On the Cover
Evaluating unified communications
Wednesday, 18 June 2014 00:00
Written by Illva Pieterse
Dean Young, T-Systems
Unified Communications (UC) has become a growing market all around the world, including SA. Emerging trends in the industry include cloud-based unified communications (UCaaS), bring-your-own-
device (BYOD), VOIP, WebRTC, call centre technology, and UC’s so-called next evolutionary progression, Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP).
, senior sales consultant of IT at T-Systems, UCaaS is definitely seeing increased uptake, particularly in the service provider environment, as providers move towards building and offering UC as a service solution to the market. “We are currently seeing the development not only of enterprise platforms, but also offerings aimed at the SME market,” he says.
OptiSolutions’ senior Windows systems administrator, Herbert Zimbizi, agrees the benefi ts of UC are not limited to large companies. “Cloud-based solutions, such as Office 365, have also made it easier for a host of companies to integrate systems and derive the cost-saving and productivity benefits offered by UC.”
Lourens Swanepoel, chief technology and innovation officer at Avanade says they are also seeing enterprises wanting to consume UC as a service, either delivered from the cloud, or built in the enterprise data centre and managed by a provider as a service. “A lot of organisations are adopting UC by leveraging Software-as-a-Service platforms such as
’s Office 365.”
Young points out WebRTC is currently a major talking point, with a lot of development currently going into the technology. “While this technology will enable Web browsers to function as voice and video endpoinst, which is an exciting development, the voice codecs are currently a challenge, and this is very much still in the development phase. We can expect that this technology will play a big role in UC in the future, particularly in the contact centre space.”
Zimbizi agrees UC is here and many companies – such as contact centres or call centres - have already realised its value when it comes to improving service efficiencies and accuracies.
BYOD & UC
Zimbizi says the growing BYOD workplace trend has also focused the spotlight on UC system management, particularly the realities and risks associated with BYOD.
“Gone are the days of all employees using the same model mobile devices due to standardisation. Today employees use different models and bring their own devices to work and these devices end up being connected to the corporate network, specifically to the UC infrastructure, which is why it’s particularly important to have policies in place to control what information goes onto these devices and how they will be managed should the devices be lost.”
Zimbizi continues, “UC, it seems, will continue to be a ‘changing landscape’ for many years to come. According to Swanepoel, the next evolution of UC will be CEBP – where the enterprise integrates the UC capability into actual line-of-business processes, to the extent where UC enables the organisation to optimise and re-design legacy processes. “Due to the complexity of establishing UC in an enterprise, a lot of organisations are challenged due to a lack of a clear strategy and reference architecture, including matching business and functional requirements with technical capabilities,” Swanepoel explains.
He believes for organisations to enable UC, the various disparate communication platforms need to be unified.
Unifying disparate communication platforms is not the only barrier to adoption locally, as bandwidth issues continue to plague the country. Due to legacy bandwidth issues, says Swanepoel, SA is lagging in its adoption of UC. “However, as bandwidth is becoming more readily available and cost-effective, organisations are accelerating adoption of UC,” he says.
“We are seeing organisations still being cautious in their adoption, and hence not applying a ‘Big Bang’ approach,” Swanepoel continues. “As with most new technologies, SA is lagging behind global adoption,” says Young. “However, we are rapidly catching up, especially as infrastructure is improving and making UCaaS possible. This model offers a more affordable migration for businesses of all sizes, including the SME market. In addition, adoption of UC is being driven by a growing need to replace aging investment into legacy platforms, as well as a new workforce entering the market.
, head of products at Vox Telecom believes SA is currently behind the curve. “This is a result of the historically high cost to connect. As this cost to connect declines, adoption and deployment rates of UC can be expected to increase,” he says.
According to Zimbizi, the whole point of UC is to derive greater benefi ts while lowering costs. “UC improves employee mobility and giving sales staff and other mobile employees a UC solution to access
office data while on the road, allows them to be more productive. Allowing employees to work from home can also reduce expenses and companies allowing BYOD are able to reduce company expenditure on, for example, company-owned devices,” he explains.
