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Companies focus on UCaaS consolidation

Replacing redundant collaboration tools with a UCaaS platform is the focus of many companies looking to cut unified communications costs as the possibility of a recession looms.

In 2023, companies will correct a critical problem the pandemic created -- too many collaboration products bought to support employees who had to shift from the office to the home without adequate tools.

In 2021 and 2022, companies struggled to support at-home workers and, later, to accommodate an evolving hybrid workplace in which workers split their time between the office and the home. As a result, the number of products grew in the enterprise, and companies found themselves paying for licenses from multiple vendors, such as Zoom for video, RingCentral for phone calls and Slack for chat.

Adding urgency to product consolidation is the possibility of a recession in 2023 triggered by the Federal Reserve raising interest rates. Seven in 10 organizations surveyed by TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group warned IT budget cuts or freezes are either likely or will be a possibility this year. The poll also found that half the respondents did not plan to increase spending on UC and collaboration tools, while 5% expected to reduce outlays.

Choosing one or possibly two unified communications as a service (UCaaS) products will be a high priority for CIOs this year, said Eric Johnson, executive vice president and CIO at business management software maker Momentive. UCaaS provides enterprise messaging, presence technology, online meetings, team collaboration, telephony and video conferencing.

"It's become the top of mind for CIOs," he said.

[UCaaS tools are] starting to overlap, so, as a CIO, I have to go back and recalibrate.
Eric JohnsonCIO, Momentive

CIOs can quickly drop some products in use today because many of them provide the same capabilities, Johnson said. "They're starting to overlap, so as a CIO, I have to go back and recalibrate."

That recalibration includes chopping technologies used by only a single group of employees. During the pandemic, it was not unusual to have the sales and marketing department use one product and the IT department use another. Since different collaboration tools don't talk to each other, having multiple products creates silos in the business.

"We're finding more people at home and fewer people in the office, so it's important to reduce friction," Johnson said.

Biz Technology Solutions, which provides IT consulting and support, deployed Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams and RingCentral UCaaS until last year, when it discovered that most of its customers chose Teams because it came with their Microsoft 365 subscription.

"For us, it was the market and our customers," said Reda Chouffani, co-founder of Biz Technology Solutions and a TechTarget contributor. "Their choices dictated where we should focus."

However, choosing Teams doesn't eliminate the challenge of getting groups of workers to abandon what they've been using for a company-wide single platform, Chouffani said. Businesses struggle with convincing employees that the new platform has capabilities and features equivalent to their familiar software.

"That's the biggest hurdle to overcome," Chouffani said. "It's not so much about the cost of installation, deployment or technical difficulties."

However, employees' minds change once they learn how to use the new technology. "Once they make the leap, it seems like they don't look back," Chouffani said.

Hybrid work models
Hybrid work models

UCaaS vendors for the shortlist, according to Gartner

Gartner's latest Magic Quadrant lists the analyst firm's five leading UCaaS vendors and their 2022 enhancements. The leaders are Microsoft, RingCentral, Zoom, Cisco and 8x8.

Gartner rated Microsoft Teams the most popular product, especially among companies already using the offering for messaging and meetings. Last year, Microsoft added telephony capabilities that satisfied "a majority of the requirements of most organizations," the analyst firm reported.

RingCentral, once considered a UC option for small and midsize companies, now sells telephony, messaging, meetings, fax and SMS for all-size companies, according to Gartner. The company dedicated 2022 to expanding its product line geographically through partnerships with service and technology providers.

Zoom grew the fastest of all the leading vendors, doubling its UCaaS user base in 2022. Features added during the year included a digital whiteboard, a contact center and an app marketplace.

Cisco's enhancements to its Webex platform included a cloud-based version of its Unified Communications Manager, the on-premises telephony hardware and software that integrates with Webex. The combination lets companies use Webex's cloud-based services within their calling infrastructure. Cisco also made Webex available in more than 110 countries and launched dialer integration with mobile operators.

8x8's noteworthy 2022 features included speech analytics called Conversation IQ, Gartner said. The technology uses AI to evaluate employee communications. The tool is one of the contact center-as-a-service capabilities that 8x8 has in its UCaaS product to appeal to small and midsize contact centers.

How to make the transition to a single vendor

Whichever UCaaS vendor a company chooses, a successful transition to a single product must include creating policies dictating when employees can work from home and when they must head to the office.

Momentive CIO Eric JohnsonEric Johnson

Johnson is one of the many CIOs working with other executives in building a hybrid workplace.

"There is a time and place where people are going to be more effective sitting down in a room together, working together," he said. When people need to meet physically is under debate because employees demonstrated throughout the pandemic that they could be productive at home.

Johnson said he believes bringing teams together is essential to building relationships not easily established during a Zoom meeting. For example, coming into the office might be helpful when employees are working under stress to complete projects under a tight deadline, he said.

In 2022, Johnson started bringing his management team together twice a year for planning sessions.

"I slowly would like to work into a quarterly cadence where I can bring my teams together face to face and maybe even some of our key business partners," he said.

While in-person meetings won't go away, neither will hybrid work if companies want to fill openings, Chouffani said.

"We're seeing more and more companies just simply hiring people to work remotely because the talent pool has shrunk and unemployment is low," Chouffani said. "That means you're going to take whatever you can get."

Manufacturing and healthcare make up the largest portion of Biz Technology's customer base. Manufacturers have adopted hybrid work for people in accounting, legal departments and sales and marketing, Chouffani said.

Transitioning from several collaboration tools to a single UCaaS provider to support a hybrid workforce will require new technology, retraining employees and updating workplace policies.

The shift won't be easy. But successful companies should reap the benefits of better communications and collaboration among a dispersed workforce, experts said.

Antone Gonsalves is the networking news director for TechTarget Editorial. He has deep and wide experience in tech journalism. Since the mid-1990s, he has worked for UBM's InformationWeek, TechWeb and Computer Reseller News. He has also written for Ziff Davis' PC Week, IDG's CSOonline and IBTMedia's CruxialCIO, and rounded all of that out by covering startups for Bloomberg News. He started his journalism career at United Press International, working as a reporter and editor in California, Texas, Kansas and Florida. Have a news tip? Please drop him an email.

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