As the pace of business accelerates and the demand for boundary-less IT support intensifies, IT teams are challenged to make critical decisions regarding business communications. However, it’s often difficult to gain clarity when sorting through all the claims and promises being made in relation to Unified Communications (UC) solutions.
The truth is, thanks in large part to the cloud, UC is inherently a set of technologies in constant transition. What will tomorrow’s applications will look like? It may be difficult to strike an appropriate balance between capex and opex, on-prem and cloud, what’s core and what’s peripheral.
Recognizing these uncertainties, you’ll have to decide the right path for your organization. How will you preserve your options? How will you prepare your communications infrastructure for the future? And how will you maximize the business impact of your UC investments?
Along with answering these questions, you’ll have to determine what type of partner can provide the guidance and support you require. You’ll be approached by product vendors and systems integrators, each offering their own complicated path to UC implementation. Be sure to evaluate providers and services for flexibility and integrations and take careful consideration of proprietary solutions that lock-in and have enormous upfront investments.
4 COMPONENTS OF UNIFIED COMMUNICATIONS
The concept of UC has changed considerably over the years. Historically there are four key components that collectively contribute to the UC concept.
1. Conferencing and Collaboration
enabling stakeholders throughout and beyond your organization to actively communicate and collaborate, make decisions and take action.
2. IP Voice and Telephony
Providing foundational infrastructure for voice communications and related apps based on the IP protocol.
3. Networking and Network Management
Establishing control over network infrastructure and endpoints to ensure robust, seamless and secure communications.
4. Messaging and Presence
Facilitating discrete, electronic interactions through email, SMS, chat, IM and other technologies as well as applications, making it possible to locate and identify a computing device as soon as the user connects to the network.
Together these four factors make up a UC framework, and increasingly contact center solutions and immersive team collaboration are being included in the scope of UC.
While enterprises have generally taken steps in relation to each one of the four key components that contribute to UC, perpetual innovation requires IT and business decision-makers to continuously reexamine their options on all fronts.
IT leaders are challenged to make sense investments in communications infrastructure and applications. It’s clearly a lot to consider — and there’s a lot at stake. As competition intensifies and stakeholders become increasingly demanding, you’ll have to determine the most strategic path for your organization.
TWO PATHS TO THE WRONG DESTINATION
You face a full spectrum of needs and challenges with respect to unified communications. And there’s no shortage of parties knocking on your door and offering to solve your problems. The two types of entities most actively promoting UC solutions these days are product providers and systems integrators. But it’s worth considering the strengths and weaknesses of these types of players when it comes to fulfilling your UC objectives:
These are the hardware and software product vendors that tout their suites or platforms as integrated solutions to UC problems. Strengths? Product providers can be useful when your requirements are narrow and focused. These vendors, after all, tend to be specialists in certain components within the overall UC framework.
Weaknesses? Product providers do not provide a complete suite of capabilities to address the full spectrum of UC needs. They are unable to give you the best-of-breed in every category. In fact, they are financially incentivised to promote suboptimal product offerings in areas where they do not excel.
It's worth considering both the strengths and weaknesses of UC players when it comes to fulfilling your UC objectives.
It simply doesn’t make sense to directly engage a product vendor if you are considering a more holistic, integrated and future-proofed UC solution to support your roadmap. The vendor will attempt to lock you in to their own proprietary roadmap, not yours.
These are consulting companies that specialize in either implementing on-premises systems, maintaining systems as a managed service provider or both.
Strengths? Unlike product vendors, systems integrators tend to have an independent perspective in relation to products. They can help you identify, implement and integrate best-of-breed technology in all areas of the UC framework. Such approaches can make sense when the technology is highly customized to your specific needs.
Weaknesses? Typical systems integrators either leave you to run your own systems or they lock you into a managed service plan. The problem with the on-prem solution is that you must continue to keep up with rapid changes in technology, not to mention the hard-to-find talent necessary to maintain it. The challenge with managed services is you are stuck with a huge upfront investment in order to get access to advanced technology. Systems integrators either walk away when they are done implementing or force you to trust them as they take control of your infrastructure with an expensive managed services contract.
Such approaches fall short in terms of preserving your option value and protecting you from technological obsolescence. At a time of dynamic and disruptive innovation, you may get locked into proprietary and suboptimal technology. Or you may surrender precious capital. Ultimately, you risk losing access to the most advanced infrastructure and services available to you. You surrender your options and become vulnerable to an onrushing future of continuous change.
One Way to Preserve Your Options: The Cloud-Enabled Solution
To ensure you are preserving your option value, you’ll want to carefully consider a third path to UC: the cloud-enabled solution. You’ll want a service provider that is fully committed to best-of-breed technology as opposed to proprietary lock-in. And you’ll want a partner that can provide UC as a cloud-enabled service — enabling you to shift from capex to opex investment as appropriate. But not every communication demand is necessarily met with a cloud-based solution. With that in mind, you’ll need a service provider that can support you across a spectrum of scenarios ranging from on-premises support to managed services to advanced, cloud offerings. With a solid track record, your partner should demonstrate:
- Commitment to best-of-breed technology on all levels.
- Operational excellence in terms of service provision.
- Flexibility in terms of capex and opex investment options.
These are the factors that matter most as you consider your short-, medium- and long-term options. You need flexibility and freedom to most effectively match advanced products and solutions to your business communications roadmap.
