More and more businesses are starting to recognise the value of unified communications. Because of the benefits this technology offers, the global unified communications market is predicted to reach US$74.24 billion by 2023.
The truth is that unified communications can be complicated. It can propel your business success, but only if you deploy it correctly. Otherwise, you won’t achieve your target ROI.
The key is to design your unified communications system according to your processes, resources and employees. It would be best to analyse your organisation’s communication culture to understand how you can improve it through UC.
In our Beginners’ Guide to Unified Communications, we discussed the essential components of UC and its benefits. In this article, we’ll talk about how you can plan a successful transition to unified communications – including the essentials, what you need to consider and other factors you might need.
Before we dive into planning your transition, let’s first discuss how unified communications systems work. Unified communications describe the merging of communication services into one entity. This means that all your company’s communications will occur on a single interface instead of managing multiple channels and business applications.
To achieve multi-platform integration, UC systems are comprised of two key components: a back-end communication system and a user-facing platform.
Back-End Communication System
The back-end management systems facilitate the integration of your communication platforms. For instance, if you have a web conferencing application, you need an audio conferencing system and an Internet Protocol (IP) telephony platform on the back-end.
On the back end, a UC can include the following:
- On-premise, cloud-based or IP private branch exchange (PBX)
- Single- or multi-vendor UC platform or server
- Business communication gateways like VoIP gateways or Session Border Controllers
- Multi-point control unit, which is a video-conferencing device that allows three or more terminals to participate in a conference
- Project management and team management tools
- VoIP-enabled devices, including cameras, headsets, microphones and smartphones
User-Facing Technology Platform
The user-facing components of UC are the various communications platforms your company uses. You should be able to jump from one method of communication to another seamlessly, making conversations as smooth as possible. For example, you can start communicating with clients through emails, then switch to a video conference in just one click.
The communication applications you have, make up your communications stack. Your communications stack should accommodate all the channels your employees often use, as well as the touchpoints wherein consumers frequently interact with your brand.
A user-facing technology platform can include the following:
- Voice-based applications for voice calling, voice mail and audio conferencing
- Video services for desktop and room-based video conferencing
- Web conferencing services for interactive platforms and virtual meetings
- Collaboration platforms
- Real-time presence systems to enable instant messaging
- Text-based tools, such as live chat, email and SMS
- Social networking tools to enhance collaboration
- Personal assistant functions like calendars and scheduling
What to consider
Given the scope of unified communications, it can be challenging to decide how you’ll implement your UC system. Below, we’ve outlined a unified communications guide to everything you need to consider when making the transition.
UCaaS vs Setting up your own infrastructure
You can deploy a unified communications system and its components on a range of environments: on-premises, in a private or public cloud or a combination of all three. One popular UC solution among businesses is UCaaS or Unified Communications as a Service.
UCaaS is entirely cloud-based, which means it doesn’t require any hardware installation. The great thing about UCaaS is that it already has a cohesive technology stack, so you don’t have to worry about integrating your communications applications yourself.
Plus, your UCaaS provider operates and maintains the infrastructure. You only need to pay a subscription fee, and you’ll already enjoy a fully operational UC platform and all its applications and features.
Most UCaaS packages support these essential functions:
- Enterprise telephony
- Audio, video and web conferencing
- Unified messaging
- Presence and instant messaging
- Mobility capabilities for managing a remote workforce
- Communications-enabled business processes
You also have the choice of setting up your own UC infrastructure. You’ll need to shop for a unified communications platform – one that allows easy integrations with third-party applications.
There’s also an open-source project called WebRTC that enables RTC to be embedded into web browsers. WebRTC isn’t a UC platform, but it allows browsers and mobiles to communicate directly in real-time without providers or plug-ins.
Multi-Vendor vs Single-Vendor UC Environment
If you’re going for the UCaaS option, you have to decide whether you’re sticking with one provider or if you want to mix and match functionalities offered by multiple vendors. These two options have their pros and cons, so it all comes down to the communications capabilities your company needs.
Historically, single-vendor or full-stack UC environments have demonstrated the tightest integration and compatibility. Interoperability is an ongoing challenge among UC providers, which is one of the downsides of multi-vendor environments.
With a full-stack UC solution provider, you instantly access all the tools you need on a unified platform. You don’t have to worry about connecting and integrating the different components of your communications stack.
Plus, a full-stack UC vendor may be willing to give you bigger discounts if you’re purchasing a lot of their services at once.
