Evolution of unified comms services

Evolution of unified comms services

Post-pandemic ways of working are forcing organisations to rethink their comms – we look at the growth in cloud-based services to support hybrid working

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Published: 16 May 2022

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, employees proved they could work effectively and productively from home – and many are planning to continue doing so despite the widespread return to offices.

According to a recent study by CCS Insight, although pandemic restrictions are easing in many regions, employees are determined that remote working will continue to play a vital role. This will have a profound effect on the way IT departments reconfigure telephony, unified communications (UC) services and Wi-Fi networks to support post-pandemic working methods.

The survey of 660 employees in European and US organisations reports that 90% of those who are able to work remotely want to retain the option to do so, with just over a quarter (27%) wanting to work remotely all the time. The appetite for full-time remote working varies slightly by region, at 38% in Germany, 36% in the US and 33% in the UK.

A much higher proportion of respondents, at 62%, favour a hybrid model, whereby they would work from home three days per week.

The need to make hybrid work

Analysts at Gartner forecast that the number of remote workers will have doubled to over two-thirds of digital workers by 2023, shifting buyer requirements towards work-from-anywhere capabilities.

The nature of remote and hybrid working means people are continuing to hold meetings online, even with the easing of pandemic restrictions and offices reopening. According to CCS Insight, this continued reliance on virtual meetings is triggering disruption across the employee productivity technology market.

Its survey found that use of the two leading platforms – Microsoft Teams and Zoom – jumped by over 50% in 2021, with the products being used by 47% and 41% of employees respectively. This is having a dramatic impact on the use of traditional voice technologies in organisations, with phone calls down 20% compared with pre-pandemic levels.

This is not just about using video conferencing, says CCS Insight principal analyst Angela Ashenden. The lines between the different forms of work-related communications are blurring, with “a shift from voice to telephony apps”, she adds.

CCS Insight’s research found that almost a quarter of employees expect their use of desk phones to further decrease over the next 12 months, with voice-only and video calls on meeting apps expected to grow strongly.

Popular apps combine enterprise messaging, telephony and video conferencing as cloud-based UC services with relatively straightforward subscription plans. In fact, the unified communications as a service (UCaaS) market has reached a point of maturity where the services available are superior to on-premise systems.

Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for UCaaS report, published in October 2021, identifies Cisco, Microsoft, Zoom, 8×8 and RingCentral as market leaders.

According to the report, for Gartner clients that subscribe to Microsoft 365, messaging is almost always awarded to Microsoft. In the most challenging telephony environments, however, such as hospitals, manufacturing, field services and retail, its clients select providers with the most extensive capabilities and a longer track record, such as RingCentral, Cisco and 8×8.

However, while senior IT leaders understand infrastructure spending and will err towards economies of scale to reduce communications costs, CCS Insight’s Ashenden says employees prefer to use the tools they are accustomed to, which means they may organise and host conference calls on their favourite video conferencing app, even though the organisation may have a company-wide contract with another provider.

Market leaders in UCaaS

Microsoft

With 80 million monthly telephony users, Microsoft Teams has experienced the largest UCaaS adoption rate among the top providers.

Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for UCaaS highlights Microsoft’s expansion of Calling Plans from 11 to 28 countries, along with its introduction of an Operator Connect programme and a Voice-Enabled Channels feature, which Gartner says offers lightweight call centre-like capabilities.

Teams also offers location-based routing and live captions for calls. There are 1,000+ apps available in the Teams App store.

Zoom

Regarding enhancements to Zoom, Gartner says the company has introduced Power Pack, a desktop experience for reception console users, and an enhanced dashboard for real-time and historic call queue analytics.

It is now offering a hardware-as-a-service option for IP phones in 18 countries, and Zoom United, a bundled phone, meeting and chat offering for less complexity and commercial effectiveness. It also offers the Phone Appliance, which allows a Zoom app experience for desk phones.

In July 2021, Zoom put in a $14.9bn bid to acquire contact centre-as-a-service (CCaaS) provider Five9. But the two companies failed to reach an agreement and the acquisition was abandoned in September 2021.

Cisco

Gartner notes that Cisco has expanded the telephony feature set in its Webex service to support large organisations. Telephony is now available in 85 countries in 21 languages and Cisco now offers an e-commerce site for web-based purchasing.

Like many of the products featured in the Gartner report, Webex uses AI-based noise removal, which offers hybrid workers a better conferencing experience.

RingCentral

While it is known for its telephony service, RingCentral has been expanding into the online video conferencing market.

Gartner points out that the company has formed strategic partnerships with Verizon and Vodafone, made e-commerce investments for direct sales, and put “a massive investment in RingCentral Video meetings”, adding virtual backgrounds and closed captioning.

Other changes listed in the Gartner report include redesigned mobile and desktop clients to keep pace with rival offerings, and expanded developer support via RingCentral Engage application programming interfaces (APIs).

Deeper comms integration

UCaaS is often discussed alongside communications platforms as a service (CPaaS), where services are more tailored to organisations wishing to develop functionality that fits closely with internal enterprise systems. CPaaS is generally seen as a way to help organisations develop and improve their end-to-end customer experience.

A study from Forrester, commissioned by Vonage, reported in October 2021 that seven in 10 firms feel they are able to provide information to customers when, where and how they want it. The online survey of 1,037 global customer and digital experience decision-makers and influencers found that 98% of CPaaS users are “very” or “extremely” effective at getting their customers the information they need, compared with just 37% of organisations that don’t use a CPaaS.

According to Gartner, a capability that has seen increasing market demand is the integration of universal communications capabilities with business applications that make workflows more efficient. For instance, 8×8, one of the leaders in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for UCaaS, develops software for the entire UCaaS and CCaaS stack.

There is clearly plenty of choice when it comes to selecting a unified communications service. The majority of products provide off-the-shelf video conferencing, telephony and messaging. Businesses looking to streamline workflows may need to consider how these systems integrate with their customer experience platform, customer relationship management (CRM) and other enterprise systems.

What is clear from the industry experts Computer Weekly has spoken to is that these systems need to be able to support hybrid working patterns and hence office wireless networks require a rethink.

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Author: admin