Exploring the latest trends in UCaaS
Unified Communications as a Service offers a valuable solution to companies in search of flexible, versatile technology. Used correctly, UCaaS combines all of the dispersed channels in your business environment into a single, aligned platform, while still giving you the freedom to adapt, grow, and evolve as your business changes.
As the communications landscape continues to grow more complex, with the addition of everything from new privacy and security technology, to instant messaging, mobile workforces, and artificial intelligence, UCaaS is rapidly evolving.
Here at UC Today, we’re always keen to stay on the cutting edge of the marketplace, and we believe that the best way to do that, is with input from some of the biggest leaders in the industry.
We reached out to representatives from Mitel, LogMeIn, Cisco, and RingCentral for this latest round table, to answer some of your most pressing questions about the future of UCaaS.
When you consider the many benefits of Unified Communications as a Service, from its advanced scalability, to its cost efficiency, it seems as though embracing this tool is a no-brainer. Yet, though many companies are rapidly making the move to cloud solutions as part of their digital transformation process, there are still a lot of brands that are struggling to evolve.
We asked our UCaaS experts what kind of roadblocks they’re seeing when it comes to implementation in the UCaaS space. Here are the challenges that our experts believe today’s companies need to overcome:
Mark Straton, Senior Director of Calling and Contact Center Product Marketing at Cisco:
Cisco’s Mark Straton told us that all companies encounter different problems depending on their size, their portfolio, and their goals. For a lot of small businesses and greenfield locations, UCaaS makes a lot of sense as the most innovative and scalable solution. UCaaS provides better scalability and security at a fantastic price point while reducing IT and management burdens.
“For multi-site medium and large enterprises, a top concern is how UCaaS solutions will integrate with their existing business applications and investments. These customers often require hybrid deployment and management solutions that maximise their in-place investment life, add innovative cloud services and offer flexible migration paths.”
At the same time, without fully-integrated suites that offer calling, messaging, meeting, and dozens of other crucial capabilities, customers lose their productivity levels, along with TCO and management advantages.
Mark Strassman, SVP and GM of Unified Communications & Collaboration at LogMeIn:
The GM and SVP of UC&C for LogMeIn, Mark Strassman said that UCaaS is an often disjointed experience, despite having “unified” in the title.
“One product might have a few great features but lack other key tools, causing employees to use multiple platforms for various tasks throughout their day”
Strassman believes that this strains productivity and makes it harder to address technical issues when and if they arise. Businesses looking into UCaaS solutions therefore need to find intuitive platforms that can consolidate UC tasks and streamline as many tasks as possible. “This means simplified integrations, consistent support, better user experience and increased productivity from using just one platform, and, importantly, cost savings.”
Mark also noted that tech leaders will also be searching for tools that use the latest cutting-edge technology to manage and automate mundane tasks, like note-taking and transcription. This will allow human beings to have more time for issues that require a compassionate touch.
Rami Houbby, Vice President of UCaaS Cloud Sales at Mitel:
Mitel’s Rami Houbby, the VP of UCaaS Cloud Sales, told us that a primary issue facing customers in the UK is simply navigating the vast selection of choices available. There are currently dozens of UCaaS providers out there, and some of them aren’t delivering the full UCaaS experience.
“True UCaaS should include a whole package of collaboration, conferencing, chat, and customer experience features. It’s not simply a case of combining dial-tone with a portal. It’s important for customers to understand what they’re buying – very often the cheapest providers are compromising in other areas such as quality of service, uptime, and features.”
Rami noted that many organisations may need to continue to support their existing PBX hardware, while still gaining access to cloud-based solutions.
“This is often the case for larger SMBs and upwards. We are seeing significant uptake of hybrid solutions, and this will continue. We recommend that customers consider their needs to clearly define the right solution for their future”
Sunny Dhami, Senior Director of Product Marketing and GTM at RingCentral:
RingCentral’s Sunny Dhami said that as many companies are reaching the end-of-life stages with their PBX systems, the market is beginning to accept UCaaS as the future for business communications. While the journey to cloud might have started in the storage landscape, it kickstarted a much broader evolution.
“Businesses are looking for multi-modal, global, device-agnostic communications solutions that can bring together messaging, calling, meeting and employee engagement. With such an immense cultural shift, the opportunity is huge—in fact, there is over 400 million seats in the market.”
Dhami said that the major challenge for many companies making this shift is realising that it’s a kind of business transformation process – requiring a complete cultural overhaul. “Creating a digital workplace consists of three key elements: workspace, culture and technology. UCaaS, and these digital transformation projects, touch every single person within the business—they transform how a person works and interacts. UCaaS will change working practices, processes, and behaviours, and with such a huge impact, businesses need to ensure they are measuring success at every level.”
Sunny said that if businesses want to succeed in the UCaaS landscape in 2020, they need to think about culture first, and deploy the technology that will help their teams.
