaS is a set of communication tools provided as a service. SaaS models have become extremely popular within recent decades and for good reason. All of the maintenance associated with keeping the software up-to-date and the networking infrastructure required to provide the services is taken care of by the SaaS platform. Most of these provide subscription plans, so all that you have to do to make use of these services is to pay a monthly fee. Installation and onboarding are typically quick and easy and, since these services are most often provided as software in the cloud, they can be made accessible from virtually anywhere in the world at all times of the day and year.
Since these communication tools are provided as software, it’s also very easy to extend them and include them in other tools used throughout your business. Files and documents can easily be shared with others, videos and graphic media can be embedded directly inside messaging channels, and plenty more.
API endpoints are typically provided so that tools like IFTTT can be used to plug into other services as part of automated workflows. For example, incoming emails can be automatically responded to and routed to the most appropriate team member or department. Another example is adding a new team member, which can be configured to automatically trigger a welcome workflow that provides a consistent and automated onboarding experience.
Popular examples of unified communication tools include Microsoft Teams and Slack. These are services that offer multiple tools for communication - from instant messaging, chatrooms and emails to voice calls, video calls and conference calls. Each person has an account and can be granted access to particular channels or groups as required. The platform takes care of providing access to all the necessary tools, which means that no special hardware is required. Anyone with a laptop, webcam, and microphone can take part. There’s no requisitioning hardware like a phone for each new team member and no special configuration or support by the company providing the services is needed for adding new members.