The future of Unified Communications

Unified Communications has reached the mainstream. UC has finally made the leap from buzzword to business-critical solution. And it certainly didn’t happen overnight – the first IP-based PBX was launched more than ten years ago.

Stephen Leaden told UC Strategies that UC will go mainstream in 2015. Although UC had been generating a steady buzz for some time, last year was about telephony. 2015 is UC’s turn in the hot seat, not least because an increasingly mobile workforce and the growing influence of trends such as BYOD have brought the benefits of UC sharply back into focus.

Attitudes to UC are certainly changing, as Ovum’s mid-2013 survey The Future of Unified Communications and Collaboration revealed. The research firm discovered that 78% of IT decision-makers now have both a unified communications strategy and the budget to execute at least some components of their plan.

Speaking to SearchUnifiedCommunications.com, Ovum principal analyst Mike Sapien said enterprises are not simply showing “renewed interest” in unified communications and collaboration technology – they’re increasingly backing up that interest with solid financial commitments.

Cloud-based unified communications

So, a large number of IT decision-makers are now on board with UC. But what does the future of unified communications look like?

Increasingly, it looks like the cloud. UC has traditionally been an on-premise technology, but businesses are now realising they have several options when it comes to deploying a solution. One of those options – and an increasingly popular one, according to some research – is to deploy Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS).

The 2013-14 Enterprise Technology Benchmark from Nemertes indicated that more than 90% of companies are now using Software as a Service (SaaS) applications. In the UC market, this delivery model offers the key benefit of greater flexibility with minimal capital expenditure. There’s no requirement to invest in hardware and infrastructure, while companies only pay for what they need, with new users added on a per-seat basis when necessary.

Mike Sapien noted that the cloud appears to be driving a fundamental shift in the way that IT departments think about using – and paying for – unified communications. “In the past, people [bought UC equipment] as capital expenditure that they would put licenses and maintenance on top of and it would sit there, and the lights would blink in some closet somewhere. [Now] people see it more as a service that provides communication.”

Hybrid models

The growth of the cloud does not mean on-premise UC applications are about to be consigned to the past. In fact, many companies are expected to adopt a hybrid model for their UC deployments over the next three to five years, with some components provided on-premise and others as cloud services.

This approach serves to address the security concerns associated with moving critical services to the cloud, while continuing to provide an otherwise unattainable level of flexibility.  As Bern Elliot, Gartner’s lead UC analyst, recently told SearchUnifiedCommunications.com: “Services that are critical to the business, like telephone communications at a hospital, can remain in-house, while other services like web conferencing can be added via the cloud. This type of hybrid environment is the direction companies are moving in.”

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