The trends in UCaaS are constantly evolving, driven not just by the rapid transformation of disruptive technology in the marketplace, but by the changing needs of users too. Increasingly, companies are beginning to accommodate to the idea of having more of the cloud in their communications landscape. This means that users expect more freedom and flexibility than ever before.
We asked our experts to share their insights on the trends that have changed the UCaaS space in 2019, and what they expect to see as we continue through 2020:
For Cisco’s Senior Director of Calling and Contact Center marketing, Mark Straton, a big trend right now is workplace transformation. If you haven’t focused on this concept yet, Straton says that 2020 is the year to catch up. Cisco has already gone through a huge transformation itself, and the company recommends that other brands should be doing the same.
In 2019, Cisco noticed four key workplace trends that it believes will accelerate throughout 2020. “First, 2019 was truly the year of the huddle space. Huddle spaces rapidly became a vital part of business life. Second, AI and machine learning started to bring tremendous automation in the workspace allowing easier communication while providing deeper insights into the people involved.”
Mark noted that machine learning was the third trend leading the way for workplaces, helping to produce better user and customer experiences, as well as advanced analytics into the collaboration process, and real-estate usage.
“And fourth, voice and virtual assistants have started to take hold in the enterprise. Think of this as Siri optimised for business collaboration enabling voice commands for working with meeting and rooms systems”
“It also automatically pairs video, cell and PC devices with desktop and room devices automatically. This means that these systems automatically have access to your calendar allowing you to join meetings with one button from any paired device.”
Mark Strassman of LogMeIn also agreed that the workplace is changing drastically, with transformations happening in virtually all sectors. He noted that flexible work is one area that’s quickly evolving and gaining popularity for people around the world.
“This is perhaps best evidenced in last year with the success of Microsoft Japan’s famous four-day work week policy.”
“Additionally, recent illnesses cutting down on travel and in-person meetings, and companies are realising the incredible potential of nontraditional workplace arrangements”
Strassman told us that in 2020, he expects to see more companies adopting flexible policies. This could mean allowing more team members to work how and when it suits them to improve productivity and morale.
“A recent GoToMeeting study highlighted just how much employees appreciate remote work: 42% of office workers said their lives would be negatively impacted if they no longer had the option to work remotely, 60% said they would be more likely to take a job offering remote work and 41% said remote work is “very important” to the future of business. In order to attract top talent, this is the key trend employers need to watch.”
According to Mitel’s Rami Houbby, there’s been a significant increase in collaborative working between people from geographically diverse locations recently. Additionally, there’s a growing reliance on bringing freelancers and contractors into the workplace, while supporting home and remote working strategies.
“We’ve also seen a much greater willingness to use more personal tools such as video conferencing – it wasn’t that long ago that most employees in the UK would avoid video but today a rich collaboration experience is increasingly the norm.”
Houbby told us that the world of work is definitely becoming more collaborative. The market for TDM PBX licenses is falling, while IP licensing and apps in the cloud are on the rise. “This tells us that in general organisations are moving to the cloud for the next step in their telecoms and collaboration. These are all important factors in driving an ever-increasing use of cloud-based applications.”
For Sunny Dhami at RingCentral, the biggest trends are also based around flexibility in the workplace, and how UCaaS can support this versatile environment. However, Dhami notes that the raison d’etre of UC isn’t supporting remote working.
“UCaaS allows employees to be more productive, and in turn, businesses. For example, the average employee splits their time between four different communication apps, and switches between tools ten times an hour, and in doing so, wastes 32 days a year.”
Dhami notes that with the tools to make communications simpler and more seamless, businesses can provide more tangible perks to staff. Additionally, the productivity benefits offered by UCaaS will give businesses the chance to give employees extra paid holidays every year, driving more workplace satisfaction for no additional cost.
“Over the next year, we expect to see businesses start to understand and apply the positive impacts UCaaS is having on their businesses. As a result, they will be able to offer tangible benefits that go much further than remote working”
As flexibility continues to stand out as one of the significant benefits for taking communications into the cloud environment, the demand for other “adjustable” elements in the stack is growing. Today’s companies are experimenting with things like CPaaS and APIs to make sure that their new technology works seamlessly with the old.
A scalable API-driven environment provides companies with the tools they need to grow and change at their own pace, we asked our experts how important these concepts were to them:
Mark Straton told us that Cisco believes its customers are in need of an intelligent and comprehensive collaboration suite that integrates messaging, calling, team collaboration, and video with business apps and devices.
“Moving from point to integrated collaboration solutions is a key technology inflection point required for broad user and business acceptance. APIs and developer toolkits and programs are a critical part of Cisco’s Webex open collaboration platform strategy.”
According to Straton, there’s no place for a one-size-fits-all solution for today’s medium and large businesses. These companies already have hundreds of apps they rely on, and they need custom workflows and integrations. “We know that the ability to integrate and to continue to leverage investments is a top concern for CIOs in their consideration of a UCaaS solution.”
