Rob Orr is Executive Director at Virgin Media Business, one of the UK’s leading communications providers, responsible for leading the enterprise, public sector, wholesale, SME and SI Channel businesses. He has over 20 years of experience in the technology sector, including past experience at Samsung Electronics, BT and Vodafone.
Rob explores the practical questions that CEOs should ask before adopting unified communications technology in order to ensure maximum productivity.
The term ‘digital transformation’ can often generate a mixed response. Listening to our customers, we’ve heard that they appreciate the ambition of digital transformation. However, they fear the disruption that the perceived wholesale transformation of their infrastructure embodies; the ‘rip and replace’ rhetoric, and the unpicking of complex incumbent frameworks. They can’t afford to paralyse productivity.
In reality, digital transformation can and arguably should follow an iterative process. Small changes can have big impacts.
Enhancing communication, one step at a time
One small change many businesses are making is adopting Unified Communications (UC) to help their teams work better together. In its broadest sense, UC technology seeks to integrate enterprise communication services – such as instant messaging, telephony and audio/video-conferencing systems – with non-real-time communication services such as email, voicemail and text. The goal is to optimise business processes and improve efficiency by giving employees the tools they need to collaborate seamlessly.
UC is particularly useful when employees are working remotely and need access to shared drives, host conference calls on the go or send an instant message to a colleague. By connecting people through mobile and corporate networks, UC gives teams the ability to collaborate anytime, anywhere and on any device. This transforms how quickly and efficiently information can be shared across an organisation, effectively revolutionising the way businesses operate.
However, rarely will any piece of tech be a one-size-fits-all solution—the choice ultimately depends on the needs, resources and priorities of the organisation.
Between an on-premises model or a hosted solution
Companies seeking to take advantage of UC usually end up at a crossroad. They will need to choose between the typical “on-premise” deployment model – which allows UC applications to run on servers in the business’ data centres – or go for a fast, convenient, capital-free hosted solution.
The benefits of managing UC on-site are varied, but the key advantage is that the organisation retains control and manages the system itself. This is usually the best option in situations where employees are concentrated in a central location, such as the headquarters of a large enterprise. However, to quickly respond to user queries or tackle pressing issues, businesses will need a trained member of staff available on a full-time basis.
The alternative – a hosted solution with an external partner managing UC – is a good option if your business is looking to minimise capital expenditure. It can also help guard against unforeseen circumstances, like a surge in demand for support.
For those who want the control that comes with on-premise management but don’t want to invest in extra resourcing, there’s a third hybrid option—in-house teams who rely on external support to deal with short-term peaks in workload.
Taking the system to the cloud
Many enterprises have built their communications platforms and infrastructure around a monolithic style of hardware or application development, where a single application performs all functions of the UC application—from call control and collaboration, to analytics and beyond. This type of legacy system, which is generally managed in-house, restricts businesses from taking advantage of new and exciting technologies.
In contrast, cloud-based UC platforms can be upgraded and updated remotely, helping businesses keep pace with technological advances in the market. The world’s leading UC providers and tech giants have more resources to update and improve their systems than individual enterprises, giving businesses more flexibility to ensure systems meet their needs.
Does this mean proprietary systems are now obsolete and need to be replaced? Not quite. These can work well for some large organisations where UC needs to fulfil a very specific brief. But this might not be the place most organisations chose to start with UC. Again, business leaders should pick the solution that’s best suited for their needs.
The benefits of managing UC on-site are varied, but the key advantage is that the organisation retains control and manages the system itself.
The hybrid approach
Traditional approaches to UC have seen systems built that try to integrate all lines of communication. One of the key benefits of this approach is the enhanced quality and immediacy of data shared, which allows teams to respond to issues quickly and plan for the future.
However, recently UC has shifted towards a model which prioritises running a custom selection of cloud-based microservices which work together to achieve a similar goal. This usually allows businesses to tailor systems to their needs and respond to changing demands.
The beauty of this hybrid model is that it allows businesses to choose a bespoke collection of programmes that meet their need and help them improve collaboration with external partners.
Rarely will any piece of tech be a one-size-fits-all solution—the choice ultimately depends on the needs, resources and priorities of the organisation.
Securing new working practices
Cybersecurity should always be at the top of an organisation’s agenda. At the same time, discerning UC systems managers need to recognise when excessive protocols are overcomplicating things and getting in the way of day-to-day work.
The reality is that employees expect to send files using WeTransfer, ping a partner using Slack or manage complex remote projects using Trello when collaborating with external parties. Using programmes like these, that are outside the UC, is an indispensable part of modern working life. UC system operators and network managers must respond by putting sensible security processes in place to protect the network from threats.
Unified communications for the future
With the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and Salesforce continuing to develop more innovative services and solutions, the enterprise communications space is evolving at pace.
One notable shift has been towards voice-operated services. Spoken word has been the standard method of communication between people for the whole of human history. Therefore, when artificial intelligence (AI) is combined with chatbots – which interpret customer conversations over the phone and use sentiment analysis to recommend approaches to the agent – it can produce game-changing technology to improve customer interactions. Further developing and integrating voice into UC is a natural choice for businesses that seek improved productivity, simplification of management, cost savings and more flexibility.
Like all business investment decisions, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to UC. However, taking a considered, informed approach can help businesses avoid potential pitfalls, and build a system that can respond to changing demands, transforming businesses one step at a time.