September 27, 2017 | Austin Herrington

Goodbye Conference Room, Hello UCaaS with Anytime/Anywhere Communications in the Cloud

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Austin Herrington, Vice President of Product Management

Austin Herrington

Austin oversees Windstream Enterprise’s voice product strategy and roadmap. He and his team develop, manage and market advanced products and services. Austin holds an MBA from the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business.

Yesterday’s most popular workplace collaboration spot was the conference room down the hall. In most cases, it was supported by a PBX voice/phone system that might have lived in a closet nearby. Those days, like those of many other aging, legacy network technologies, are coming to a close. Today, collaboration occurs anywhere and everywhere, while the old conference room down the hall gathers dust, because the best place to connect and share ideas is now the cloud. And the way to get there is Unified Communications as a Service. The UCaaS era is here.

Driven by advanced technologies and the growing preference by employees to work remotely, today’s mobility enabled office demands a variety of essential tools to support instantaneous collaboration. Otherwise, workers are frustrated, productivity suffers and the advantages of always-on communications are lost. With that as a backdrop, it’s no surprise UCaaS sales have begun to dominate the space.

Changes driving collaboration to the cloud

The rapid move to cloud-based UC is driven by a number of independent but interrelated factors – all relating to the emerging digital workplace – that legacy on-premises PBX office voice communications systems simply were not designed to address, including:

  • Changes in the workplace – Workers are not just more mobile than ever, they are also more likely to work remotely. That means they need access anytime, anywhere, from any device. UCaaS answers that need.
  • Changes in the workforce – It’s not just where we work that is changing; it is who is at work that is changing, too. Tech savvy millennials now make up the largest segment of the workforce. They want great technology that adapts to their needs. Once again, UCaaS answers the call.
  • Advances in technology – Legacy voice networks with on-premises PBX and video conferencing systems are not only expensive, but they can also be difficult to operate. UCaaS, on the other hand, puts advanced capabilities at your fingertips and makes them easy to learn, use and manage.
  • Moving from CAPEX to OPEX – One of the most transformational aspects of the XaaS movement is it shifts IT spend from capital to operational expense, making the addition of capabilities like UCaaS easy and affordable.

And these factors are really just the start. As in other facets of IT, the race to move UC to the cloud is in full swing, with even the most risk averse organizations opening doors to the benefits of the cloud.

Legacy systems simply weren’t designed to support the concept of the mobile first office. Integration, efficiency, flexibility and usability are precicely where legacy systems fall short, and where UCaaS excels.

A platform for mobility and so much more

Despite their decades long reputation for reliability, legacy office communications systems are narrow in terms of functionality, difficult to use and extremely inflexible. Cloud-based unified communications solutions free businesses from these constraints, delivering multiple tangible benefits that set users free. In addition to broad support for business mobility, these include:

  • Increased productivity – UCaaS solutions quickly unite people with easy to use integrated collaboration and communication tools that speed workflow, efficiency, and individual and organizational productivity.
  • A platform for innovation and agility – A cloud-based environment enables people to connect across locations, platforms, and devices to share knowledge, improve decision making and get things done.
  • Affordable cost – A pay as you go service based subscription model shifts inflexible CAPEX costs to a predictable, affordable, manageable OPEX model. Putting more spending and computing power within reach.

Choosing a provider to match your needs

As with any other cloud-based enterprise app, the quality, reliability and usability of UCaaS products can vary widely. To make sure they match your new digital workplace’s needs, you must keep in mind it’s not simply about finding a good collection of features and functions. It’s also about a business relationship and the ability to offer experienced guidance that leads to results. Prospective buyers should also consider the following:

  • Mobile readiness – Workers need to be able to access meetings or tackle assignments anytime, anywhere, on any device. To be seriously considered as a resource, UCaaS solutions must deliver on this promise.
  • Comprehensive features – The days of workers simply “Going to Meeting” are over. Today they need tools to do it all – IM/chat, voice, video, presence and annotation, screen/document sharing, providing the ability to access, share, present and collectively edit documents, all in real time.
  • Superior quality, reliability, security (aka, the network). A sophisticated UCaaS solution is only as good as the network behind it. Performance, quality and reliability/uptime are indispensable to the customer/user experience. Voice, video and collaboration apps are performance sensitive. Meaning the choice of the network provider is as important as the UCaaS solution itself (you might also look for a provider who can pair UCaaS with SD-WAN). Same for security, so give strong consideration to a provider that owns and operates both the network and the UCaaS application code.
  • TCO/Affordability. The cloud inherently frees up capital. It also frees IT to focus on bigger things. That said, all UCaaS options do not offer the same value. Get a thorough explanation of pricing, factoring in everything, especially for new, added-value or optional services that may be costly
  • Unified functionality. Sure, there are standalone solutions out there, such as web or video conferencing, but a single solution that integrates UCaaS functionality is now the true price of entry. This provides a better user/customer experience and simplifies support/management.

And don’t forget to analyze the extras. Some providers offer more robust or higher quality options than others, so make sure all of your essentials are accounted for.

Don’t forget ease of use

Welcome to the UCaaS EraObviously there are a lot of things to consider. But if it isn’t intuitive and easy for your people to use, you might as well have bought a cloud-based door stop. Even worse, if people try to use it, it can become such a support burden that any benefits you see will be drowned out by screams coming from IT. So choose carefully.

Windstream knows this part better than most providers, given our efforts to make our own OfficeSuite UCaaS solution as easy to use as possible. Same goes for our effort to combine UCaaS with our fully managed SD-WAN solution to make high performance implementations equally easy for IT.

For more thoughts on the process of making a smart choice in UCaaS, and added insight into why UC has quickly taken to the cloud, read our whitepaper, Welcome to the UCaaS Era, Where best-in-class UC takes place in the collaborative cloud. So whatever route you choose, you’ll have a strong list of criteria to help you compare options. And if I’ve overlooked anything, please let me know; we’re all about collaboration as you may have guessed.

Vice President of Product Management

Austin Herrington

Austin oversees Windstream Enterprise’s voice product strategy and roadmap. He and his team develop, manage and market advanced products and services. Austin holds an MBA from the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business.