Mark Strassman from LogMeIn said that an open platform with well-documented APIs is an important consideration for many UCaaS solutions today. It allows companies to build their own integrations to suit their needs.
However, “perhaps even more important are pre-built integrations into business tools and platforms that a company is already using, such as Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, and more. Such integrations not only allow for better user experiences, letting users flow seamlessly between solutions, but they also allow companies to protect and enhance the investments they have already made.”
Vice President of UCaaS cloud sales at Mitel, Rami Houbby said that the ability to integrate with other platforms like ERP/CRM solutions is a common concern for many customers. APIs that enable these integrations can lead to huge benefits for customers in terms of productivity, efficiency, and performance. These integrations also support better customer experiences.
“ It’s all about stronger workflow management for the business. For example just imagine the benefits to the customer experience if organisations can integrate a CRM with calling and collaboration via a UCaaS solution.”
RingCentral’s Senior Director of Product Marketing and GTM said that every business is different, and the apps that each company uses can vary. To cater to the ever-increasing needs of their employees, businesses often have to ensure that they’re implementing the benefits of CPaaS into their stack. “This includes the plethora of apps that employees already use, as well as the extra apps that will help employees to achieve business targets.”
To help companies achieve their integration and growth goals, API integrations are crucial. However, RingCentral believes that it’s important to have both open API and pre-built solutions in place. Pre-built integrations are much simpler for some businesses to implement, as all they need to do is switch on a new connection.
“The open API approach is equally as important, as this is the part that will continue to support businesses in the future. While a business may be using one app today, who is to know if they will continue to use that application next year, or even next month. Having an open API platform that allows businesses to integrate the different apps they require will means they will have a CPaaS solution in place that will continue to support them as they grow and change.”
Finally, while disruptive technology is everywhere in the communication landscape, AI remains to be a hot topic on most people’s lips within the UCaaS environment. Businesses everywhere are looking for new ways to bring intelligent solutions into their workplace, for automation, improved experiences, and even virtual assistance.
We asked our contributors what kind of impact they thought AI would have on UCaaS as we progress through 2020.
Cisco’s Mark Straton said that AI is likely to emerge as a table stakes solution for video, meetings, and contact centres in 2020. The technology will be a core element of the Cisco Webex Cognitive Collaboration strategy, which aims to bring productivity tools into a single platform.
“This is why we acquired Mindmeld for voice assistant technology (Webex Assistant), Accompany for instant backgrounds on meeting participants (Webex People Insights), Voicea to add transcription, translation and intelligent meeting summaries and action items, and CloudCherry for deep customer experience insights and analytics, now part of Webex Experience Management”
According to Mark, these technologies will help to transform the workplace and deliver greater productivity where companies need it most. The Webex strategy will be focused on integrating AI into individual, team, customer, and workspace experiences, taking advantage of the unique possibilities that arrive when all workloads are on a single platform.
LogMeIn’s Mark Strassman told us that currently, AI is in the “nice to have” category for most businesses. However, it’s also a technology that’s generating more popularity and attention by the day. Rapidly, intelligence is becoming an essential component of UCaaS.
“Collaboration platforms are already using AI to help set up meetings, record and transcribe conversations, and distribute meeting notes. As the technology gets even smarter in 2020. I look forward to seeing AI take over more intensive tasks like analysing meeting content to develop better processes and workflows, and potentially even monitoring and adjusting network bandwidth to help maximise videoconferencing image and audio quality.”
Mark noted that these enhancements will not only remove a lot of the back-end administrative work in collaboration and preserve human creativity, but they’ll help to empower teams in making better decisions too.
Rami Houbby from Mitel said that at first, we’re likely to see AI having a more profound impact on customer experience components of the contact centre in the UCaaS world.
“In the longer term, we may see interesting developments such as AI operating in the big data that sits behind a customer’s UCaaS deployment to deliver a personalised experience to users based on factors such as business policies, their own prior use of the tools, and their personal preferences, etc.”
According to Sunny Dhami, although it is still early days for the integrations between UCaaS and AI, RingCentral is already beginning to see a number of use cases around things like bots for customer engagement, speech recognition, and robotic process automation.
Though the applications in this area are quite new, they’re already leading to significant impacts on business outcomes, driving new success and solutions for workspaces.
“In 2020, AI will open up new opportunities in verticals such as retail, finance and healthcare, and we will see afore mentioned applications becoming more commonplace. The aim of AI within UCaaS, much like the overall aim of UCaaS, is to help businesses boost staff efficiency and productivity. And soon, we will get to a stage where AI will be able to pull out actional intelligence from a range of communications, without any human input.”
What do you think about the input from our UCaaS experts? Do you expect to see any major changes or trends in the year ahead? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, or join the conversation on social media.