Understanding Unified Communications

Unified Communications – this term nearly always crops up in discussions about the way IT is transforming the modern workplace. However, the meaning of these two words is not always clear. In a marketplace that contains multiple vendors and a huge number of end users with extremely diverse requirements, unified communications means different things to different people. And, as the integration of UC services with the cloud continues to mature over the next few years, the definition of the term will no doubt undergo further change.

Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) is the result of UC’s growing engagement with the cloud. And an increasing number of businesses are choosing this delivery model. In October 2013, a report from Heavy Reading Insider estimated that service providers’ annual revenue from UCaaS has already exceeded $2 billion (£1.2 billion), with UCaaS now thought to be growing twice as fast as the UC market.

However, we need to start with the basics before delving into the particular benefits of cloud-based UC. So, what is unified communications? Arguably one of the most perceptive definitions of UC we’ve seen so far comes from UCstrategies.com, which described it as “communications integrated to optimise business processes”. This really hits the nail on the head, as UC is not merely about integrating different communications tools. It’s about bringing those tools together in a way that makes it genuinely quicker and easier for users to communicate and collaborate, thereby improving business agility and ultimately making a real impact on the bottom line.

UC is a solution, not a product. It is typically comprised of various components – presence, instant messaging, conferencing (video and audio) and call control, among others – that are tied together by a single platform and a unified user experience, across multiple devices. The result, when the solution is deployed correctly, is seamless communication and intuitive collaboration for users.

Presence is arguably the cornerstone of any UC solution, as applying this technology can drastically increase the speed and efficiency of business communications. With presence, users always know whether a fellow employee is available to communicate. The initial communication could take place via desk telephone, mobile phone, instant messaging or web conferencing. However, any boundary between each different communication method is removed with UC. With a single click on the screen, an instant messaging exchange can be escalated into a phone call or a video conference session.

The Benefits of UC as a Service (UCaaS)

The rapid growth of UCaaS is unsurprising, given that many organisations have been tasked with delivering innovation against a backdrop of significant financial constraints. By accessing UC from the cloud, companies can enjoy all the benefits of a UC solution while reducing upfront capital expenditure. With UCaaS, communications technology is delivered as a utility or usage-based service. There is no need for businesses to invest large sums in costly infrastructure and IP PBXs.

However, the advantages of UCaaS go beyond simple cost savings. It’s also a highly scalable model, as the standard suite of UC features is typically provided on a per-seat basis with a monthly cost. This means more seats can be added with minimal disruption when the business is growing, but the service can also be scaled back easily during less prosperous periods.

Another feature of UCaaS is consistent service delivery. Of course, on-premise systems can also be reliable, but moving UC into the cloud provides a standardised, predictable service experience that supports business continuity. And for organisations that wish to incorporate previous technology investments, UCaaS can be delivered through a hybrid model that combines on-premise and cloud platforms.

If you’d like to talk to us about our UC as a Service offering, Hosted Lync, then get in touch today at www.sipcom.com.

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