One of the many blessings of the cloud is the ability for businesses to move to unified communications (UC) or its bigger brother unified communications and collaboration (UCC). With email, messaging, phone and other voice services plus video conferencing all interlinked to minimize the delay in making decisions, alerting workers to issues and providing the latest data, UC makes sense for the growing number of companies spread across offices, countries or continents, or those working in a distributed way.
Getting in touch with someone in the most effective and useful way beats leaving a string of emails or voice messages, and helps any company work more effectively, improving the speed of data sharing, decision making and enabling meetings when people are spread far and wide.
Cloud-based UC, UC-as-a-service or UCaaP provides the tools to do this cost-effectively, usually on a per-user basis, spreading the cost over a subscription rather than as a capital investment. With all the tools your business needs available as a package, they can be dynamically expanded as the business grows, or as new features come online. UCC adds collaboration tools to the mix, enabling people to work on live data and documents, and virtual whiteboard meetings wherever they are.
1. Paving the road to UC
Many businesses still operate with a collection of organically grown, disparate and often siloed systems in use. Perhaps an email system from one cloud provider, messaging from another, conferencing calls from a telco and so on. Planning to bring all this under one service requires careful evaluation of what every person or team in the businesses uses and how regularly, understanding how they can better communicate, and how all the existing data is migrated.
Evaluate the needs of the business, team communication capabilities and consider if UC is worth a full organization change (moving everyone to the new system) or limiting to high-performance, fast-moving departments that need the “speed upgrade” promised by UC.
Outline what services you need, and involve the team, or perhaps external experts, to see how processes and communications can be improved, especially with a growing remote or mobile workforce. Ensure existing data, accounts and numbers can be transferred or prepare for a big office change with all new directories.
2. Find the right vendor
Build a tick list of what features you need and what you may require in future, and look for solutions that work with your existing IT or plan to migrate your existing apps and services to a suitable UC product.
Most of the major IT brands offer some form of cloud UC as part of their office solution, or you might prefer a specialist telecoms provider who can do a deal on hardware and devices. Either way, establish whether their tools are right for your business in terms of price, function, expandability and flexibility.
Smaller businesses can likely leap right in, while larger organizations might prefer running a trial. Whichever is right for your business, set expectations regarding the products, and ensure plenty of training so everyone understands the capabilities and potential of the UC services. If the change represents a major investment and cultural shift for the business, ensure the leadership is onboard and that everyone is aware of why the changes are happening.
3. Install the UC services or get expert help
A cloud UC service can be installed on all devices and PCs often within minutes, with a brief sign in and setup period for users. For more complex services, across multiple networks, offices or centers, you might want expert support in installing services and migrating users.
At this point, the business needs a key understanding of where any backups reside, where personal or customer data is collected for GDPR compliance or other regulations, and to understand what your options are if there’s ever a cloud outage or communications failure.
Test the new services while keeping existing communications methods open in case there’s a show-stopping problem, and then migrate all users over to the new service, limiting access to old ones to prevent people lagging behind and creating split systems, just because they like the old ways.
4. Measure the benefits, analyze any problems
Unified communications comes with many benefits including measurable savings in time, on phone bills and other elements. To justify the expense, ensure these are tracked and reported, along with the “tales of success” which usually follow the pattern of “We needed a decision fast and could communicate with x on the road and y who was with a client instantly.”
Where things go wrong, and there will always be hiccups - especially in complex deployments - establish whether they’re down to the system or the user. Remedy these glitches with technical support; many vendors provide premium support as an option, or better training for users. If there’s a fundamental problem, look to the vendor to provide a fix, start searching for a better solution, or implement a workaround for the affected teams or departments.
5. Look to the UC future
As with most cloud services, UC is always evolving, tacking on new features and blending in more services or ideas. Unified communications 3.0 is on the cards, focusing around deep team integration with data, with AI virtual assistants providing reminders and alerts when issues need resolving.
As you adopt your initial UC service, look to how your business could operate in future to benefit from these ideas, and check to see when your vendor or service plans to roll them out.
When adopting UC or UCC, remember that it’s there to help your workers communicate better. Ignore vendors boasting flashy features or trying to deeply integrate into your business, effectively creating vendor lock-in.