The increasing assortment of options IT leaders have at their fingertips presents advantages galore. One important consideration in this context involves support for unified communications in the IT budget.
Defining Unified Communications
As many as there are options in unified communications, there are just as many, if not more, definitions of the term. Simply put, unified communication is a practice of converging data, voice and video while combining those with software applications. The goal is to communicate and drive efficiencies for business processes, increase collaboration and productivity. Deploying UC to integrate business communication tools and devices into a single system produces common connectivity between phones, computers, wired and wireless devices, email, videoconferencing and audioconferencing, instant messaging and advanced telepresence technologies. All of these methods can be dangerously ineffective when disparately connected, yet when interoperating in real time, they produced unparalleled communications.
At this stage, there’s a lot of buy-in from IT and the broader C-suite that UC is a necessary strategy. However, implementation varies greatly among organizations, and it’s often dictated by budgets. A survey by West Unified Communications Services illustrates just how much financial constraints are determining adoption of UC—or lack thereof. Of 250 IT managers polled, half of the ones with annual IT budgets between $26,000-$100,00 only use basic UC tools, like audio and email. The IT managers of companies with IT budgets over $5 million, 89 percent take advantage of more advanced UC solutions. Distilling the numbers down, you could say that practically all of the enterprises with large IT budgets have (literally and figuratively) bought into the strengths that Unified Communications offer.
Some more specific statistics from this study point to audio being the most prevalent form of communication still, with web conferencing close behind it. Videoconferencing is rather underused, even among the largest companies; however, 36 percent of IT professionals surveyed anticipate expanding video resources in the next few years.
Here are some other key statistics on the preferred UC tools from those enterprises with larger IT budgets, as surveyed by West:
- 79 percent, audio conferencing
- 76 percent, web conferencing
- 73 percent, IM/presence
- 68 percent, videoconferencing
- 67 percent, screen sharing
- 43 percent, social collaboration
Taking UC into the Cloud
Today’s office sure isn’t what it used to be. Cubicles and traditional desks are becoming less of the norm. The need to be mobile, and the simplicity workers can do so today, are migrating the office out to anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection. The idea of software as a service (SaaS) has quickly become XaaS, and cloud computing deserves much of the credit for ushering this new paradigm in. Unified Communications is no different.
UCaaS offers compelling advantages. It’s versatile, scalable and affordable. The cost savings to a small business are particularly appealing. By hand-picking the UC services that fit the workflows of users, an IT manager can create an a la carte solution. Costs are cut as a result, along with an increased confidence for users translating to more utilization.
There are two common structures to deploy UCaaS: single- or multi-tenancy. The former provides exclusive access to a software platform, which results in greater security and reliability, yet it is the more expensive option. With multi-tenancy, more than one tenant can co-exist on the same platform, as hosted in the UC provider’s data center. This option is more palatable for tighter budgets, and it provides more support, upgrades to software, plus redundancy. The cons are that it is less flexible and less customizable.
Productivity Gains Justify Investment
Workforce collaboration increases productivity among workers, so they can focus on performing tasks faster, more efficiently, from pretty much anywhere. Productivity is the prime incentive that IT managers reported in the West survey for implementing new UC solutions. It just so happens that workstream messaging is favored by both employees and customers across the enterprise. The popularity of tools like instant messaging point to a significant justification for including UC support as a component of the IT budget.
It’s undeniable that the modern workforce demands the comfort of working with their own devices, as often as possible, from the locations of their choice. Deploying a thorough Unified Communications solution should include diverse feature-sets that empower mobile workers. The financial savings on travel, time and other IT expenses are significant. Employees should enjoy the freedom and ease of participating in meetings and company events from anywhere.
Network Security is a Necessary in UC Strategy
As network security is of the utmost importance for IT leaders, any UC support should consider the necessary security requirements. This needs to be planned as part of the budget as well. This includes maintaining and securing the enterprise UC while minimizing downtime and avoiding major breaches. With AV technology over IP becoming the norm, cybersecurity attacks are an unfortunate risk. This extends to any lost or stolen device an employee uses, all of which might harbor sensitive corporate data.
There’s no one size fits all for securing IT infrastructure. The trusted firewall is still a great line of defense for data, but it fails to protect advanced SIP voice and video calls from attacks on the application layer. Session Border Controllers (SBCs) are a form of UC firewalls with added security, including protocol filtering, encryption, topology hiding, per-sessions state awareness, and dynamic blacklisting if an app is abused. The SBC can shut down suspicious sessions while passing information to other devices down the security chain and watching out for similar activities.
Whether working in corporate, healthcare, education or government, and most other professional industries, the benefits of Unified Communications are widespread and quickly becoming adopted. It’s a good time to consider budgeting UC support within IT.