Business leaders don't need to be told that the workplace is changing rapidly. A unified communications system can help drive this change. When implemented effectively, it supports staff productivity and customer engagement while minimizing costs, even as lockdowns keep employees spread far and wide.
A key to successful unified communications implementation is ensuring that your IT team has everything it needs to work quickly, methodically and effectively to produce the best outcome for your business.
Finding the right fit
Even before the pandemic, organizations were increasingly transitioning to a digital world where employees use online tools to collaborate, automate business processes, share files and host videoconferences. A unified communications solution packages these tools with Voice over Internet Protocol, voicemail, email and more to create a holistic communication and collaboration experience.
It's a setup favored by organizations dealing with the twin challenges of maintaining staff productivity and keeping customers and partners engaged amid a pandemic. According to a May 2020 Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report sponsored by Verizon, 78% of global business leaders expect the amount of remote work to increase after the pandemic abates. A distributed workforce will be the norm for many businesses, further driving the need for a unified communications solution.
The cloud is the future
For many organizations, especially small and medium-sized businesses, pre-integrated, cloud-based unified communications as a service (UCaaS) solutions are the superior option. They're easier to deploy and use, particularly if you have a large remote workforce, and can generate long-term cost benefits. It's part of the reason the UCaaS market is forecast to grow by a compound annual growth rate of 8.4% through 2026 and reach an industry valuation of $24.3 billion.
With a UCaaS solution in place, your business can:
- Drive employee productivity, enhancing innovation
- Improve the customer experience by enabling seamless communications with staff
- Reduce costs associated with maintaining products from multiple vendors
- Increase employee satisfaction by supporting flexible working
Unlocking key IT solutions
The process of selecting and deploying a unified communications system, though, is rarely free of challenges, and your IT team might have concerns about some potential hurdles.
- Integration with existing hardware and systems. IT systems are sometimes a mishmash of legacy and modern hardware, networks and software. To maximize user productivity, performance and return on investment, the constituent parts of a unified communications solution should fit neatly together. This is where UCaaS comes into its own, thanks to its pre-built integrations and that most of the major hardware it needs sits in the provider's data center. The technology partner you choose is also critical to successful unified communications implementation: According to a 2019 Wainhouse Research survey, 56% of organizations sought help with adoption and lifecycle services from their vendors.
- Cybersecurity. According to the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report, 86% of global businesses considered data security to be critical to getting the most value out of their digital workplace tools. IT teams need to do their due diligence to make sure that their unified communications vendors are accredited to relevant security and regulatory standards (e.g., the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program security standards). And they should mitigate cyber risks by implementing multifactor authentication, training users in best practices and frequently patching and updating systems.
- Bandwidth and latency. A key benefit of UCaaS is that it can route traffic over the public internet, reducing dependency on (and the costs associated) with legacy enterprise solutions like private lines and multiprotocol label switching. But making a switch can have immediate effects on performance, especially because unified communications applications are sensitive to bandwidth and latency issues. It’s important to choose a technology partner with a reliable, high-bandwidth global network that can deliver your performance needs.
- Employee buy-in. A unified communications system will only deliver its intended benefits if employees use it. Expectations for the end-user experience today are sky-high, thanks to popular online applications. Any new system should match these levels. The business and the IT team should get honest feedback from users on their needs and the current system's shortcomings before choosing a provider. Once they do, IT must develop a plan to drive adoption, TechTarget says.
Supporting IT while deploying a unified communications system
Careful planning and constant communication are essential to the roll-out of any IT project, especially one that can have serious ramifications on employee productivity. You need your IT colleagues to be partners and allies. Bring them into the decision-making process; leverage their invaluable insight and ensure that the lines of communication are always open between your vendor and internal project and business leaders. An open dialog is the best way to accelerate time-to-value and ensure any concerns are addressed before it's too late.
Some common questions your IT team might have include:
- What are our minimum security and regulatory requirements?
- How many remote and in-office workers do we want to support?
- Do we want to integrate our call center operations?
- What are our core business requirements for a unified communications system?
- What is the time scale for the project?
- What criteria (key performance indicators, etc.) will be used to determine success?
- Which phone numbers do we want to keep?
- What kind of hardware will we need?
Consider how you'll involve the vendor in unified communications implementation carefully. Providers can take on much of the heavy lifting on UCaaS projects, freeing your IT team to focus on high-value, strategically important tasks. And once the solution's plugged in and ready to go, it can save considerable time and money that IT would have had to devote to maintaining on-premises hardware and private lines.