Many IT consultants were forced to swiftly scrape together a remote communications solution at the start of the pandemic. But now that the initial rough seas have calmed down a bit, it’s time to consider a more sophisticated approach to UCaaS systems to avoid a major shipwreck for your customers down the line.
UCaaS infrastructure is like an iceberg. Most employees only see what’s above the surface—messaging, videoconferencing, VoIP. It’s up to IT consultants and managed service providers to maintain what’s below the UCaaS surface—network infrastructure, connected devices, bandwidth.
A failure to seamlessly integrate that infrastructure with a UCaaS solution could result in a communication breakdown that frustrates your staff at best and drives your customers to your competitors at worst. With the right maintenance, however, your UCaaS system can help your customers better communicate both internally and externally, which is a critical need in today’s remote work environment.
The Rise of UCaaS
According to the most recent AVANT Analytics 6-12 Report, UCaaS interest spiked 86% at the outset of the pandemic. Given that the goal of UCaaS is to establish a fully unified, compatible, and cloud-based enterprise communications system across multiple locations, this data comes as no surprise. The rapid shift to remote work pushed many organizations to embrace more flexible, cloud-based communications solutions that enabled their teams to stay connected with one another and their customers from home.
These solutions also streamline communications management, enhance interoperability, improve collaboration, and typically reduce overall cost and complexity, which is why interest in UCaaS was already on the rise prior to the coronavirus outbreak. Adoption rates among small to midsize businesses that often lack the staff, time, and budget required to manage on-premises solutions are often higher than those of large enterprises, according to data collected just before the coronavirus outbreak.
So, while many organizations felt the immediate need to adopt UCaaS solutions to better facilitate communication across temporary remote work environments when COVID-19 hit, these solutions likely won’t be temporary. The most obvious reason is that it makes little sense to take a step toward digital transformation only to return to outdated technology. For example, the basic telephony capabilities provided by the Private eXchange Branch (PBX) are no match for the digital capabilities provided by UCaaS, and PBX often costs more to maintain than UCaaS, which is likely why 67% of 6-12 survey respondents said they plan to replace legacy telephone systems with UCaaS over the next year.
But UCaaS is so much more than a simple tech upgrade—it’s an investment in customer experience (CX). To stay competitive in today’s digital landscape, businesses need to meet their customers where they are, which is increasingly online. UCaaS provides a host of digital capabilities, including SMS, videoconferencing, and even social platforms, which not only reduces CX friction, but also introduces new efficiencies by streamlining all your customers’ business communications needs. New digital frontiers like voice recognition and natural language processing (NLP), moreover, aren’t far off.
Maintaining Long-Term UCaaS Success
While UCaaS likely solved your customers’ surface-level requirements at the outset of the pandemic, it might also have been necessary to adopt certain upgrades to ensure that UCaaS would work properly across the full landscape of their environment. These capabilities will need to be maintained over the long haul. Examples include:
- Network infrastructure: Establishing the network infrastructure needed to operate in a cloud environment is critical to the success of a UCaaS system. While SD-WAN adoption has increased in recent years, especially among SMBs, MPLS infrastructure continues to grow in specific market segments. LTE might also be useful to support mobile applications or slow home internet connectivity. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to UCaaS. In fact, one of its most significant benefits is that UCaaS solutions can be customized to meet each customer’s unique needs, so IT consultants and MSPs will want to facilitate close collaboration with business leaders to truly unify communications with organizational processes.
- Bandwidth: As most IT consultants have experienced, bandwidth issues are one of the biggest concerns businesses face when they delay migration to UCaaS: 51% of 6-12 survey respondents cited it as the most common issue. And these issues have only intensified in the shift to remote work. Contrary to many business leaders’ expectations, facilitating a remote unified communications system isn’t as simple as sending each employee home with a telephone. Variable home environments come with variable internet connectivity, which leads to variable bandwidth. If you haven’t done so already, require customers to conduct home speed tests to determine if their networks can handle applications like voice and video, then reassess infrastructure needs if necessary.
- Security: Heavily regulated industries like healthcare and finance have historically been the slowest to adopt UCaaS solutions based on cybersecurity concerns about the sensitive information they handle. But as security across these spaces has strengthened in recent years, most UCaaS systems now come with robust security capabilities baked in. You’ll still want to establish specific security strategies, however, especially if you’re advising a business subject to strict oversight. In most cases, IT consultants, perhaps working in conjunction with managed security service providers (MSSPs), will be ideally positioned to help SMBs navigate their security decisions.
IT consultants and MSPs must now focus on the long-term success of UCaaS solutions put in place during the pandemic. Because at the end of the day, UCaaS is not a temporary fix to make it through the pandemic—it’s the future of internal communication and customer experience. And maintaining the underlying infrastructure today will determine if your customers sink or swim tomorrow.
KEN PRESTI is vice president of research and analytics at AVANT.