A range of communications services fall under the umbrella of unified communications. Yet, implementations of UC tools can vary greatly from one organization to the next. Thus, choosing the right UC platform for your needs can be a challenge.
Before picking a platform, the need for UC must be apparent. Traditionally speaking, most businesses consider the telephone to be the most important communications tool a business can provide. However, you'll likely find an increasing number of situations where other forms of communication would be more efficient, would be easier to manage or could create better overall UX. This is especially true considering recent trends toward mobile and remote workforces. In many situations, telephone calls are no longer the best option. That's where more modern UC tools, such as video conferencing, team chat, file sharing and web conferencing, come into play from a user productivity perspective.
1. Improve existing processes
To properly understand how UC can benefit an organization, the decision-making mindset must go beyond traditional phone calls to the broader spectrum of business communications. Unified communications implementation benefits, or blunders, become clear when assessing how well employees are using all these communication applications. Thus, companies should take care to ensure their employees have the right UC tools.
UC becomes a strategic decision because it can address communications issues in new ways by delivering an integrated platform where all these applications are in use in a common -- or unified -- environment. UC enables companies to use communications tools concurrently and interchangeably, creating multichannel sessions so employees can collaborate more effectively. Furthermore, UC delivers consistent UX, meaning employees can work the same way, regardless of the endpoint, OS, location or network used to access the platform. If business leadership believes its current approach to managing communications is limiting both individual and operational performance, then it needs UC. Modern UC tools provide a richer communications experience.
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Since UC is a service-centric tool, conventional ROI metrics, Capex and Opex are not appropriate for supporting a buying decision. This is especially true in the case of UC as a service (UCaaS). Metrics do exist to monitor productivity -- and this is standard for contact centers -- but they are not widely used in the workplace. And this has always been a challenge for UC. Vendors do offer versions of these metrics, but they can be difficult to compare accurately. So, businesses need to look beyond the numbers for decision-making criteria.
2. Increase employee productivity
This is where UC has the greatest impact, since all employees use communications applications. For internal communication, presence is the key catalyst, since it enables employees to see the status of co-workers in real time. Status can include information such as their location, whether they're on a call and whether or not they're able to communicate at any given time. Not only does this technology cut down on wasted time, but by knowing which modes and team members are available, employees can choose the best form of communication for the task at hand.
Unified communications benefits employees by empowering them to work effectively from the corporate office or a remote location, which is a key driver for personal productivity in the mobile and remote workforce we now operate in. For most employees, the desk is just one of many locations where work gets done, and UC is built around where the end user is, rather than where the desk phone is.
3. Foster team collaboration
Outside solo work, employees also work in teams, and in these settings, the need for effective communication is even more important. With today's geographically dispersed workforces and decentralized operations, teams rarely meet in person all at once. Team chat and file sharing applications enable employees to communicate effectively between teams that operate in different locations and time zones.
Another way unified communications benefits businesses is the consistent cross-platform end-user experience, where everyone is using the same applications on their desktops, laptops and mobile devices; it enables users to easily collaborate in real time wherever they are. Again, companies can add other users to conversations when necessary. Higher-end UC services will have a strong video component -- including HD video conferencing -- and this can help reduce the need for travel to attend a meeting in person.
Another key benefit is the persistent nature of UC -- it's always available, so ad hoc meetings are never a problem. Conventional conferencing systems are reservation-based and not always ideal or available for informal collaboration -- a mode that many employees prefer given their busy schedules.
4. Increase organizational agility
When both employees and teams are more productive, the organization will be as well. Organizational agility reflects the strategic value of UC, as the results have an additive impact on the business as a whole. To recognize how unified communications benefits business, however, the organization must view UC through the eyes of management, not just the IT staff. For management, communications may only have a utilitarian value, but when shown to drive productivity, streamline processes and lead to better business outcomes, the UC value proposition will resonate.
Businesses need agility in all areas to be competitive, and management will support initiatives that deliver on this strategy. This includes the ability to communicate agilely. While the use case is strong, there aren't metrics to make a numbers-driven decision, so the rationale needs to be built around the assurance that UC can perform as advertised.
5. Streamline IT operations
The responsibility will fall on IT to deploy and effectively manage a UC platform across the organization. However, unified communications benefits IT staff by deploying applications in a common environment. IT teams achieve deployment either through on-premises appliances, VMs or managed services within a public cloud. The ability to properly manage a range of communications applications is ideal -- especially when it eliminates the need for employees to seek communications tools outside the control of IT.