He says UC also makes it possible for companies to communicate with employees no matter where the employees are located and customer engagement is also improved by leveraging UC, because it makes it possible for employees to respond much quicker.
According to Freer, the key advantages for UC include improved productivity from tools such as presence, collaboration and PC-based video. “Furthermore, mobility and the ability to access communication tools from any device in any location is a big plus. Cost savings not only result from having a single network for voice, data and video, but voice and video conferencing reduces the need to travel, which further helps reduce costs.”
Lourens Swanepoel, Avanade
Swanepoel says value extraction from a UC platform typically increases as the company enables features on the platform, such as moving from a state where UC is only used for IM and presence, to the state where all the capabilities are used to enable enterprise-wide collaboration.
“Once the UC platform capability within the company has matured to the extent where it is able to be integrated into the line-of-business processes of the organisation, maximum value extraction is enabled,” he says. “However, this requires a UC platform that is truly unified, and a solid understanding of the business process within the organisation.”
Young believes an integrated experience for users is critical. “People want a single-click experience. They do not want to use multiple applications or devices. Organisations need to re-evaluate their investment into communications technology and its application within the business. Ultimately, UC must add value for the business.”
Applying the simplicity principle to selecting a UC system can result in significant cost savings over time. As shown by many third party end user surveys, the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a simple solution makes deployment, learning, and management easier. Businesses are therefore often encouraged to evaluate different UC solutions to explore the TCO.
“The TCO is vital in ascertaining the true value to enterprises of adopting a UC solution,” explains Young. “As previously mentioned, it is important to evaluate existing investment and business processes to understand where infrastructure can be re-used, as well as to gain an understanding of what needs to change in terms of processes, the user experience and the target market.”
He believes without fully examining the environment, the processes, the impacts, the business case and so on, a UC implementation may end up costing far more than the original planned investment – researching the TCO will prevent this from happening.
According to Freer, research is a critical element when considering UC systems and it will need to include the costs associated with legacy systems that may require rip and replace. “As a general approach, our customers are starting small and building their UC solutions based on need and organisational growth.”
He says immediate and tangible differences will be felt through reduced costs like travel and lowered IP telephony rates for on-net traffic. “Overall, cloud-based solutions bring down TCO and should be considered as part of the UC mix.”
In the long term, Freer believes lowered TCO will be felt through the investment in technology that is scalable and offers additional functionality.
According to Swanepoel, a clear business case is a pre-requisite for embarking on the road to UC. “This includes identifying and building the use cases for UC within the enterprise, as well as a defined reference architecture that has been validated and confi rmed.”
“It is imperative that businesses understand all the components that constitute their target UC platform, based on the defined reference architecture, including integration points, development that was done on top of existing platforms, and the cost of managing and maintaining these,” he says.
Zimbizi believes TCO has been thorny issue for some time and it doesn’t only affect UC. “It is important that every company - both big and small - understands and knows the value of the TCO of their UC system. If companies don’t, they could find themselves losing money.”
According to OptiSolutions account manager, Vince Rabie, having different mobile devices requires companies to carefully consider platform selection. He points out there’s been a significant increase in mobile data consumption, smartphone penetration and the use of smartphone devices in the South African workplace.
“It is critical that the chosen platform is adaptable and fl exible in order to accommodate all the different devices,” Rabie says.
He believes demand for easily installed, -configured and -managed integrated services is likely to increase significantly in the years ahead as the BYOD and VOIP trends continue to grow and more and more companies wish to derive the cost saving and collaboration benefits offered by integrated UC systems.
According to Young, service providers are in the process of building the infrastructure to deliver UC as a service offering to the market. “As these offerings become increasingly available, and as a new generation of the workforce enters the business world in the next two to three years, we
can expect to see rapid uptake of UC solutions,” he says.
Swanepoel believes SA is on the crest of a wave of UC adoption, which will be accelerated by the proliferation of bandwidth and the usage of cloud as a platform to deliver UC to the enterprise.
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