With the arrival of digital everything, there’s been a step change in the benefits that a unified communications strategy can deliver, yet companies in the public and private sector still appear reluctant to step into the future.
As cloud solutions begin to make migration to advanced UC platforms easier and faster than ever before, transitioning to a UC strategy is becoming an imperative, writes Amritesh Anand, practice lead: unified communication ay In2IT.
Quite simply, companies that fail to make this shift are very likely to begin losing market share.
The efficiencies that a converged voice, video and data platform offers, although significant, are being upstaged by innovative apps which create new touchpoints – internally and with clients. UC enables anywhere, anytime accessibility but its new solutions like chatbots, which use artificial intelligence and voice recognition to respond to users; real-time communication solutions that incorporate video; and approaches like federation that add competitive advantage.
Mobile, social media, instant messaging, chat apps like WhatsApp: these are the channels businesses use to communicate with partners and suppliers and customers. Increasingly, they are also customers’ preferred way of communicating with companies. Analogue PBXs simply cannot support this kind of communication. Nonetheless, many organisations continue to cling to legacy systems that are 15 and 20 years old. What holds them back is a failure to fully comprehend the impact of these new technologies, their benefits, and how low the barriers to entry for this technology are.

UC benefits – a richer experience
Communication is a core capability for businesses – it’s essential to run the business and to reach clients. A unified communications strategy increases the reach and effectiveness of communications exponentially. It drives improved communication with stakeholders, which improves productivity, levels of service, product awareness, sales and customer retention.
At a business level, UC makes key employees more accessible, increasing business opportunity and productivity. Presence visibility allows users to see which channels their contacts are available on in real time, which improves collaboration. And UC ensures alternatives are always available: that missed business call no longer languishes in a voice mailbox never to be retrieved; the call is routed to the recipient’s mobile phone if the desk phone is not answered, and the person is notified via email, SMS, chat and other apps of the contact. In addition, disaster recovery routing ensures that if a communication channel drops the call can be picked up seamlessly on another app or device. This makes it hard to miss that deal, easier to receive that client request and to make that connection.
Federation is another UC approach that is very useful. It enables the establishment of trusted relationships between partner organisations. This means all the security and other communication ‘handshakes’ normally required between a business and third parties are automated to increase speed and ease of communication between business partners.
UC also enriches the communication experience – contact does not have to be one-dimensional (e.g., voice only) anymore. Real-time communication solutions make it possible to use an Internet browser for direct IP voice and video communication on multiple platforms, from a kiosk to an ATM or a desktop, laptop, tablet PC or smartphone, without needing a plug-in and without the cost of expensive landline or mobile call charges. That supercharges the results for all parties, ensuring personal one-on-one interaction and faster issue resolution at minimal expense.

Moving to UC – three key steps
There are three fundamental steps to making the shift to UC:
• Move away from traditional analogue PBX solutions and toward IP communication
• Incorporate mobility into the UC strategy
• Introduce video
Increased availability of fibre connectivity makes the move to IP communication possible. It creates a solid foundation for the implementation of UC solutions. Incorporating mobile into UC communications enables seamless communication between the office and mobile and field workers, and with customers. Incorporating video enables a new dimension in interaction. It usually requires little additional hardware as webcams are already built into ATMs and many laptops, tablets and smart devices.
With the emergence of cloud models, the investment is lower and transition is faster than many expect. However, to make the transition to UC and UC adoption as smooth as possible, planning is essential.

UC models: cloud, managed service, hybrid
A piecemeal transition can be expensive and complex. With the right amount of planning, a comprehensive transition to UC can be quick and painless. In the past a sizable 1 000-user transition from legacy communications to a UC architecture and processes could take up to six months. Today, cloud-based infrastructure and solutions makes it possible to do in just 15 to 20 days. For one public sector client with almost 500 national sites and 20 000 users, migration to a cloud-based UC solution with cloud-based services has taken only eight months. That’s because the apps and the infrastructure are already built – all that is required is connectivity.
For a cloud-based UC solution, the time to return on investment is one to three years. For many, the biggest savings come from the switch to IP. In terms of call costs, IP-based connectivity can save between 30 and 80 percent of cellular and regular PSTN call costs. For this public sector client consider the savings that have resulted from replacing the almost 500 physical connections with just two links to a single physical location that UC requires, and the savings that result from free IP calls between departments.
There are other UC models that may be appropriate, however, UC managed service providers can provide hardware on a rental or renewal basis, and will also offer a hybrid service, taking over or managing the client’s legacy hardware. The value in either instance is significant for organisations – the managed service provider takes on the asset management and operations, and provides all the necessary technology and UC management skills, relieving the client organisation of these burdens. Moreover, there are also all the additional benefits that come with a managed service, such as ongoing technology updates, no need to manage licensing, and access to leading practices and new approaches.
The advantages of UC are clear. How can your organisation benefit?