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How to select a UC platform: 5 questions to ask

If you’d like to improve your business with enhanced communication tools, it is probably time to deploy an alternative telephony and communication solution. Unified Communications (UC) empowers your people to work smarter, faster and from anywhere. But, improving your workplace and business experience through UC requires careful planning and many strategic and financial considerations.

To help design the best UC platform for you, I have collated five crucial questions that must be answered before you make the switch.

1. What does your workforce need?

I passionately believe that delivering secure, future-proof technology means putting your people first. So, the most important step when creating a solid unified comms strategy is to figure out how your people work and what they need to get the job done.

Establish whether employees work from home, on the road, or at home. Next, consider what devices they use – be it mobiles, PCs, tablets or a mixture of all three. Once you know where and how, take the time to find out what apps they are currently using and why (and if they are up to the task). Also, bear in mind that the way your workforce prefers to work may be shifting; personal tech usage is seeping into work lives, especially for Millenials.

With data protection and compliance more critical than ever due to the introduction of the GDPR, it’s also vital that you establish how secure and appropriate your existing tech is for client-facing communications.

With data protection and compliance more critical than ever due to the introduction of the GDPR, it’s also vital that you establish how secure and appropriate your existing tech is for client-facing communications.

2. What is your budget?

Cost is always going to be an essential consideration when investing in any new technology. To ensure ROI, look at how much your current communications system is costing you. Can you save money with on-net calling, reducing the number of devices, video conferencing, or integrated services such as audio conferencing?

However, when doing this, you must establish the total cost of ownership (TCO). In addition to the initial setup costs, take into account things like hardware, licensing, energy, physical space, upgrades, ongoing maintenance and 24/7 internal support; not forgetting the financial impact of unplanned downtime.

If using or considering an on-prem system, it might be worth migrating to the cloud to access enterprise-level UC technology on a more affordable fixed, managed costs or subscription fee basis.

3. Can you maximise your operations?

When deploying a new telephony and communication solution, you should always look at where improvements can be made. So, identify if there any business processes that could benefit from integration with UC apps.

To help you do this, list any applications that are already deployed, and decide which ones need to be integrated with your new UC setup. You should also establish if you will need external support to deploy, maintain, and support these applications moving forward.

If you opt for a cloud solution, it will be easier to bring new apps on board at a later stage and respond to changing business needs.

4. What infrastructure do you have?

Implementing UC into your business hinges on how well you understand your infrastructure requirements. So, you must substantiate whether your current network can support messaging, conferencing, voice and video calling. If not, set out whether your UC solution will be deployed into a new environment. Here again, security is a key concern, so, also ensure that your network is as secure as possible if you need to support remote working.

5. Do you have a roll-out plan?

When making changes to the way you do business, it can be wise to adopt a staggered approach. To help you ensure a strategic plan to UC implementation, start by establishing what your objectives and priorities are. For example, is your business looking to relocate or consolidate office space? Are you planning to globalise or connect your remote teams better?

When making changes to the way you do business, it can be wise to adopt a staggered approach. To help you ensure a strategic plan to UC implementation, start by establishing what your objectives and priorities are.

In any phased rollout, if you want to minimise mistakes make sure you include staff training to promote confidence and productivity.

Many businesses choose to deploy a hybrid model at the start of their UC journey as sites come out of contract or legacy systems have depreciated. So, a hybrid solution can be used as a natural transition to a cloud only service.

A unified comms strategy is necessary to embed communication capabilities seamlessly into your existing business applications and processes, all into one place. Let’s face it, UC is an incredibly valuable, but not insignificant, investment. So the solution you choose has to be the right one for your business.

To help you ask all the right questions, consider your various UC options, and decide which comms features are most important for your workforce and your business, download our handy Unified Communications Toolkit.

Up next

What’s the difference between cloud, on-prem and hybrid UC?

Unified Communications (UC) empowers people to connect, communicate and collaborate safely and efficiently, regardless of location or device. Helping managers to break down problematic company silos, it’s no wonder, therefore, that a large number of businesses have already adopted a UC solution.

But, agreeing on a UC strategy for your business isn’t always as straightforward as you might hope. In addition to a plethora of vendors, partners, and hardware manufacturers, you also have to decide how you want to host your communications platform. And, while the UC industry is naturally moving to the cloud (and, as part of the Intercity team, I’ve seen the benefits of a hosted service first-hand), it’s not always the most suitable approach for everyone.

So what are your choices?

