Unified Communications: the best at everything – or connecting the best of everything?
The COVID-19 crisis has forced many enterprises to reassess what Unified Communications means for their business. Operators need to understand how the landscape has shifted and embrace the architectural shift this demands. The monolithic approach to UC islands is no longer fit for purpose. Convergence and integration are now key.
Traditional monolithic UC platforms are isolated
One interpretation of unified communications (UC) is that is means a solution that enables communications for everything, across a growing range of channels. That is, a solution that incorporates voice communications, extended in some way to mobile, and perhaps also included video and messaging.
To some, this means a single, monolithic platform that does everything – in other words, it seeks to be the best at everything, to the exclusion of other, similar solution. It’s an all-or-nothing approach that essentially creates islands of platforms adopted by different user groups.
Setting aside arguments that such an approach may actually not be useful to everyone or all target segments, COVID-19 has shattered this vision. While the value of existing UC solutions was evident in supporting more distributed working, far from cementing their role as the dominant communications platform in an organisation, many users also embraced alternative platforms.
UC fragmentation and the adoption of multiple platforms is now normal
Indeed, what we actually experienced was a significant fragmentation of the market. Solutions such as Teams, Zoom and Google were eagerly embraced for ad-hoc and planned communication, both internally and between organisations, while other platforms such as Slack, WebEx, Blue Jeans, Whereby, Videonor, and more all enjoyed significant surges. Many collaboration applications that have been popular in specific countries boomed and spread outside their original user base.
So, the idea that a single platform is sufficient for all communications and collaboration needs has, it’s fair to say, been completely exploded. People will choose a tool that’s convenient – not to replace an existing solution (classic voice and mobile comms continued as usual – only more so) but to augment and extend it, and also to accommodate interaction with other groups of users on a different platform. They will also happily adopt multiple solutions.
UC solutions must embrace interoperability
In this context UC must be seen as both an architectural approach, as well as a discrete platform. A UC solution, of whatever kind, must be capable of interacting with other platforms, in order to offer the unified experience. It is not a single platform that replaces everything else, but rather one that connects others to deliver a unified experience.
A UC platform can be many things – from an elegant FMC solution, as we have detailed previously, to an all-inclusive omni-channel platform. What it cannot be is isolated (another point we have made more than once!) from other platforms that people will use, regardless of whether there is a preferred corporate platform or not.
Connect the best to add value
That’s because no single UC solution can be the best at everything, as recent experience has shown. They need to connect to the best of everything, enabling each of these popular platforms to interact. In addition, they also need to provide fallbacks – so that people can participate over standard fixed or mobile voice connections, while others do so with video or chat.
UC has huge importance as an architectural approach. Individual platforms need to reflect this. Rather than doubling down on monolithic – and now splendid isolation – the reality is that practical steps to integrate and to connect different UC islands is now essential. In 2021, expect significant movement in this direction. First through more widespread integration with Teams and then with additional integrations to other platforms, as users recognise the value of connectivity. Connecting the best of everything is definitely the right approach for the future!