Unified Communications is currently in its ‘heyday’ as all segments of the market realise
the enormous productivity benefits from having a properly integrated approach when it
comes to their communications. The SME is particularly active in this area as they fight for
competitive advantage in their respective markets. Increasingly we are seeing mobility
applications being deployed in organisations which are now being integrated into the whole
UC solutions to give businesses a great tool set to go out and conqueror their market.
Until recently, enterprise UC vendors were fairly distinct from those for enterprise communications, with software companies like Microsoft and IBM dominating the former and telephony and networking vendors comprising the latter. However, this distinction has become blurred because Microsoft and IBM, amongst others, offer voice and telephony features and vendors like Cisco have moved into the collaboration market.
Words like ‘Unified Communications’ used to belong in the enterprise only. As technology costs have come down and efficiency gains realised businesses of all sizes have become au fait with UC. In the Channel Insight Survey conducted last year 9.3% of respondents said that UC was their top value product in their portfolio. That was head and shoulders above any other product.
WestUC surveyed 250 IT managers to determine what the top UC tools are in the workplace. From the infographic on this page you can see that audio conferencing still reigns supreme. As users continue to shun email in favour of an instant message approach IM/Presence will likely be a dominant force in the UC puzzle in years to come. Millennials coming into the workplace will also have an impact on this as communications in this group. In the same survey 53% of respondents cited the increase in productivity as the primary reason
Explosion in UCaaS
Cloud based Unified Communication as a Service (UCaaS) is emerging as the number one technology that is attracting the interest of enterprises and developer communities. UCaaS is a pre-integrated, permanently updated, standardised, and ready-to-go service, which results in enhanced productivity as it accelerates decision-making and business processes while lowering costs.
Wainhouse Research defines UCaaS as a hosted service that delivers a unified end-user experience including IM, presence, audio, video, desktop/application sharing, and group collaboration. They also predicts that by 2018, the global UCaaS market will likely reach $5.3 billion. This marks an extremely strong compound annual growth rate of 24 % for the five year period studied.
According to Gartner UCaaS has now hit the mainstream and is generally viewed as a viable alternative for almost all enterprise deployments. Gartner has compiled their list of UCaaS Leaders, Challengers, Visionaries and Niche providers which was published in the middle of 2016 (see the Gartner Quadrant).
Daniel O’Connell, Research Director, Gartner commented on the state of the UCaaS market. He said, “Maturing UCaaS platforms from highly branded vendors such as Cisco and Microsoft are legitimizing the industry for large enterprise adoption. This evolution is not going un-noticed by the large cloud providers looking to expand their portfolio of IT services. In 2016, we look for some of these cloud providers – such as the likes of Salesforce, IBM, Amazon, SAP, Oracle, Google, etc. – to enter the UCaaS market via strategic acquisitions. UCaaS therefore will increasingly be acquired as just one component of a bundle of IT services.”
CPaaS – the future of UC?
Service Providers, Vendors, System Integrators and Developers are going to have to evolve in order to remain relevant to their customer’s needs in the future. Matthew Townend, Director of Research & Consulting at Cavell believes that the future will be about providing a platform that people can integrate and develop on, to jointly solve both specific and generic customer problems. This development may be done by the Platform provider or by enabling developers externally to access the platform and develop their own solutions on top.
Townend commented, “When we look at the players who have been successful in selling hosted communications both in the UK and Europe, we see that very few are selling a concept of UC at all. What they have done well is they have segmented their customer base and they have produced bundled solutions that understand the “Context” within which the customer is operating and have offered solutions accordingly. Yes, there are some customers who want an all-singing, all-dancing UC experience, like you see in most vendors videos, but this appears to be a minority.”
Figures have shown that 41% of the service providers tracked by Cavell, offer a selection of vertical solutions, 66% of which offer a public sector proposition, some providers selling solutions specifically tailored for one of the following public sector segments: local government, central government, education, healthcare, housing, public administration, justice, and emergency services.
Townend continued, “The increased verticalisation shows an increasing requirement for Service Providers to offer solutions that recognise the context that their customers work and communicate in, rather than attempting to offer a broad based UC solution that attempts to dictate how they should communicate”.
Why UCaaS Makes Sense
Better cost control – UcaaS is sold on a per seat subscription service which means there is no need for large upfront hardware/ staff/ maintenance costs.
Redeploy staff – Many enterprises are evaluating their current and future investment in communications infrastructure. The use of UCaaS can fully or partially replace some or all of the premise-based solutions they may otherwise deploy.
Up-to-date technology – Handing the responsibility over to a UCaaS vendor minimizes the risk of technology obsolescence and outsources the challenges of disaster recovery and security, while leaving roles and responsibilities clearly defined.
Available anywhere – Cloud-based UCaaS systems allow multi-platform access to UC apps from anywhere with a network connection. This means a UCaaS-enabled workforce can enjoy all the productivity benefits of UC and the IT department doesn’t need to worry whether its self-managed solution is compatible (and secured) for use by a plethora of different devices.
Pay as you grow – UCaaS systems are scalable and provision can be ramped up or down in response to business need.
The UC market is going to continue to evolve rapidly this year. Is this the year we will see the CPaaS providers make an impact? Possibly not, it’s still early for enterprises to jump out of contracts or burn service provider relationships. Mobile will continue to remain at the heart of the UC proposition as employees look for flexibility and productivity gains. I’m looking forward to watching this space carefully over the coming year as we could see some surprises.