17.03.2016 • Press release
We have entered what can be described as a ‘transformation phase’ for business communications. The sheer impact of the technological and social change happening right now can be compared with over a century ago, when the first telecommunications cables were laid under the Atlantic and the delivery of a telegram meant the dispatch of a message between continents was reduced from weeks down to a matter of minutes. Back in the late 1800s, the shift was all about speed and maintaining links with far-flung territories, yet today there are many parallels that can be drawn.
Fast-forward to 2016 and advances in technology are still shaping how we interact, but people are also demanding to stretch the boundaries even further, expecting more efficient and simplified communication tools, whether inside or outside of the workplace. Similarly, the BYOD culture represents both a challenge and an opportunity for employers, as smartphones set to replace desk-phones and the popularity of social media and video overtake conventional communication channels such as voice or meeting face-to-face. How and where we work is fundamentally different and ‘unified communications and collaboration’ is no longer a buzzword - employees can now share resources, applications and data across many devices and locations.
New delivery methods
The rise in demand for choice and personalisation from employees, together with advances in technology are also affecting how business communications are now being delivered to organisations. The move to an ‘all-IP’ communications environment has paved the way for new delivery methods such as cloud, but does this necessary mean the end for on-premise telephony? In our own experience as a Unified Communications vendor, the death of on-premise solutions is grossly exaggerated, as many organisations are still choosing to ‘own’ rather than ‘rent’ their communications via a cloud service provider.
However, the appeal of a virtualised model is becoming increasingly popular (even those that are still buying technology are opting to host it themselves) in tandem with other complementary applications such as Microsoft Office 365 and other SaaS solutions such as accounting and/or CRM software. This trend is echoed by numerous studies. For example, analyst Gartner predicts that the unified communications market will grow from $40.9 billion in 2014 to $42.4 billion by 2019, fuelled by demand for cloud-based services as organisations digitalize their business workflows.
Born in the cloud
For fast-growing SMBs and start-ups with a distributed or scalable workforces and/or virtualised offices, the attraction of cloud-based UC is overwhelming. Firstly there is no upfront capital investment, secondly it is cheaper and easier to maintain or add new users or sites and thirdly it offers them affordable access to a range of features and functionality such as call recording, rich presence or sophisticated call routing that in the past might only have been accessible by their larger competitors. In particular new entrepreneurial businesses founded by millennials are often ‘born in the cloud’ so it is natural for them to go for a 100% cloud technology strategy. Of course not all businesses will succumb to the subscription economy. Why? Because in some circumstances it may even be more cost-effective over the longer term to purchase a solution outright. Many larger and more conservative companies that have dedicated in-house IT teams are likely to stick with this option, but even then many will choose to host it themselves in a private datacentre, so it still has all the attributes of cloud, but they can sweat their assets. Swyx is one of few vendors who can offer “undecided” customers the same functionality in both on-premise and cloud, giving those ‘not yet ready’ the possibility of a seamless transition to the cloud at a later stage.
Integration unlocks value
So as more organisations decide on cloud-based UC, not only can they benefit from continually updated new features, there is also scope to increase the overall value of the investment through integration. This is a trend identified by Gartner who reported that UCaaS users expressed a strong interest in linking with other cloud applications through the use of APIs. As the ‘unified’ in ‘unified communications’ suggests, by combining & linking information across various applications such as Salesforce or an accounts package, cloud-based UC can begin to deliver more than the sum of its parts by bringing everything together.
Similarly, if you are already using other cloud services, then with standard APIs it is straightforward to join these altogether, so you can cherry-pick the best solutions, rather than compromise. The freedom to choose the IT tools you want and the ability to get these speaking to each other gives you unparalleled flexibility and enriched communication. The possibilities for integration between third party solutions is unlimited. Swyx has a long history of client side SDKs and APIs that allow integration into other systems, and today has over 70 solutions that it has been successfully integrated with - from ERP through to screen-sharing. With our new cloud product we are taking this to next level adding server-side APIs, such as REST.
Technology no longer needs to stand on its own, which is why we have designed our own solution using open interfaces to be able to harness capabilities in other communications platforms such as Skype for Business. For example, between 25-30% of our current customers appreciate that they can take advantage of some of the collaboration tools such as IM and presence available in Skype, and combined with Swyx’s Skype for Business Connector they can now also rely on our more sophisticated call routing and voice capabilities, all within the same application.
It is the borderless nature of cloud that makes cloud-based UC so compelling. With the increasing influence of BYOD and the demand for personalised technology, with hosted UC it is incredibly easy to set up a new employee (as simple as sending a link in an email) and then to set user preferences so they have access to the features, functionality and resources that are relevant to their job. Within seconds your staff can be up and running and can access all types of communications from voice through video calling on any device they choose, from a smartphone through to a tablet. So rather than the technology dictating how and when and how staff choose to communicate they have the choice to use whatever mediums or devices they want.
The other advantage of some of today’s UC solutions such as Swyx is that organisations that are not ready to commit to cloud immediately can simply opt for an on-premise version and then migrate at a later date. From the user’s perspective they have access to the same functionality independent of the deployment model. Alternatively a hybrid approach enables you to mix your use of communications, so that call routing or fax for example could be delivered on-premise whilst functionality such as presence or conferencing could be supported by a cloud offering.
It’s clear that the fluid and seamless way in which we are working today (any device, any channel, any location) is shaping the direction of communications, both private and corporate, but what further innovations can we expect in the future? What we are already seeing at Swyx is the continued rise of what can be termed ‘contextualised communications’.
In broad terms, this represents the growing trend of the IoT (Internet of Things) where everything in the world is connected, providing a ‘context’ for conversations. Some examples of such ‘contexts’ might include ‘what website a customer is viewing’, ‘what products a customer has bought in the past’ or may even be determined by the use of sensor-enabled wearables or even Beacons (location information based on proximity).
Indeed, as part of the SwyxLabs program, Swyx is currently working with the Technical University in Dortmund and several hardware manufacturers to develop new solutions which will enhance the user experience based on sensor-based technology and Big Data that is likely to be launched within the next 12 months.
The cloud advantage
As we are already witnessing, the foundations that cloud and IP networks have laid down during the transformation phase of VoIP and UC are just the beginning. Unified Communication is evolving on multiple levels, not only with regards to cloud vs on-premise.
New delivery models such as UCaaS are changing how business communications work, including the convergence of multiple application and service types (telephony, video, unified messaging and presence, etc.) into a single interface. Meanwhile, other developments such as intelligent and smart management of users’ communication streams based on “enhanced presence”, available channel, sensor information and personal preferences, the increased adoption of BYOD and the proliferation of mobile devices are changing the way users perceive the usage of UC, not only in the large enterprise segment, but also for the small and medium business.
As with any hosted solution, the benefit for companies that migrate to cloud-based UC, is that unlike legacy technology that lags behind, you are already primed to take advantage of all these new developments as they happen.
Author: Joao Gonzaga, CTO at unified communications vendor, Swyx (www.swyx.com) will be speaking at this year’s UC Expo on Wednesday 20th April.
To find out more about how businesses can benefit from cloud-based UC, Swyx has produced a handy guide http://www.ucexpo.co.uk/Exhibitor-List/Swyx/