Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The evolution of unified communications in 2021

Digital transformation has accelerated in recent times, as millions of organizations have had to support remote operations, now joined by the need to develop hybrid working models. Unified communications (UC) is a vital part of digital transformation’s foundations and is the glue that brings together all the various elements into one interconnected environment.

In today’s increasingly distributed working world, that means using the cloud to support unified communications, hence the rise of Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS).

UCaaS represents a significant opportunity for the telecom industry to help businesses of all kinds transit towards complete digital transformation. Plus, there are multiple deployment models to suit different types of service providers: build-your-own, take someone else’s solution and customize with APIs, or use someone else’s hosted UCaaS platform, even brand it as the service provider’s own.

In turn, these options open the door for more organizations — for instance, ICT resellers — to become telecom service providers without the need to invest in their own development, nor requiring extensive in-house expertise. Also, existing service providers can choose to use UCaaS as part of their evolution, and again, without the financial and development overheads.

Business opportunities

Instead, service providers can focus where they can add the most value: addressing customer requirements, safe in the knowledge that — in theory — the platform provider is looking after technical requirements in the background and rolling out new features as they come available.

Similarly, UCaaS opens up potential for smaller businesses to embrace UC, which would be extremely difficult to achieve without the cloud.

UCaaS has multiple advantages for a business customer when executed well, combining numerous communication channels — such as voice, video messaging, chat — integrated with and accessible via various systems, apps, devices, and networks.

The result is a single digital environment where employees have everything they require to connect, work, and collaborate with colleagues and customers. In this modernized work environment, people become the focal point of ICT.

Their experience is determined by their preferences, not dictated by devices, apps, networks, or locations, with all the business tools they require wherever. 

UCaaS in Action

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the advantages of UCaaS is with some example scenarios; for instance, a team could have a brainstorming session involving both in-person and remote employees. In addition to virtual digital whiteboards, the session could also be linked to task-tracking and content-review apps to capture and build action into work processes.

A salesperson could be having an online chat with a customer, then transferring it to a desktop-based meeting, and adding a colleague who has additional expertise. Then the salesperson realizes they are running late for another appointment, so they transfer the whole conversation to a smartphone without any break in the meeting.

A customer could use click-to-chat and initially be asked a few questions by an AI-enabled chatbot. If it becomes apparent that the customer needs to speak to a live agent, the bot can intelligently connect the chat to a voice or even video conversation.

7 steps towards successful UCaaS

The theory is one thing, effective deployment is another, and some critical elements contribute towards successful UCaaS. For instance, while off-the-shelf UCaaS solutions have a significant role to play, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach to the market. So UCaaS needs to be both ready-to-go and customizable to suit each service provider and its customers.

  • Integrations

In addition, simple integrations with popular business apps are essential, plus open APIs to support further integrations as required. UCaaS should also work with CRMs, ERPs, and other systems people use daily to communicate and collaborate both internally and externally, including vertical market or job-specific tools.

For example, UCaaS may need to connect to back-office systems for payment records and other information in a contact center environment.

  • Flexibility

Flexibility is everything. Users should be able to launch a voice or video call from multiple starting points, such as a calendar, the last email exchange with someone, from an online chat, contact list, or CRM.

In an ideal world, staff should be able to set their presence and availability flexibly and quickly during the working day while seeing colleagues’ status in real-time, with options to reroute incoming communications to someone else automatically.

  • Mobility

With people using their smartphones increasingly for business, even when in the office, ensuring these devices are fully integrated with UC is vital. Depending on the customer’s circumstances, that may need to include both VOIP and GSM mode for smartphones and DECT phones, ultra-portable laptops, and tablets.

In a truly integrated environment, a mobile device should also be connected to a variety of different apps, plus mobile numbers integration within UC and other systems, such as CRMs. This approach delivers flexibility and efficiently, plus visibility of the workforce for business owners.

  • UCaaS and CCaaS

In many markets, service excellence is fast becoming a competitive differentiator. While many SMBs may not need or can afford a contact center or have dedicated customer-facing staff, they still need the means to provide high-quality customer services.

So, a big direction in the UCaaS industry is blending with Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS), with contact center features embedded as part of UCaaS solutions. Now, even the smallest of businesses can benefit from better organizational-wide visibility and the ability to deliver service excellence with minimal impact on employees and without needing dedicated customer service personnel.

  • Omnichannel

Much of the telecom market is still very telephony-centric, but as we all know, the reality is that users are increasingly using other channels to communicate with businesses, including social media channels and apps. So, UCaaS that is focused on customer service, must supply multiple channels.

  • Freedom

There is a trend in parts of the UCaaS market towards an agency model, but I  argue that this brings dangers for the service provider because they are handing over their relationship with their customers to the vendor. In my view, ownership of the customer must stay with the telecom reseller or service provider to retain control. Also, avoid restrictions such as a vendor prohibiting that a service provider takes on competitive products. In this fast-paced market, organizations need all the flexibility they can get to react to change.

  • Branding

Similarly, many service providers want to be able to promote their solutions and services under their own brand and after all, many customers are not going to care who is providing the technology: they just want to know it works. Therefore, the UC platform needs to offer a range of white-labelling options.

UCaaS continues to develop rapidly, with innovations being introduced all the time. For example, new AI capabilities open up more ingenious ways to engage with customers within a UCaaS environment.

What the world has seen from UCaaS is just the beginning, so watch this space. In the meantime, UCaaS can help telecom resellers, and service providers generate new revenue, explore new market directions, and help their customers achieve digital transformation.