However, the trouble with single-vendor environments is that it can be challenging to find a vendor that meets all your requirements. Even if they offer the functionalities you need, you might have preferences for specific programs. For instance, some UC vendors offer mostly Microsoft programs. This can be a problem if you’ve already built your processes around Cisco applications.
Opt for a multi-vendor UC environment if your priority is customisation. You can select the best products from a range of providers, so you won’t have to compromise on any aspect of your communications stack. It’ll be easier to combine the ideal call recording technology or the perfect video resolution if you’re not restricted to one provider.
Also, you’re free to add functionalities and components to your UC stack as your business needs evolve. You don’t have to wait for a full-stack UC provider to eventually offer the tools you need since you can get them elsewhere. This feature allows your business to grow at the pace you want.
The problem with a multi-vendor environment is that it requires more money, time and effort to deploy. You’ll need an experienced IT specialist to manage the infrastructure for you, which costs more money than paying a subscription fee to a full-stack UCaaS vendor.
You’ll also need more time and money to test different solutions and integrations as you figure out the best configuration for your team.
What you may need
Depending on how you chose to implement your unified communications system, you might need new software, new hardware, additional training for you and your staff or even a restructuring of responsibilities. It’s unlikely to be a case of ‘plug-and-play’, but it’s rarely a case of absolute change.
Regardless of what you choose, you have to dedicate time to staff training and learning. Lack of training is one of the biggest barriers to new technology adoption. Even if your UC provider offers technical support, your team needs time to get used to the new communication stack.
Make sure to provide your employees with time and tools to explore the new technology and familiarise themselves with the new functions. It also helps to assign specific roles to your employees when it comes to managing your UC platform.
TechTarget has identified that businesses who also give staff specific responsibilities in unified communications management are 17% more successful in integrating all communications on one platform. This could mean having one person responsible for file management and one for social platforms or sub-teams assigned to monitor such activity. This way, you will always have full control and a complete overview of your communications activities.
What you could discover
Most businesses encounter four main concerns when adopting a unified communications platform. The first is identifying business priorities – ‘do we need this?‘, ‘do we need this right NOW?‘, ‘Is it worth the upheaval?‘
Second is the platform’s impact upon employees – ‘will they be able to adopt this new technology?‘, ‘Are they not already working to a high standard?‘
Whatever your immediate answers are to these questions, your priorities will likely change over time. Soon, your business will need space and resources to grow, which can be difficult if your communications strategy limits you.
More and more businesses are also recognising the headline and secondary benefits of unified communications, convincing them to make the transition. You don’t want to be the last to adapt. Otherwise, it’ll be challenging to outperform competitors who are more technologically advanced than you.
The other regulatory barriers businesses regularly face are getting suitable systems in place, which can be expensive. However, the issue is easy to resolve since most mobile technologies, up-to-date computers and many desktop phones are already compatible with cloud-based technology.
There’s also the fact that remote working is here to stay. Fast Company predicts that “remote tools will become standard, even among non-remote staff.” This means that instant messaging, video calling and emails will replace even walking across the office to ask questions.
Fundamentally, this is because people communicate this way when they’re out of work, too. Aside from that, the coronavirus pandemic led workers to realise that they prefer a hybrid remote-office model. With that, businesses will be able to maximise their human resources if they mobilise a remote workforce.
Given the pace of digital transformation in the workplace, it’s only a matter of time before unified communications becomes a staple for most businesses. As it becomes the communication method of choice for many companies, experts predict that even work traditionally relying on face-to-face interaction will be adapted.
Luckily, unified communications is flexible enough to let you adapt to it at your own pace. The key is to find the right UC platform and the ideal vendor to help you successfully make the transition.
Enhance your company’s connectivity with Gamma
Gamma is a leading provider of UCaaS in the UK business market. Our cloud-based UC solution, Horizon Collaborate, satisfies all your internal and external communications through a range of functionalities and features.
Horizon Collaborate is the ideal solution for remote work arrangements and in-office functions with mobile and desktop capabilities, ensuring business continuity. Horizon Collaborate is easy to implement and personalise, with minimal hardware requirements to make your transition to UC as smooth as possible.
Our products and services are available in flexible purchasing options, matching the varying needs of every business.
If you want to learn more about how unified communications systems work, visit the Gamma blog. Give us a call today on 0333 014 0000 to discuss how Horizon Collaborate can give your business the unified communications edge you’re looking for.