Unified Communications (UC) solutions have been around for a couple decades now, integrating real-time communication services with non-real-time communication services. However, the space is fast evolving with emergence of API-based solutions, cloud-based UC and VoIP providers and AI-based bots or digital assistants replacing human interface. Given these developments, UC is expected to double to U$96 billion market by 2023.
Figure 1: SMB considerations for selecting VoIP based systems
Growing expanse of UC and Role of Technology
The strategy towards UC begins with a migration to VoIP-based telephony, which is seen as a precursor to UC adoption. Yet, the voice market continues to be firmly divided between less than 100-extension deployments – that is based on analog technology, and more than 100-extension deployments – that is IP-based technology.
Today’s UC users expect their communication systems to be a platform rather than a product, with capabilities that allow present systems to integrate with CRM, social channels like WhatsApp, Messenger, and Live chats and bots on websites, for marketing, lead management, and customer support.
UC technology continues to be complex and requires large denominator of users to make the solution palatable. Industry reports indicate that on-premise non-IP based telephony forms 47 percent of over 50 million on-premise extensions sold annually, serving the less than 100-employee businesses. This is the lower end of SMB market. However, SMBs are calling out features like auto attendant, auto call distribution, use of softphones and call recordings, which should speed up the migration from non-IP systems to IP-based voice systems, raising PSTN to SIP trunk migrations.
On-premise versus Cloud
Cloud-based UC and VoIP platforms are gaining acceptance from SMBs who want to avoid complexity of an on-premise solution which creates dependence on an in-house IT team or vendors. Cloud solutions start from $10 per user per month, and incrementally rise per feature to ~$50, making it a sizable monthly bill. The cost-effectiveness of such an offering is seen differently by small (<100 employees), medium (200-500 employees) and large (>500 employees) SMB organizations, hence, SMB should not be seen en masse.
Cloud solutions offer better integration with different applications, but in a growing organization, the rising monthly user and feature cost makes it an expensive proposition. This leaves room for an on-premise, simple to use and low-cost UC solution that can meet SMB requirements effectively.
Future of UC
The need for automation is driving adoption of technologies like digital assistants and bots in the UC space. Alongside, some new entrants are taking an Application Programming Interface (API) approach to an alternate consumption model that embeds telephony and UC features, such as click to call or click to chat, into existing business applications. On the other hand, the need to drive costs down and skill availability is driving a virtual and geographically dispersed workforce that requires remote collaboration capabilities and is key to productivity in such environments. Features like video conferencing, real-time presence and document sharing are thereby becoming increasingly important.
These needs will continue to drive creation and adoption of cutting edge UC features in the organizations that are >100 users and buying 53 percent of digital telephony. However, a large 47 percent that are <100 users are still buying old Analog technology and have not embarked on their UC journey yet. These are essentially new businesses, SMB, SOHO, public sector and non-profit organizations that require UC to be made consumable for them.
If you are about to start your UC journey, I hope you are as excited as I am with the potential it offers businesses today. I urge you to keep the long-term vision in mind and seize the opportunity to start with a telephony system that is feature rich and meets the needs of a dynamic workplace. It is time to rethink the way we communicate.