Cloud-enabled service providers enable you to focus on the activities that strategically differentiate you as an enterprise.
Cloud-enabled service providers enable you to focus on the activities that strategically differentiate you as an enterprise. But they also recognize and address the constantly transforming nature of technology. In other words, you’ll want to preserve the option to purchase a growing number of services on-demand — consuming them just-in-time as opposed to just-in-case.
Leading Enterprises Adopt Cloud-based Solutions
Consider some of the companies that have embraced this approach. Among them: Scott’s Miracle-Gro; Berkely Research Group, and St. Elizabeth Physicians.
With more than 60 geographically dispersed sites, Scotts Miracle-Gro realized it needed an advanced platform enabling its people to communicate and collaborate in more productive ways.
With that in mind, executive decision-makers committed to a cloud-based solution addressing several facets of the UC framework.
The solution, which includes West’s VoiceMaxx CE platform for voice, messaging, mobility and a full spectrum of communications capabilities, enable the company to bring rich communications to both its in-house and remote workers at all locations. Other solutions deployed include the Maxxis MPLS network, Cloud Contact for contact center capabilities and MaxxConnect SIP trunking. Relying on West for platform management and support, IT leaders at Scott’s Miracle-Gro can turn their attention to the strategic business factors that set the company apart and drive growth.
Such capabilities not only enable effective meetings within the company, they help it actively engage farmers and other agricultural professionals around the planet. With implementation and hosting support from West, the company has even taken active steps to ensure it can richly communicate with customers in fast-growing regions, including parts of Asia and Africa, that have limited telecom infrastructure and challenging tariff policies.
Berkeley Research Group relies on VoiceMaxx CE to united their global network of consultants, colleagues and clients, who are located around the world.
According to Berkeley’s CIO:
“The future of IT management is truly to fuel the business. We’ve experienced about a 20% growth in the last 18 months. Technology is a key part of that. It enables the business to expand but also to focus on the clients.”
With over 100 locations and a small IT team, St. Elizabeth Physicians struggled to keep up with rapid business growth from mergers and acquisitions. With West, the organization has been able to reap the benefits of the cloud:
- Reduced extraneous expenditures – According to their CIO, “We were able to go to every office we had and get rid of a whole bunch of phone lines, including PRIs and trunking lines. This also got rid of a lot of costs.”
- Better reporting and monitoring – “We collected satisfaction stats from customers before and after the installation. With system in place and support from West, it was interesting to note that once we had all the offices up we saw dramatic changes in these statistics – specifically in the areas of average patient wait times, abandoned calls and overall patient satisfaction. We’ve been continuing to monitor these statistics and the trend hasn’t gone down yet.”
- Disaster recovery – “We’re also able to utilize resources outside of our office. We began to put together plans for disaster recovery. With West we were able to partner up primary offices so if we did have a fiber cut or lost service to a primary office, we weren’t going to lose that call. We can quickly contact West, have those calls routed to a partner office and within minutes the calls can start being diverted.”
TAKING ACTION WITH THE END IN MIND
So what should you expect from a world-class, cloud-enabled service provider? Here are three key criteria to consider:
1. Focus on outcomes, not technology.
While communications technology is an essential enabler of performance, it’s clear that your performance as a business should come first. Look for a service provider that can lock on to your key business objectives and ensure the solutions they prescribe can help you meet them.
That means you’ll need reliable guidance to assess your existing environment, provide relevant options and help you migrate to new platforms and integrate new applications. To deliver top performance, your service provider should understand how to augment and enhance your business processes through UC.
2. Expect a service orientation, not a product orientation. To obtain the full return on your communications investments, you’ll want to ensure your partner is committed to integrating, maintaining and perpetually upgrading your platforms and applications. You don’t want a one-way vendor relationship that leads to proprietary lock-in. You want a service provider that consistently delivers top service levels and can pull together the full mix of advanced solutions.
3. Solution support for UC across all implementation scenarios. Enterprises often face a range of scenarios in terms of implementing unified communications. In some cases, you may choose to stick with an on-premises solution, particularly when security or customization are key issues. Or you may choose a managed service for certain applications. And in still other cases, you may shift to the cloud. In terms of UC, you will be well served to rely on a partner that can provide guidance and support you in all such scenarios. That will help you maximize the performance impact of your UC solution.
Your decisions with respect to investment and partnering must start with the end in mind.
As an IT leader, you have to ensure your investments have a strategic impact. To do so, you’ll want to ensure your UC solutions are enabling you to drive growth and competitively differentiate your company — whether they are on-premises or in the cloud. Your decisions with respect to investment and partnering must start with the end in mind.
CONCLUSION: CAPITALIZING ON UNIFIED COMMUNICATIONS
Enterprises are now realizing they need an alternative to proprietary lock-in and expensive managed services contracts. They’ve discovered they need a new kind of solution support if they are to preserve their option value and invest in their communications platforms for the long-term.
As you consider your options, you’ll want to compare product vendors, systems integrators and cloud-enabled service providers. But conduct this activity with a keen eye toward which option will help you best capitalize on UC.
Keep in mind that cloud-enabled service providers bring a laser focus on those activities that strategically differentiate you as an enterprise – and help you wade through the thicket of an ever-changing technology landscape from a business perspective. The intersection of networks, technology and applications is a complex one. Look for a partner that understands those complexities and can help you move your business forward.