IT departments looking to go lean are constantly seeking out ways to move applications, data and services to the public cloud. Essentially, they want to do more with less.
Yet, historically, unified communications (UC) remained in-house and on premises for several reasons. For example, organizations might get locked into long-term telecom contracts, have concerns about a lack of customization and control, or be fine with the attitude of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Over the years, however, managed UC services have come a long way to create a solid set of benefits that may convince business leaders to reconsider on-premises deployments. Let's examine the purpose of managed UC services, how their benefits can reduce IT management and maintenance, and ultimately improve end-user productivity.
What is a UC managed service?
Often referred to as UC as a service (UCaaS), managed UC services deliver various communication and collaboration benefits through a cloud-based platform that a third-party provider manages. Popular MSP examples include 8x8, Microsoft Teams and Teams Phone, RingCentral and Zoom Phone. These as-a-service offerings enable businesses to offload UC service management to a provider with enhanced distributed workforce capabilities, while offering a range of benefits that often improve UC operations, access and functionality.
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How do UC managed services improve business collaboration?
From an end-user perspective, managed UC services provide greatly enhanced access to business voice, messaging, video conferencing and other collaboration applications. Instead of requiring remote access methods, such as a VPN, to access localized UC services, cloud-deployed UC tools become directly accessible anywhere internet access is available.
UCaaS is spread across multiple geographically dispersed clouds in most provider environments. This places UC services closer to all end users, regardless of if they are working from an office or remotely. Additionally, all tools and services are tightly integrated with one another, which opens a number of new multichannel and omnichannel communications capabilities to end users.
Finally, managed UC service providers are often quick to deliver bug fixes and new features that end users can take advantage of. This provides users with the latest and most reliable communications service, which can result in improved communication both inside and outside the organization.
Managed UC service benefits
One major challenge UC administrators face today is managing various apps and services on the corporate network, at remote sites and for the growing number of employees working on the road or from home offices.
Traditional UC architectures were designed around employees working out of a handful of connected office locations. But this is no longer the situation for many organizations. Now, UC platforms must be available to employees, no matter their location.
In traditional UC and network architectures, private WAN links and client VPN connectivity have enabled this to happen. However, these connectivity methods can create traffic inefficiencies as modern workforces migrate outside of the corporate network boundary -- thus degrading the performance of many time-sensitive UC applications.
Additionally, cloud-managed UC platforms help IT departments incorporate workforce management practices to stamp out those inefficiencies. In many cases, managed services even eliminate the need for expensive WAN connections and VPN workarounds. Large, cloud-based UC providers offer services that are intended to be used anywhere. Thus, app and service performance from an end-user perspective is identical, no matter where the employee resides.
Next, for organizations that manage contact center ecosystems, a cloud-managed UC platform also opens new opportunities for contact centers. Traditional contact center models require employees to travel to one or more physical locations to work. With a cloud-based managed UC architecture, contact center employees with access to a broadband internet connection can work from virtually anywhere. Call flows simply hit the closest data center, which can be scattered around the globe to help reduce network latency for end users.
Managed UC services also remove the burden for businesses to host and manage UC services on premises or in a private cloud. This often includes the maintenance of UC servers, public switched telephone network access and the need to provide remote access to those privately deployed UC services. Many IT departments are required to oversee a host of independently managed services for voice, video, contact center and collaboration.
However, a managed UC platform consolidates all these services under a single management pane. Offloading management requirements frees up valuable time for in-house IT staff to work on technology issues specific to business growth. This is the goal of lean IT and managed UC services and is a great way to put organizations on the right track to achieve that goal.
Security is also a benefit that can be gained through managed UC services. Because internal and external security threats to UC services are constant and rapidly changing, they must be immediately dealt with. When using traditional UC platforms, in-house administrators can fall behind when it comes to patching systems and blocking emerging threats. Because managed UC services are handled by a knowledgeable third party, they are far more capable of ensuring that systems are properly hardened to prevent communications data theft.
Finally, businesses can benefit from managed UC services by lowering Capex and Opex. With no servers to buy, migrating to a subscription-based UC model eliminates some upfront costs associated with UC system upgrades. From an ongoing operations standpoint, organizations are no longer required to house and cool UC servers in private data centers -- nor do they have to worry about allocating in-house resources to maintain them. This leads to potential long-term cost savings.
Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect advancements in managed UC services.
Andrew Froehlich is founder of InfraMomentum, an enterprise IT research and analyst firm, and president of West Gate Networks, an IT consulting company. He has been involved in enterprise IT for more than 20 years.