    • On-prem. With all the hardware stored in-house, on-premise solutions are primarily used by larger types of organisations. Often the business will work with a provider to design and build a bespoke communication system (typically a TDM PBX with ISDN or IP PBX with SIP Trunking)
    • Cloud. A hosted solution. The provider hosts the network and service in its data centres, and the business gets access to everything it needs by paying a regular subscription fee
    • Hybrid. A combined approach which lets the business connect a cloud-based UC service to an on-premises appliance.

However, setting out the various options doesn’t really help when deciding which approach is right for your business and your people. So, it’s important to take a more in-depth look at the pros and cons.

On-Prem UC

Typically, an on-premise solution involves Physical Services (PBX) that demand office space, racks, power supplies and cooling systems. So, the upfront investment costs can be off-putting.

One argument I regularly hear for on-prem is that it reduces the total cost of ownership (TCO) over time. And, there are potential cost savings by avoiding recurrent subscription costs. That said, when calculating the real TCO of any tech, you must look at the bigger picture. In addition to the initial setup costs, take into account things like hardware, energy, physical space, upgrades, ongoing maintenance and 24/7 internal support; not forgetting the financial impact of unplanned downtime.

In addition to the initial setup costs, take into account things like hardware, energy, physical space, upgrades, ongoing maintenance and 24/7 internal support; not forgetting the financial impact of unplanned downtime.

On the plus side, with on-prem UC your data doesn’t leave the four walls of your business. IT retains control over the IP comms system, and sensitive business data remains behind the firewall. So, for organisations with stringent or unique data compliance obligations, this approach provides absolute certainty that your network and business is adhering to the necessary regulations. However, while this model suits traditional ways of working, in an increasingly global landscape, more and more companies are working across multiple locations and embracing all mobility has to offer. As such, keeping data locked up within the confines of a building is no longer an option.

Furthermore, with an on-prem UC solution, scalability can be complicated. Businesses have to manage capacity needs, and balance these against any increase in costs. In addition to extra hassle for your IT department, this can be a risk with any unforeseen changes to the economy or your organisation potentially leading to resources being wasted.

Cloud UC

The cloud provides a way of streamlining and centralising your data. Your entire workforce has access to the same information and systems, no matter where they are in the world. With a silo mentality one of the biggest barriers to business success, the Cloud provides the tools to break them down. So everyone has access to the most up-to-date information, as and when they need it.

The cloud provides a way of streamlining and centralising your data. Your entire workforce has access to the same information and systems, no matter where they are in the world.

At the same time, by offering UC technology on a fixed, managed costs or subscription fee basis, businesses of all sizes can access enterprise level tech at a price they can afford. And, in addition to removing the burden of up-front investment, with the heavy work handled by the service provider, there is no need to worry about ongoing maintenance costs and repairs. Freeing your in-house staff and IT from maintaining the service, they can focus on those tasks that drive business growth and make you money.

Of course, one of the most significant benefits when it comes to deploying a managed cloud service or infrastructure is its instant scalability. With the cloud, adapting to accommodate changing business needs such as new offices and devices isn’t an issue. It’s also easy to relocate if moving offices or growing your team. You only ever pay for what you need.

Hybrid UC

As well as enabling businesses with unique data protection needs to benefit from the power of the cloud, a hybrid solution can be used as a natural transition to a cloud only service. As such, many businesses choose to deploy a hybrid model at the start of their UC journey as sites come out of contract or legacy systems have depreciated.

A hybrid model also allows different tech to communicate (e.g. ISDN, PSTN, SIP), typically in organisations that have some cloud. Furthermore, a cloud-based UC service can be connected to an on-premises appliance, and be used to support various types of communications equipment. So, remote offices can be fed a service through a cloud delivery model, even if the physical hardware is located in one primary location.

However, a hybrid model can be tricky to setup and maintain. The complexity of using multiple vendors can also result in a lack of unity and accountability. For example, there can be less clarity over outages; because if a call fails is it an on-prem app or the cloud provider who is responsible?

The bottom line? Even organisations once reluctant to make the shift from on-prem are now putting their communication and collaboration tools into the cloud. And, with the entire industry working towards cloud-based solutions, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the best way to future-proof a business.

Crucially, despite what people might think, moving to the cloud doesn’t put you at any more risk. Today, most cloud vendors offer a reliable, secure infrastructure that far outstrips what most businesses can build for themselves. What’s more, many on-premise legacy systems were developed before cybercrime became prevalent and haven’t been adequately updated. This makes many on-prem systems more vulnerable than the cloud.

To help you ask all the right questions, consider your various UC options, and decide which comms features are most important for your workforce and your business, download our handy Unified Communications Toolkit.