Cloud-enabled UC systems represent the next-generation for UC, offering the benefits of work anywhere, connectivity, telepresence, IM, and enhanced collaboration with the flexibility of the cloud. There have been many analyst reports on the benefits of remote working, and virtually all lead to the conclusion that organizations should be enabling remote workers to increase worker productivity and job satisfaction
Clive Longbottom, Service Director, Quocirca
Are you still an email junkie? How do you view videoconferencing? Instant messaging? Texting? Telephone calls? I could go on.
The biggest issue with different forms of communication seems to be that each new form of interaction just adds more to the problem of complexity. Very little (apart from the likes of smoke signals and Morse code) have had an impact on communications without expanding the issues of usage and management.
Trying to pull everything together via ‘unified communications’ (UC), or even unified communications and collaboration (UCC) is stressing many organisations.
The growth in bring your own device (BYOD) has led to a proliferation of communication apps – from WhatsApp through Periscope to relatively unknown names. The problem here is that individuals start to create their own raft of favourite communication apps. From a CIO’s point of view, this expansion in devices and services, can be problematic.
Many previous attempts to introduce UC have been thwarted by the vendor’s focus on a specific end communication mode that best fits in with their own portfolio. Therefore, those that had a broad email-based portfolio converted everything into an email; those with more of a mobile phone bent focused on voicemail or SMS texts.
This is not what users wanted: They wanted to work with their preferred means of communication, which could mean an email junkies wanting to remain with their preferred communications channel, or another group that would rather use text messages or voicemail. The complexity that these drivers place on an organisation, means it must be more agile with its communications, and integrate these channels where possible to reduce costs and improve efficiency.
There’s an app for that
The rise in smartphones and apps has started to make high levels of communication integration possible. The problem that these developments have revealed is often how organisations lack the support and gateways required to make an on-premises mix of communication and collaboration tools work for everyone.
The rise of cloud computing is changing all of this. Rather than purchase, acquire, provision, run, maintain and patch a mix of different technologies at high cost, organisations can now subscribe on a per-user per-month basis to complex UCC systems where a third party will deliver all the base level maintenance that would have fallen to the CIO and their staff.
Such cloud-based UC systems have, unsurprisingly, become known as Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) offerings.
For example, with Microsoft Office 365, not only do business users get access to the suite of office applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.), but also gain access to Skype for Business, OneNote, Teams, OneDrive for Business and SharePoint, enabling extensive collaboration and communication within and outside of the organisation.
Likewise, IBM Connections Cloud S1 combines a hosted backend of Domino for email with Verse as a frontend coupled with the capability to host on-line meetings along with audio and web conferences, share files, collaborate in real time on documents and so on from pretty much any device.
Google has similar capabilities; Box and Dropbox provide some degree of capabilities, mainly around information sharing and collaboration, many of which build on basic capabilities many organisations will already have in place.
There are many other offerings that are either standalone or built around a system such as Office 365.
A UCaaS future?
Apart from ease of implementation, consistent pricing and higher levels of systems availability, what else does a UCaaS platform provide?
One area that is pressing for many organisations is the support it provides for employees who are not dedicated to a desk. Although most organisations will have provided the sales force and other field workers with mobile support, home workers or workers in small remote offices have often been left behind. By adopting a more complete hosted UCC system, these people can be better embraced; they can be given access to capabilities that make them a peer with the rest of their colleagues.
For example, it can be difficult working from a remote location to know exactly who has the right skills to deal with a specific issue. Those in a major office will either know that it is Bill over there who is the right person, or will be quickly able to ask Jean if they know who is the best person.
Now, ‘Jean’ can become part of the intelligent UCC system. The remote user can identify the skills that they need to help with a specific issue through using a skills database that is part of the hosted directory. They can then initiate a telephone call, a shared application or an instant messaging session with the person with those skills to drill down into the issue and get it solved. If the Bill identified isn’t the right person, they can bring, say, Mary, into the session to provide additional skills as required.
One vital component for prospective CIO’s that are looking to purchase a UCaaS platform must consider is the ease of use. Look for systems that are seamless in how the various modules operate. For example, when a person has identified their Bill and has started communicating with them via IM, make sure that when Bill realises that he needs to share information via a web sharing session that this can be kicked off directly from the IM environment.
Users soon get fed up with having to come out of one environment, then firing up another one to do what they see as being part of the same task. Likewise, when Bill identifies that he needs to bring in Mary, the system must be able to just add a new individual to whatever environment is being used – no one-to-one limits within whatever system is being used.
This provides workplace flexibility to employees. Job sharing can be better implemented; stay-at-home-parents can still be productive members of a workforce by dipping in and out as and when they can to deal with tasks and issues.
The organisation gains – by having a more integrated workforce – can be dealt with more rapidly and effectively. Diversity support is improved. Those with certain disabilities can be better included in multi-person environments by having either in-built or layered on capabilities enabling e.g. text-to-speech or speech-to-text.
Ultimately the whole organisation becomes far more agile. Employees are happier as they can move from communications and collaboration methods to method as the task needs – they are no longer constrained to a single tool that does not fit their preferences.
Communication and collaboration along the broader value chain is much improved. Many systems enable people in third party organisations to be included in communications and collaborations in an open yet secure manner.
Indeed, this is a core area for UCaaS: not only is someone else doing all the base level work in maintaining the system, but they are also managing the security of the system as well. On top of this is the fact that it is a single platform and is therefore, better for auditing.
For example, whereas an on-site email system tends to lose sight of a message once it has been sent to an external address, a UCaaS system can send a pointer to content that is still held on the cloud platform. Therefore, every action that an individual takes on that content can be logged – so much better for governance, risk and compliance (GRC).
Overall, it is time for CIOs to strongly recommend to the business that it now moves to a UCaaS platform. Not only will it provide a more consistent, highly available platform, but it will also help create a more responsive and agile organisation.
Clive Longbottom is the founder and research director of Quocirca. Trained as a Chemical Engineer, Clive understands that everything within a business is predicated on process, and that the only point of technology is in making sure that the processes run efficiently and smoothly.
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