Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) is taking the business world by storm. The market for its features and services is expected to hit $24.8 billion by 2024 according to research reports.
Management teams in all industries must pay attention to its impact on how companies communicate both internally and externally in the future.
There are two parts to this definition: the concept of unified communications and the option to deliver it as a service.
Communication is possible through more than one medium. For businesses, talking with other teams or co-workers might involve:
- Traditional telephone calls
- Text messaging
- Instant messaging
- Video or audio conferencing
- Communication tools built into other business platforms
All these separate systems can be a hassle to manage. The idea of a unified communication system is that all of it can be combined into a single platform that’s much easier to work with. An important detail found in an email can be forwarded to someone else through instant messaging, for example.
Why “As a Service”?
By delivering this unified experience “as a service,” you outsource the maintenance and upkeep of the communication servers to a third-party service provider remotely. This way, internal teams won’t have to worry about how the system works or how to keep it updated and operational; they just reap the benefits of a seamless collaboration platform.
If you choose to build your own collaboration platform, you’d be paying an immense initial investment into the servers, networking equipment, and data centers and would have to scale it with your own resources.
By contrast, most UCaaS providers charge a relatively low subscription fee for the service and can lower the price even more if multiple clients share the same infrastructure in a multi-tenant setup. Scaling up the capacity of the platform is consequently inexpensive too, as you don’t have to purchase new equipment whenever the seasonal work raises your communication demands.
UCaaS vs. CPaaS: What’s the Difference?
Unified communications aren’t the only service being delivered over the cloud. Other “as a service” products exist now thanks to advancements in online technologies and recent business trends that favor modularity and outsourcing. You may have heard of Infrastructure as a Service, Software as a Service, Network as a Service, and various others.
UCaaS is actually a part of a bigger picture known as Communication Platforms as a Service (CPaaS). Companies usually have communication systems pre-existing in their workflows and choose to add flexibility by integrating new features and tools. These add-ons—which can include video conferencing, messaging, or CRM integration—constitute a full collaboration platform.
This form of modularity is popular in the business sector because every company has different communication needs. No one platform can address everyone’s individual preferences, so it makes sense to use APIs and integration to form a custom technology stack on a case-by-case basis.
In the world of UCaaS, that means linking together the front-end and the back-end. Think about call centers, which combine external communication with customers alongside internal communication among employees so that service representatives can tend to the customer journey properly.
What Are Some Examples of UCaaS?
In response to growing demand for UCaaS services, various providers have cropped up, including many you might have heard of or even use at one point:
- Microsoft Teams
Every vendor manages its own unique feature set, but a common thread amongst all these UCaaS services is how the platform as a whole functions.
The various service providers for UCaaS differentiate themselves based on:
- APIs and integrations for a more complete experience, expanding the platform into the world of CPaaS.
- Special features like the use of artificial intelligence or machine learning to empower smarter customer service.
- Availability in more areas. Larger service providers can even go global and offer their services in local areas by purchasing local data centers.
But all UCaaS services ultimately come from the cloud (ie. they’re all delivered over the Internet). This one trait allows them to be used from anywhere at any time. And since updates, maintenance, and general upkeep are handled by the vendor, the user gets an easier communication experience.
UCaaS truly works as a concept. The client business doesn’t need to put in a large initial investment into on-premises infrastructure. Upgrading and scaling the platform is much cheaper as well since most of the work is done by the vendor. The result here is that even smaller businesses can have access to collaboration features previously exclusive to large enterprises.
Let’s break down the benefits of UCaaS and why it’s become so popular in recent years. By using Unified Communications as a Service, you get to:
- Save on costs thanks to the subscription model most vendors use, which is more consistent and predictable to make accounting easier. You often also have the option to rent devices and infrastructure.
- Cut down on time wasted because you won’t have to rely on an internal IT department to keep the platform updated and operational.
- Scale up the platform whenever you need to. UCaaS prepares you for the future since you can scale up cheaply whenever you gain new customers, expand your operations, or hire more staff members.
- Communicate with your workplace from anywhere. Any device from smartphones to desktop workstations can access cloud services. Even web browsers are able to interface with video conference meetings.
- Rely on technical support from your vendor. If you ever have an issue, you’ll have someone to turn to.
