Assess unified communications pros and cons for hybrid work

Unified communications as a service is getting renewed attention as businesses oversee hybrid workforces. Learn what you should know before deploying UCaaS at your operation.

With hybrid work now becoming the norm, businesses need to provide more consistent support for workers. And the strength of unified communications is receiving renewed attention.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, workers primarily were office-based and supported by premises-based UC platforms. Now, however, anywhere-anytime working is the expectation. To support these distributed workforces, businesses are shifting to unified communications as a service (UCaaS).

UCaaS is just one part of the broader migration to the cloud that all businesses are managing. When adopting unified communications, IT leaders need to carefully consider their rationale. This is especially true for businesses new to both cloud and UC, as each represents a new way of doing things. Adopting new technologies always comes with uncertainty. To help address those concerns, let's examine some unified communications pros and cons.

Advantages for UCaaS

Deploying UCaaS benefits both end users and IT departments. The key benefits of UCaaS simplify IT management and UX for employees.

1. One vendor, one platform

This is probably the strongest value driver of any UCaaS deployment. Instead of using communication apps on a standalone basis, often supported by different vendors, UCaaS provides all these services in one place. In addition, applications, including VoIP, video conferencing, messaging and email, are all integrated. Workers manage all their communications and workflows with one platform. This is far more efficient than jumping in and out of programs, making UCaaS a new driver for productivity. IT's workload is also simplified because one vendor oversees the entire deployment.

2. Consistent UX for all

This may be UCaaS' strongest advantage, especially when supporting a hybrid workforce. Workers are likely in multiple settings, all using a variety of endpoints or devices. Providing consistent UX for all these scenarios is a fundamental tenet of UC. The rise of hybrid work has made the task of providing a standard UX more complex, but UCaaS providers have kept pace.

In addition, today's workers routinely shift modes over the course of their day, as well as during a particular session. They may be going from PC or desk phone to smartphone, instant messaging to VoIP or from one-to-one email to video conferencing for a team meeting. Whatever the situation, UX needs to be consistent for workers to be productive, and this is a critical capability to vet when evaluating vendors.

3. SaaS model

UCaaS offers many advantages in a cloud migration, particularly for IT departments. First, UCaaS is subscription-based, which shifts the economics from Capex to Opex -- a more manageable approach when financial resources are constrained. Because you only pay for what you consume, it's a good way to keep expenses in check.

Second, the cloud model enables companies to stay current with technologies that are continuously evolving. Third, UC upgrades are made automatically and provision to all subscribers, regardless of their location. The same flexibility applies to new applications, whether it's a few dozen licenses or thousands of them.

Disadvantages of UCaaS

For all its benefits, UCaaS does have challenges that can affect user adoption and IT support. Consider these challenges when planning a UCaaS deployment.

1. Hard to measure its value

Everybody wants to be more productive, and while businesses place a lot of value on efficiency, established metrics don't exist. There are many ways to measure specific elements that contribute to productivity, but an overall metric, like the contact center customer satisfaction gauge, has not yet been developed. Additionally, since UCaaS is software, conventional ROI or total cost of ownership metrics cannot be applied as they would with hardware, such as a PBX or a VoIP phone system.

End users don't think about doing 'unified communications' -- they're just doing their work. As a result, IT has to help drive adoption and show users what's new and how UCaaS is a better way to work.

Furthermore, UC does not solve an identifiable problem; it just provides a better way of doing what workers are already doing. As such, when making buying decisions, the business case is more a mix of subjective assessments and user-based benchmarks than what might be the norm in your organization.

2. End-user adoption requirement

When assessing unified communications pros and cons, keep this in mind: UC is different than earlier communications technologies. That can generate more work for IT. When deploying a telephony system -- either PBX or VoIP phones -- IT's job was done once setup was completed. Everyone used desk phones, they knew how to use them and no training was required. UC is not an application everyone knows how to use. It's a platform with many moving parts, and workers need to learn how everything works together.

End users don't think about doing "unified communications" -- they're just doing their work. As a result, IT has to help drive adoption and show users what's new and how UCaaS is a better way to work. This extra effort must be factored into your UC adoption plans, and it is another area where vendors can add value by helping users get comfortable with their new tools.

3. Interoperability

By its nature, UC is about integrating a wide range of applications onto a common, singular platform. This makes for a powerful tool set, but it is only as effective as the vendor's ability to provide seamless interworking among the elements. Some vendors natively have most of these elements, while others rely more on third-party partners that are pre-integrated to provide that seamless experience. Yet, no single vendor has all the elements.

With new applications coming on a regular basis, interoperability becomes an ongoing challenge. There are a variety of UC vendors. They are highly competitive, but they must increasingly work together to meet the needs of their customers. Not all forms of interoperability are created equally. When evaluating vendors, ensure they can interwork seamlessly in your existing network environment.

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