The emergence and growth of cloud-based platforms has seen a rise in businesses shifting to unified communications as a service (UCaaS) in recent years. In fact, analyst firm Frost and Sullivan estimates that cloud-based UCaaS now boasts over 43 million users worldwide – with the user base predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23% between 2016 to 2023.
But just what is UCaaS? And how can this unified communications concept benefit the enterprise? We take a look below.
What is UCaaS?
Essentially, unified communications-as-a-service – or UCaaS for short – pulls various business communication tools together into one unified platform for deployment to businesses via the cloud. Falling under the “as-a-service” umbrella of cloud-based delivery models, UCaaS can include various communication methods dependent on an organisation’s needs, such as conferencing, VoIP, email, text messaging and file-sharing.
These various tools and services are usually bundled together and unified using one convenient user interface (UI) that remains consistent and reliable across a range of business devices (such as laptops, smartphones and tablets).
Delving a little further, there are two main variants of UCaaS: single tenancy (or virtualized) and multi-tenancy. With a single tenancy setup, on-site applications are linked using customised software, offering heightened security as customers’ data remains separated (although this does cost more to operate). Multi-tenancy options differ in that the software is hosted in the cloud at a data centre, with all customers sharing the same platform. Some service providers also offer a hybrid system for businesses that may require a balance between the two.
Common UCaaS use cases
With the continuous rise of the cloud, adoption of UCaaS has taken off in recent years – and the reasons as to why businesses opt for this method are numerous. For starters, businesses implement this type of service in order to streamline communication methods between staff – which can be particularly useful if employees are based in different locations.
By integrating features such as video conferencing, email, screen-sharing and voice calling into one platform, communication is not only faster but less costly for the business. Organisations may also make the switch in order to provide a more consistent and satisfying customer experience, with customers and staff all able to communicate with minimal obstacles.
UCaaS is also particularly handy for unifying various data sources and making information available through one central hub – which can include pulling in data from a multitude of platforms such as Office 365, Skype for Business, Outlook, Salesforce, as well as those increasingly-important social channels.
There’s the growing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend too, in which employees use their own devices in the workplace in place of a company-issued smartphone or laptop. Thanks to its all-encompassing nature, unified communications-as-a-Service can help facilitate this setup or aid the transition process from more traditional practices.
Pros and cons of UCaaS
At the heart of it, UCaaS solutions present businesses with the opportunity to improve enterprise communications and allow staff to connect to data sources faster than more intricate, traditional on-premise setups – ultimately helping to foster a more collaborative workplace. It can also help improve business-customer relations thanks to its convenience, whilst the ability to connect remotely aids problem resolution and productivity.
As with other SaaS models, the need to keep pace with the latest hardware systems is also greatly reduced – as well as platform maintenance – thanks to these elements being handled by the service provider.
Financial savings are an attractive proposition as well, with firms able to focus on operating costs as opposed to capital investment (which is applicable to in-house systems). This adds a layer of flexibility to proceedings, with businesses able to increase or decrease software licenses as required – as opposed to buying new hardware through capital investment.
However, whilst a UCaaS solution generally offers greater convenience, some organisations may find it problematic when looking to integrate legacy systems, as outdated infrastructure may not be readily supported. As with any cloud-based service, there are also safety and data protection concerns with material being stored externally and increasingly shared.
Additionally, businesses may have to retrain staff on the new systems in order for the workforce to feel confident in the new approach, whilst IT departments will be required to keep up-to-date with the latest technological and software advancements within the unified communications field.
Whilst savings over the long-term may be a huge benefit, switching to a UCaaS provider may involve large costs when making the initial transition from an on-premises communication setup.
How to get started with UCaaS
Businesses looking make the switch to unified communications-as-a-service should first consider which type of UCaaS platform best suits the organisation’s needs – be it single tenancy, multi-tenancy or a hybrid solution. For example, the latter can often be beneficial for companies that wish to maintain a level of on-premise security and risk control as they make the transition to the cloud.
Which vendor to opt for is also paramount in implementing a successful strategy; finding the right provider will help form the foundations of a strong partnership in which the business’ needs can be met and problems quickly solved as and when they arise. It’s a relatively new marketplace, so taking the time to analyse a UCaaS firm’s track record and success stories can provide crucial insight into how they may handle proceedings.
Other factors that will need to be considered include: how customisable the platform is, how the solution will enhance overall data security, as well how the platform will integrate apps already used by the business. It’s also important to ensure that company-wide technology is up-to-date and compatible with the new system – which could mean investment in new end-point devices even if the current ones are working well within the existing on-premise setup.
A good UCaaS provider will provide a detailed plan to answer these questions and aid in making the transition to cloud-based communications – allowing organisations to feel confident that their needs will be met.
See how CenturyLink can help your company find the right UCaaS solution for your business.