All in all, UCaaS just makes sense for most organizations. Missing out on these benefits means you’ll be at a significant disadvantage compared to the competition in the future.
UCaaS providers are masters of their craft and can deliver more than just a digital telephone line. Feature sets differ amongst vendors, but a few common features you can expect to see include the following.
Voice over Internet Protocol
You’re likely familiar with VoIP services if you’ve ever used Microsoft Teams at work or finished a video conferencing call over Slack. Voice over Internet Protocol is essentially telephony conducted digitally over the Internet.
VoIP is one of the primary features of UCaaS solutions, as it’s immensely more efficient and accessible than traditional telephone lines. At the same time, a bit of backwards compatibility is often necessary, which is why most UCaaS providers offer the option to integrate current PBX systems into VoIP for a seamless experience across a single environment.
Whether you’re using it for internal communication or call centers, UCaaS platforms also offer a variety of VoIP features:
- High-quality audio
- Call recording
- Call routing
- Voice-to-text transcriptions
- Multichannel communication with clients
- Automated answering machines and menus for customers to navigate
We’re even seeing the introduction of features empowered by artificial intelligence, such as sentiment analysis to determine the general tone and attitude of a customer call.
Going Beyond Just Voice
With the rise of remote and hybrid work models, video conferencing is a feature that will be in high demand for many years to come. Recent industry reports indicate that over half of companies believe that video will play a huge role in making teams more collaborative in the future no matter where everyone involved is located.
Compared to voice chat, video conferencing adds a personal touch and increases the cohesion among team members. It’s the closest option to sharing the same physical office space or meeting room.
It’s rare to find a UCaaS platform that doesn’t boast about video conferencing in its feature set, and many even add in extra flair in the form of file transfers, screen sharing, and other add-ons to make working together even easier. Best of all, any device with a camera can participate, from laptop computers to tablets and even smartphones.
Back to Basics with Text Messaging
Yes, business users do use SMS text messaging in the workplace. There are some quick notes and reminders that just work better with a succinct and accessible medium. It’s a well-known fact that younger people tend to prefer text and instant messaging over more traditional methods like phone or email, so getting your UCaaS to enable these channels is important if you want to appeal to the younger demographic.
Combined with all the other channels, UCaaS can push your business into providing an omnichannel customer experience.
Employee status indicators are a common feature of business communication platforms. Just like on Facebook, you can see whether a co-worker is online, busy, offline, or on break. This feature is perfect for remote workers who might not be in the office physically.
Yes, and you won’t be an early adopter. The use cases for UCaaS have already been proven, and we know that it’s the future of business communication. The only question now is how your migration journey will look. Here are some steps to get you started.
Know What You Want to Accomplish
Start by assessing your current communication capabilities. Does your company have enough Internet bandwidth to take on the new cloud service? What about future needs? Are you able to scale up properly when working with a UCaaS provider?
And think about what you aim to achieve with the switch. Are you looking to provide a better customer experience by empowering your call centers? Or are you taking on some new remote workers and want to make sure they stay as close to the workplace as possible? Either way, UCaaS aims to unify your teams and make communication a smooth experience rather than a hoop to jump through.
If going all in sounds daunting to you, there’s always an option to aim for a hybrid solution first. Some businesses have on-site communication infrastructure complemented by cloud solutions for this reason.
Choose a UCaaS Vendor
What should you look for in an ideal service provider for Unified Communications as a Service?
- Feature set should be at the top of the list. For example, what API integrations will be necessary for you? Do you need anything specific?
- Data analytics can help you measure the outcome of the UCaaS adoption process. How significant is your return on investment? Most vendors have convenient dashboards for you to view the relevant metrics.
- Digital security matters even more in the age of data breaches and cybersecurity threats. Make sure security and compliance are a focus when you choose a service provider.
- Experience in the market. Look at what other businesses the vendor has served before. Does it have a track record that you can rely on?
Once you’ve finished setting up a UCaaS solution, start by testing its performance out. Ask your employees, management, and other stakeholders what they think and consult with your vendor accordingly.
Communication is the lifeblood of your company. It dictates how well your teams can work together and communicate with customers. In today’s fast-paced world, businesses need to stay ahead of the curve.
Unified Communication as a Service is the new technology stack organizations are turning to this new decade, so don’t delay in adopting UCaaS solution today.