Unified communications (UC) systems have been around for going on 20 years, but adoption rates have never really met expectations. However, the rise of hosted UC-as-a-Service solutions is likely to accelerate growth in 2018 and beyond. Essentially, UCaaS democratizes the technology by putting UC in the cloud where it can be effectively used by organizations of all shapes and sizes.
On-premises UC implementations have always been big, complicated and messy, with a collection of distinct technologies that must be tightly integrated. It’s a job best left to large enterprise organizations with big budgets, abundant manpower and extensive expertise.
That’s a distinctly limiting factor, considering that a sizeable chunk of the economic landscape is made up of businesses with fewer than 500 employees. According to Bureau of Labor statistics, small to midsized businesses (SMBs) make up more than 99 percent of all U.S. firms and account for about half of all private-sector employment and payroll.
Dispute their collective economic clout, SMBs simply lack the resources to tackle the cost and challenge of an on-premises UC solution. The result has been that, by some accounts, up to 70 percent of SMBs still rely upon legacy telephone services.
That has come with a cost. A new survey by SIS International Research concludes that a typical SMB with 100 employees could be “leaking” more than $500,000 annually due to issues with coordinating communications between team members, juggling multiple means of communication and handling low-priority communications that disrupt workflows.
However, it appears we’ve reached a tipping point as the maturation of cloud delivery models accelerates UCaaS adoption. The cloud model not only makes UC available and affordable for SMBs, it opens the door for digital transformation initiatives by enabling the integration of communications and collaboration tools with key business applications. This helps create an agile, engaged and connected workforce through the delivery of a consistent, reliable communications experience across multiple devices and locations.
By facilitating communications between applications as well as humans, UCaas enables the development of so-called “communications-enabled business processes,” or CEBPs, that boost the productivity of mobile workers. One of the early examples of CEBP is the integration of customer relationship management (CRM) systems with UCaaS to improve recordkeeping, data entry and call handling. UCaaS has also been effectively integrated with office productivity suites so that users don’t have to break up their workflow by toggling between services as they perform regular tasks.
Additionally, features such as mobile extension or single-number reach make it easy for mobile workers to stay in touch with colleagues and customers. Anytime, anywhere access to essential data and applications make it possible to work seamlessly from the office, at home or on the go. A Global Workplace Analytics report finds that the majority of Fortune 1000 employees are already working more than half the day away from their desks, and the trend will only accelerate as tech-savvy Millennials become an ever-larger segment of the global workforce.
For years, leading-edge UC solutions have been beyond the reach of SMBs due to cost and complexity. However, those barriers are crumbling as UCaaS solutions mature. This is opening up new possibilities for communication and collaborative technologies that can allow SMBs to become more agile, engaged and customer-focused.