The term unified communications (UC) has been around for decades, right back to the days of private branch exchanges (PBX) and key telephone systems, where calls would be routed by local phone providers over the PBX to customers’ phone extensions. Over the years, it may feel as if the term has become overused, to the point that it means different things to different people.
However, the fact is, the term describes something very real that goes on in the industry and in our day to day lives – and that’s all about the way we work and how we manage our day. These phenomena are changing and so is UC.
We’re actually at a once-in-a-generation inflection point when all the traditional silos of enterprise communication – audio conferencing, web conferencing, video conferencing, telephony, messaging – really everything, is being disrupted, and organisations have an opportunity to bring these disparate strands together in ways that save money, improve productivity, and deliver a better user experience for their people. This disruption is coming, in large part, from consumer-facing, mobile applications that have not only revolutionised the workplace, but also wider society and our lives more generally.
We’re living in a world of BYOD and shadow IT, where users are adopting these consumer apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and taking the decision to implement their own enterprise apps without even speaking to their IT department. The new generation of people coming into the workforce demand usability and speed above all else, and unintuitive enterprise apps don’t cut it.
However, while this can work with small teams but can spell trouble for a larger organisation in which everyone needs to work together, or where security, retention of records, and regulatory compliance are important.
The good news is that through this process the applications and features users really like have become much clearer, and we are seeing enterprise vendors like Cisco and Microsoft buying or adopting the best of them. Major vendors and service providers are also adopting cloud or as-a-service delivery models that have been honed in the consumer space, making a transition to new platforms and technologies easier than ever. These services combine the best of both worlds, with users able to experience the intuitive ‘look and feel’ of a consumer app, while the business is able to ensure security and compliance.
UC services can now also be offered Multi-Modal SIP Trunking services, which allow an organisation to send all its UCC traffic – voice, video, IM, and content – to the cloud for immediate global reach, scalability security and performance.
The applications supporting enterprise UCC have got a lot better as a result. For example, this is obvious when you compare today’s Skype for Business to the early generations of Lync. Obviously one reason for is that, as with any technical solution, every generation gets better. However, the other reason it is that organisations have a lot more experience on which to draw – through case studies, consultants and – crucially – employees.
The step change that we’re seeing in UCC applications means that we’re seeing businesses across all sectors exploring these new technologies. The banking and finance industries are the furthest ahead, with some sophisticated uses of this technology. For example, some are employing UCC functionality to differentiate customer-facing applications and services. Tata Communications recently helped the State Bank of India deploy a wealth management solution facilitating video, chat, voice and authentication between wealth managers and their clients – some of the bank’s most valuable customers.
Enterprises are at a tipping point when it comes to UC. The rapid adoption by employees and constant improvement of cloud-based consumer apps means they’re becoming ubiquitous in the work place. However, this is also driving enterprise UC applications which combine the best of both worlds – the great usability of a mobile messaging app, with worldwide deployment, better security and compliance with key data regulation.