For example, BYOD policies and shadow IT present ongoing challenges for IT, as control over network resources keeps slipping into the hands of end users. IT would welcome anything to level the playing field, and with network communications management, UC is an improvement over allowing anyone to randomly choose communications tools that open the entire organization up to malware threats and data loss.
6. Reduce costs
While ROI can be an important factor in evaluating other business technology benefits, it is not a good measurement for UC as it can be more difficult to quantify. However, there are cost savings that come with deploying a UC platform that can provide measurable benefits to organizations.
First is consolidating overlapping communications services. Businesses spend a lot of money on various conferencing services, and ROI is often disappointing because of the high cost and poor UX. Deploying a single platform for communications enables organizations to consolidate multiple services that IT -- or end users themselves -- may have deployed, cutting down on ongoing subscription fees.
As mentioned earlier, higher-end platforms will include HD video conferencing, which enables organizations to replace in-person meetings with virtual ones. While this doesn't directly affect IT budgets, it does reduce travel costs and related expenses for organizations.
Picking a UC provider is an important strategic decision for the entire organization. Yet, it's clear that a platform cannot be justified on numbers alone. UC's value should be reflected in improved employee performance and efficiencies. For businesses that see a direct connection between communication and workflow outcomes, these use cases provide a solid foundation for making a decision that will serve management and IT equally well.
7. Connect remote employees
Telephony vendors developed UC as a successor to PBX, which has been in decline for some time. While these first-generation tools brought new value to enterprises looking to stay current with technology, today's cloud-based UC offerings are even more beneficial. Remote work, difficult to support with premises-based technology, has been steadily on the rise and sharply increased with the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the growing use of smartphones for mobile work.
The new remote work norm has pushed IT to adopt technologies that support a decentralized workplace, positioning UCaaS as an especially handy technology for enterprises. For disparate team members to collaborate effectively, they need a consistent set of tools and applications. Remote workers use a variety of endpoints across a variety of settings, but with UC, they will have the same UX as in the office, making it much easier to collaborate, regardless of location.
8. Strengthen IT security
IT security is a core strength of UC, since it natively integrates all the applications into a unified platform. Since all the applications interwork with each other, communications are more seamless as the platform doesn't need to authenticate each incidence of usage. Along the same lines, UC integration makes it easier for IT to apply a standard set of security policies across all communications applications. Tasks like security patches or compliance updates are also less complex to manage than if each application had its own set of protocols and parameters that required separate attention.
A less obvious benefit is reduced reliance on consumer-grade applications, which can introduce new security risks since they deploy outside the IT purview. When all the applications for collaboration work seamlessly on a common platform, workers will have less reason to download standalone applications from the cloud.
9. Improve customer service
As cloud-based platforms gain traction, the rationale for integrating UC with the contact center is becoming stronger. While premises-based systems cannot support that option, many cloud providers now offer these platforms on a joint basis. These platforms do sell well for the reason that they share many common elements with premises-based tools, and with cloud, they can be easily scaled into a joint offering.
The introduction of UC capabilities in the contact center means that agents can more easily access resources outside the contact center while engaging with customers, so they can find the right resources within the organization on the fly and connect them as needed. Otherwise, agents would have to end the call, search for the right help and then call the customer back -- not a recipe for great customer service. With UC in place, agents have a better chance of a fast resolution, with only a single call necessary to assist the customer.
10. Increase efficiency with AI
First-generation UC predated the AI so in demand today, but these offerings didn't require AI to make communication more efficient. The simple fact that all application integration could work seamlessly on a common platform was a big step forward from using each application in a standalone manner. While that remains core to UC's value proposition, AI takes things to another level.
AI capabilities are driven by engines such as machine learning and natural language processing that bring different kinds of efficiencies to UC. While still new, the automation-related features enable faster and more accurate manual task completions, freeing up workers to collaborate more deeply.
Workflow automation, such as real-time meeting transcription or chatbot meeting scheduling, is one major enhancement that AI adds to UC. While these automation-related benefits are evident, they also enable less obvious benefits by making it easier for teams to do what humans do best: feeding off each other for creative problem-solving and inspiring ideas that drive innovation.