By Kevin Kieller
Unified Communications (UC) brings together multiple communication and collaboration tools along with supporting devices and infrastructure hoping to improve user experience, productivity, and reduce overall IT management effort.
Properly designed, integrated, and deployed UC can deliver productivity improvements for most users[i] and provides opportunities to reduce overall spend.
However, many factors are making it harder for vendors, carriers, and service providers to ensure all the pieces of a UC solution continue to work optimally and deliver the anticipated benefits, including:
- Increased frequency of feature releases
- Hybrid work pushing more users to transition between desktop, tablet, and mobile usage
- More devices and device types being integrated into the ecosystem
- An expanding scope of first-party applications
- Increasingly complex APIs enabling more third-party integrated applications
- The merging of unified communications as a service (UCaaS) and contact center as a service (CCaaS) functionality
- Additional compliance, governance, and eDiscovery requirements which necessitate add-ons such as call recording
The above influences present significant opportunities provided the overall UC solution remains functional.
The Need for Speed
Competition has driven major UC vendors to release features at an increased speed. Zoom, Microsoft, Cisco, and others are engaged in a dizzying feature race. End users both potentially win, having exciting new capabilities almost every month, and potentially lose, being overwhelmed, and confused by frequent changes.
Microsoft tracks in-development and released features via their Microsoft 365 roadmap site. Thirty-two new features were launched in the past month alone.
In the past year, Teams recorded over 300 new launched features. This is not unique to Microsoft Teams. Zoom, Cisco and most major UC platform providers are also releasing new and improved features at a comparable pace.
Ensuring every component of a UC solution continues to work, especially as the user interface changes presents unique operational and testing challenges.
UC always promised communication on any device, anywhere; however, for many organizations and individuals it was only the global pandemic that truly exercised the full remote capabilities of UC.
As organizations now strive to figure out their new work model, many users will be working remotely a large percentage of time, in the office part-time, and potentially traveling, or in other shared spaces, the remainder of their time.
The new work model for most organizations requires that reliable, quality communications and collaboration can be consistently delivered across managed and non-managed networks utilizing a variety of devices, including personal devices.
New Device Types
As UC solutions seek to address additional use cases, ecosystem partners are innovating related to new device form factors.
We have seen an increasing number of headset configurations, new desk phone form factors, for example where your mobile phone serves as the core processing unit, different display panels such as room availability indicators, and a huge expansion of meeting room devices.
While admittedly imperfect, increased meeting interoperability has delivered meeting room devices that can be used to join multiple UC platform meetings in a single day—a Webex meeting, then a Zoom meeting, followed by a Microsoft Teams meeting.
Ensuring this wider variety of devices function properly, especially when used with multiple UC platforms, requires more sophisticated testing and monitoring.
Growth of the UC Suite
UC vendors have not only been increasing the depth of their solutions with rapid feature releases but also expanding the breadth of their offerings.
An increasing number of previously independent applications are being “bundled” into the UC core. Examples include whiteboard applications, task tracking utilities, workflow tools, and scheduling capabilities.
Users fully expect bundled applications from a single vendor to operate seamlessly together; however, even first-party applications often have differing update schedules, which can create version-related issues.
UC Suites are also being expanded to support additional use cases, for instance serving the needs of frontline workers.
The enhanced capability of UC solutions requires an exponentially larger set of initial and regression test cases.
All leading UC platforms are enabling more capable application programming interfaces (APIs) which in turn drives a significant increase in third-party integration possibilities.
The UC platform is becoming the central work hub.
With more interconnected line-of-business apps, keeping the UC core working is both more challenging and more important.
The Merging of UCaaS and CCaaS
A key theme at this year’s Enterprise Connect conference was the merging of functionality between contact center and unified communications solutions.
Contact center agents are being provided with the capability to connect subject matter experts from the broader organization leveraging UC functionality, to increase first-call resolution and improve customer experience.
UC solutions are adopting contact center functionality such as “screen pops”, displaying relevant information when a communication session is initiated.
The merging of UCaaS and CCaaS functionality requires testing and supporting a wider range of use cases. With contact centers integrated into UC platforms, there is an increased risk of impacting the customer experience should a UC solution fail.
Compliance and Governance
More organizations are implementing governance and compliance tools to avoid “team sprawl”, classify and protect sensitive data across both internal and external boundaries, monitor and support customer experience, and meet regulatory requirements.
Given the multiple communication modalities supported by UC, ensuring tools such as call recording operate with full fidelity can require significant effort.
As the complexity of UC solutions continues to grow, there is no single solution that mitigates potential negative user experience and productivity impacts. However, there are several strategies that when used in concert show promise:
- Recommitting to certified components
- Investigating continuous testing, including robotic process automation
- Providing enhanced initial and on-going training (for both IT Pros and end users)
- Adopting a structured release cadence
TekVizion is proud to be sponsoring a series of conversations and articles to explore solutions for keeping UC working in this increasingly complex world.
Join the Discussion. Live Webinar.
To begin the series, we will be inviting you to join us on June 21, 2022, at 2 PM ET for a live webinar: How Service Providers Can Keep Pace in an Agile World. Moderated by the UC industry analyst Blair Pleasant, here is what our panel of experts will be discussing:
- Building an adaptable and agile operation
- Implementing a structured release cadence
- Integrating continuous testing
- Investigating robotic process automation (RPA)
- Other best practices
Click here to register now.
[i] BCStrategies, “Unified Communications and Collaboration User Adoption and Training Study”, November 2021—50% of surveyed users indicated their new UC&C solution made them more effective in their job.
About the writer
Kevin Kieller co-founded enableUC, to help organizations and vendors fully leverage the opportunities created by Microsoft Teams and the associated Microsoft ecosystem.
Kevin fell in love with technology developing video games for the VIC-20 and Commodore 64. In 2021, he returned to his software development roots, overseeing the design and development of Trivia Engine for Teams, a knowledge reinforcement solution that uses gamification and an engaging “quiz show” format.