A few years ago, experts were touting unified communications as a service (UCaaS) as the next big thing in connectivity. The technology, which provides voice, messaging and videoconferencing from the cloud, would be the go-to platform for organizations looking to reduce IT management costs and roll out the latest communications capabilities efficiently. But today, a relatively small number of organizations use it. In a recent podcast, technology market watchers discussed why the market hasn’t shifted as quickly as expected—and they touched on how some businesses that have made the change are reaping the rewards.
Hosted by communications-tech website UCStrategies.com, the podcast featured a group of pundits explaining the state of the UCaaS landscape. They pointed out that currently, the argument for cloud-based UC overall isn’t obvious for some organizations. But for businesses that have flown to the cloud, the technology makes dollars and sense.
No-fun fund hunt
Having trouble getting budgetary approval for a move to UCaaS? You probably aren’t alone. According to PKE Consulting founder Phil Edholm, most IT decision makers struggle to find the funds for such a shift. He said 93 to 95 percent of the average organization’s annual technology budget is already spoken for, dedicated to planned upgrades and maintenance. That leaves only a sliver for discretionary investments.
“That five to seven percent is oversubscribed by three to seven times for other projects,” Edholm said, “a new ERP system, more virtualization in the data centre, new data network structures.”
For UCaaS to compete, it has to provide a strong return on investment—a bulletproof argument that would trigger a decision to put the technology at the top of the priority list.
A straightforward return on investment
So what counts as a bulletproof argument? UCaaS providers usually say flexibility is the main advantage. For instance, using cloud UC, you can quickly give new users in expanding markets or novel business units the communications capabilities they need to reach new customers and generate sales.
But for many businesses, flexibility is a theoretical advantage. An organization may not need an easy-to-implement communications platform in the short term.
“It has to be very intentional,” said IT consultant Stephen Leaden. For example, one of his customers needed to build a contact centre in fewer than 90 days. “They didn’t really care about the dollar factor. They just wanted to deliver on the promise of a contact centre very quickly.” Using UCaaS, that organization got its contact centre up and running in time.
UCaaS is better together
The power of UCaaS is in the first word of the acronym: “unified.” According to Roberta Fox, principal at communications technology consultancy Fox Group, a good UCaaS service is a unified play. If a business cherry picks separate applications of unified communications from various vendors—voice over IP from one service provider, videoconferencing from another—the organization may find that its system doesn’t work as well as a single platform. “Finger pointing and performance management” issues may arise, she said.
Another potential problem from this fragmentation: bill management. The organization may find it difficult to administer UCaaS expenses across numerous providers. “It’s sort of like the early days of cell phones being expensed to credit cards,” Fox said. The solution is either a sophisticated bill management process or a single UCaaS platform.
What’s this brick on my desk and why is it beeping?
Surprisingly, you may find a good reason to implement UCaaS as your colleagues use the phone less often, said communications technology pioneer Art Rosenberg. Cloud-based communications technologies combined with cloud-based applications enable people to connect in new ways—click a button in a spreadsheet to video-chat with the document’s author, for example. “Contextual contacts” make connectivity more immediate and useful, he said. “The tyranny of telephony is going away.”
Turning back to address the state of the market, UCStrategies.com cofounder Blair Pleasant said she sees plenty of hype from UCaaS vendors but little customer interest. In fact, she said, despite vendors’ best marketing efforts, many of the businesses she talks to have never even heard of cloud UC.
That’s depressing news for vendors. But it may be good news for you. If you see how UCaaS would benefit your business and you decide to roll it out, you may find that you have a distinct communications advantage over your competitors, many of which are still in the dark about the cloud.