The unified communications market exceeded USD 30 billion in 2019. And it’s expected to grow by 8% by 2026. The need for private, reliable business communications has never been greater.

Image source

Importantly, unified communications enables remote working, so that employees and customers can connect – from anywhere – and on any device. Unified communications (UC) can also prepare companies for change, support innovation, and increase productivity.

In this post we’ll look at the steps to take to ensure your company moves seamlessly towards a UC environment.

Firstly, what do we mean by ‘unified communications’? In brief;

Unified communications involves the integration of various communication technologies – from live video conferencing and emails to instant messaging and desktop sharing.

So how can your network best support a transition to UC?

Think culture first when it comes to implementing unified communications

Before you deploy a UC solution it’s a good idea to get feedback from employees at all levels. Ask them what they want out of the new system. What will make their lives easier? Which aspects of technology matter the most? Treat them like valued partners and listen to their concerns. Consider creating ‘work groups’ where employees can share experiences and ideas.

Review the current state of your communications

Review the current state of your communications systems. How far are they currently unified? From telephony, including mobile phones, to Wi-Fi systems and virtual desktop solutions, establish where and how current systems can be integrated into your strategy.

The most common gap in many organisations’ technology is their telephony systems. Existing systems frequently operate separately from unified communication systems.

Rather than be siloed, telephony should be at the heart of a UC solution so that the end user (customer or employee) has an optimised, consistent experience. For example, you should be offering best in class contact centre solutions as part of a unified communications strategy.

In your initial review, look at the current state of your HD video conferencing and email technology too. What are your capabilities for instant messaging and live chat? More and more users want to use live chat to communicate with companies – consumers want instant responses.

Image source

Once you have a clear idea of your current communications systems and needs, you can envisage how UC will change how people work and communicate with one another.

Once you’ve gathered feedback set operational goals

The feedback you gather should give you a good idea about what you are trying to achieve. These goals could be to minimise downtime, achieve higher user satisfaction, or lower operating expenses. Having clear goals in mind will help you understand what success looks like pre and post migration. Now you can focus on an implementation strategy for UC.

Create a customised unified communications strategy

Every company is different and comes with its own setup and challenges. That makes it essential to find a bespoke communications solution. Depending on the stage you’re at, you may want to implement a hybrid solution and integrate new elements with legacy ones. You may want to incorporate new UC solutions yourself in-house, or buy a managed proposition from a reputable vendor.

Maybe you want to continue using your existing private branch exchange (PBX) hardware, but want to gain access to and integrate with cloud-based solutions.

As Sunny Dhami of RingCentral puts it

“This is often the case for larger SMBs and upwards. We are seeing significant uptake of hybrid solutions, and this will continue.”

UC needs to integrate with your existing applications

There are a huge number of apps used in the workplace today. You need a UC solution that integrates with apps you already use and has the capability to adapt and incorporate new useful tools in the future.

Image source

Also, consider the stage of your organisation. Are you evolving and getting bigger, or downsizing? This will dictate the solution you prefer in terms of scale.

Choose a solution that keeps up with changing technology

Once everyone is onboard with a UC strategy that’s the right fit for your business, it’s time to choose the best solution for you. But remember that there’s little point rolling out a UC strategy that won’t keep up with your business’s future requirements.

Even as you’re transitioning, technologies will be evolving – as will expectations. So don’t get locked into systems or SaaS vendors that will compromise your UC offering later on. Perform regular reviews to ensure you’re on track, and keep an eye on the remaining lifespan of current systems.

Cloud-based software as a service UC (UCaaS and SD-WAN) avoids you having to invest in expensive onsite infrastructure that may go out of date quickly. It also allows you to utilise existing equipment and protect legacy investment. Not to mention compensating for issues around aging, but still in-contract, telephony.

Cloud based unified communications also ensures you have one single platform based on a single contract. And that the provider (rather than you) bears the burden of systems refresh – while delivering optimum solutions.

Choosing a vendor

A big roadblock to companies adopting UC is the number of options available. There are lots of providers out there, some offering a full UC experience – others less so.

If you opt to go for a managed solution do your homework when it comes to finding a vendor.

Check a vendor has local Session Border Controllers (SBC)s

Look for a vendor that not only owns their own SBCs but keeps them in reasonable proximity to your premises. SBCs act like routers between your business and theirs – allowing access for only authorised sessions at connection points. SBCs define the quality of service (QOS) for these sessions and enable smooth communication both within your organisation and with customers.

Image source

If SBCs are not close geographically there’s more chance you’ll encounter poor quality issues. If they’re kept abroad you’re very likely to experience problems. And you could be putting your data at risk of toll fraud and Denial of Service attacks.

Make sure you’re dealing with a vendor rather than a reseller

Resellers often come across as actual vendors, when in actuality they’re using a leased network. You may not realise this until you have a problem and you’re suddenly dealing with a third party that doesn’t have the means to help you. Make sure you’re dealing with a bona fide vendor by asking them if they are leasing from larger vendors.

Certified vendors own their own telecom switches in self-held data centres. This provides extra security and reliability, as well as minimising the risk of downtimes and poor call quality.

Also aim to opt for a fiber-optic internet solution. This offers you dedicated data connectivity and ensures your collaboration tools won’t be affected by your ISP’s shared resources.

Open source or proprietary solution?

While an open-source solution can be attractive cost-wise, it comes with a number of potential problems. These include that:

  • Your data may not be secure, requiring risk management considerations for your project and company
  • You may experience significant downtime as employees have to master technicalities
  • Customer support may be insufficient
  • Customisation may be more difficult

However, there’s also an argument for open API and pre-built solutions. Pre-built solutions are easier to implement – all you need to do is simply switch on a new connection. Open API can also support business in the future because they’ll find it easier to integrate with different apps that support growth and change.

What’s the track record of a solutions provider?

Ask in-depth questions around a vendor’s length of time in business and ask for a list of organisations they’ve worked with. You could ask to speak to one of their current customers to find out the quality of their customer service.

Be mindful of your existing network architecture, as you’ll need a solution that can accommodate it. To serve this, many high-quality services offer infrastructure as a service functionality, and so first.

Know what to expect in terms of installation

A good vendor will help you identify the type of solution you need and help you get ready for the transition to UC.

Keep expectations in line with what the vendor has promised. If they’re simply shipping you hardware and providing you with videos and walkthroughs, is that enough? Or would you rather have your service provider arrive at your premises to deliver and install the service themselves?

Set a realistic timeline. It makes a lot of sense to roll out your UC strategy in phases – possibly by introducing it to employees who have more technical knowledge at first. If something doesn’t work, you’ll be able to learn and adapt when you roll out to the next set of employees.

AI and UC strategies are becoming a standard requirement for businesses that want to stay competitive. Communication has become more complex, with employees working in remote locations. Every organisation will have a different starting point, depending on the level of sophistication of their existing communications.

You need to realise that a shift to unified communications is a business transformational process requiring a complete cultural overhaul. Creating a digital workplace of the future involves managing remote teams. That, in turn, requires a change in workspace, culture, and technology. UC touches every person in the organisation, and it works well with other project management systems that might already be in place.