Telephony: Foundational for Today’s Voice & Tomorrow’s Collab
Guest Blog by Jon Arnold, Principal of J Arnold & Associates
Businesses have been using VoIP for over 20 years, and while having gained widespread acceptance, it’s easy to forget just how disruptive it once was. The breakup of AT&T in 1984 spurred much-needed competition in the U.S. telecom market, but innovation did not follow for another 10 or so years. During that time, there were more telcos to choose from, and few choices for business telephony service until VoIP came along to challenge legacy players with lower cost, rich features, and a strong value proposition. This evolution eventually gave way to cloud communications – as we know it today.
The cloud – innovation-driven disruption
Cloud represents a different type of disruption in the communications market today, and one that is innovation-driven rather than price-driven. Whether businesses are looking to migrate premises-based telephony to the cloud, having a commodity, price-driven mentality around telephony will prove short-sighted in many ways.
First of all, telephony is hard to do, especially when enterprise-grade quality and reliability is needed. Not all cloud voice services are created equal, and when considering a move away from legacy telephony, this could be your most important decision. While many vendors say they offer cloud voice, accomplishing a true PBX replacement is not to be taken lightly and requires overcoming many engineering complexities. That view was certainly validated by RingCentral’s CEO and Founder, Vlad Shmunis, during a recent talk among industry analysts.
The power of voice can not be understated, and has always been foundational to business communication, not just internally, but also for customer-facing interaction. Aside from interacting in-person, voice provides the most immediacy and intimacy for communication, and desk phone telephony has long been the best option for this mode. Other modes like email, chat and video have their virtues, but each has some shortcomings when compared to telephony.
That said, workplace demographics are shifting, and based on the messaging-centric preferences of digital natives, it may appear that voice is losing relevance. For these workers, the desk phone is more like a last resort for everyday communication, but when considering the broader trends around digital transformation and AI, the reality is precisely the opposite. As we move into conversational AI and voice-enabled chatbots, workers will engage in new ways that go beyond person-to-person communication, and with that the role of voice will be enhanced, not diminished.
During his talk, Vlad explained how there’s been a steady evolution around voice technologies, but most businesses are still constrained by premises-based phone systems that are built around legacy features and functionality. These phone systems are like islands, operating independently from all the other communications applications running on a data network.
With the phone system being supported by a standalone voice network, voice cannot be integrated with these other applications. Not only does this make for inefficient workflows, but it’s also a poor use of network resources. As such, it’s not enough to just have telephony service, the value comes from extending voice in the cloud, and realising bigger outcomes around integrated unified experiences and seamless workflows.
As Figure 1 below shows, that bigger value first comes by IP-enabling voice via PBX replacement, and adding voice to the data network where it shares a common foundation with all the other communications modes. That first wave creates the foundation for future waves of cloud-based evolution, where all these modes become more tightly integrated, not just for Unified Communications, but higher-order capabilities like AI, which we’re just starting to see now.
Figure 1 – 4 Waves of Business Communications Evolution
This evolutionary path gives rise to two factors businesses must consider to make a strategic transition with telephony. First is the need to replace the legacy phone system – likely a PBX – with cloud-based telephony, and without any compromise in quality or reliability. Most cloud communications providers can support their performance claims with metrics, but beyond that, you should tap third party sources for independent validation. There is a wide variance for how well these cloud services perform, and to move along this evolution path, it’s essential to know what you’re getting.
With those assurances in hand, the next factor is to think beyond telephony and how voice can help drive productivity, both for individual workers, and team-based work. Both modes of working are essential in the workplace now, and telephony has a key role to play with each. However, that role cannot be fulfilled with a like-for-like upgrade from PBX to IP PBX.
Cloud-based telephony is a necessary condition for this transition, but to be strategic, you must think beyond communication to also address needs for collaboration. This shifts the conversation about telephony as a standalone application to being integrated with other applications that help employees collaborate. Enterprise voice needs to be complemented by video meetings, as well as team messaging. Sometimes, just messaging back and forth with a colleague is necessary to complete a task. Other times, a voice call or a video meeting is necessary, and it’s not an either-or thing.
All modes of communication need to be available, especially as a younger generation of workers enters jobs and expect to be able to send messages, as easily as picking up the phone. Vlad talked about this, explaining that the core of the unified experience needs to be built on a high-quality telephony centric approach to communication and collaboration. Without the telephony piece done right, the employee and customer engagement becomes limited.
With the right tools and a great user experience, not only will workers collaborate more effectively, but they’ll be more engaged in their jobs. You may not be thinking this way, but that’s where the bar should be as part of your overall digital transformation journey.
However, you cannot get there by remaining premises-based. The cloud is central to the digital transformation story, and the same holds for Unified Communications. This is the platform of choice for businesses, not just because it’s the best solution for integrating all communications and productivity applications – including voice – but also because it’s open, and can support ongoing innovation for even richer forms of collaboration.
This brings us to the cloud, where UCaaS – UC as a Service – can seamlessly drive both communications and collaboration at scale, without compromising quality or reliability. This is exactly the vision Vlad is striving for with RingCentral, and it all starts with voice.
PBX replacement is an ideal point of entry, as it presents the perfect opportunity to both migrate to IP for better telephony, along with shifting from on-prem to the cloud for the deployment model. The combination of enterprise-grade telephony and the scale of cloud for collaboration across the organisation is a winning value proposition, and based on RingCentral’s sustained growth curve, they’re clearly delivering on that vision.
Guest Blog by Jon Arnold, Principal of J Arnold & Associates
Jon is an independent research analyst providing thought leadership and go-to-market counsel with a focus on the business-level impact of disruptive communications technologies. Core areas of expertise include unified communications, cloud services, collaboration, Internet of Things, future of work, contact centers, customer experience, video, VoIP, and social media. He has been consulting in many of these areas since 2001, and his independent practice was founded in 2005. JAA is based in Toronto, Ontario, and serves clients across North America as well as in Europe. Prior to branching out as an independent analyst in 2005, Jon was the VoIP Program Leader for four years at industry analyst firm Frost & Sullivan. While there, he was responsible for managing their subscription service for Global VoIP Equipment Markets, and through his active participation in the industry, he created a strong presence for the firm and an unprecedented profile in the media.