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How to Choose a UCaaS Provider for Your Business
This guide will provide clear explanations of the basic terms and concepts so that you develop a good understanding of what UCaaS is and what it does. This guide also provides many helpful links to relevant insights from No Jitter’s top contributors. (You might want to shop around for a UCaaS company because it is much like any other business service. You want to make sure you find a reliable provider with good customer service and support. The primary challenges associated with selecting a UCaaS company involves making sure the service they provide will scale with your business needs, provides a high level of security and privacy and offers regulatory compliance.
This guide provides explanatory material on all these topics so that you can learn what you need to make good choices for your organization.
Here’s what to look for when shopping for a unified communications as a service (UCaaS) provider in the major sections within this guide.
- What to consider when choosing a provider/platform
- UCaaS: Enterprise-specific considerations
- Features and functionality
- Deployment considerations
- Cost and pricing
- Support and customer service
What to consider when choosing a UCaaS provider
Prachi Nema, Omdia analyst and frequent No Jitter contributor, wrote how the overall market for unified communications and collaboration (UC&C), of which UCaaS is a part, will stay resilient in 2023 despite the ongoing macroeconomic challenges. The UCaaS vendors in particular will “will try to create differentiation via new features and vertical-specific solutions and rapidly move into adjacent markets such as events.” Moreover, new partnerships will shape the market landscape. Nema notes the Cisco Webex integration with Microsoft Teams.
These factors, among others, help increase competition among the UCaaS vendors for your business – which may mean you pay less per month and/or get more for your dollar. There are many factors to consider when it comes to selecting a UCaaS provider including:
Enterprise specific considerations
These are the factors particular to your company, for example the number of employees, total revenue, profits, cost structure, etc., because all of that affects your ability to spend on IT and communications solutions and thus what UCaaS vendors might be suitable and/or the UCaaS feature set your company acquires.
Features and functionality
Refer to the prior list of typical features in a UCaaS platform; your company may require some of them while others might be “nice to have,” then compare your requirements to the list of what the various UCaaS vendors offer “out of the box.”
Deployment models and options
You’ll want to investigate how the UCaaS vendor assists in deployment (if at all), what you’ll need to prepare in advance, during, and after adopting a UCaaS solution, and what your company’s options for maintaining, operating and administering the UCaaS solution overall. Also consider the basic option of single tenancy versus multi-tenancy – is the UCaaS deployed on cloud servers private for your use or is the UCaaS deployed on cloud servers accessed by multiple customers of the UCaaS vendor.
Cost and pricing
UCaaS vendors typically offer package tiers – e.g., bronze, silver, gold – with certain features in each for a certain cost per month per license. Pricing typically varies by number of seats/licenses (the more you license, the lower the per-seat cost), but there are other factors, as well.
Support and customer service
Some key considerations include examining how the vendor offers service/support contracts, e.g., they could be standalone packages or bundled into each “tier” of the cloud-based package. What a UCaaS company provides for service/support may vary – e.g., channel (voice, email, etc.), time of day, days per week, dedicated support team versus shared support, etc.
UCaaS: Enterprise-specific Considerations
Both the number of employees who will be using the UCaaS application, as well as your company’s internal IT staff are key considerations. Other items to consider include:
- Revenues of your company, as a proxy for what level of UCaaS solution might be appropriate for your business. Generally, companies with higher revenue can afford more, but as noted above, increasing competition is the UCaaS space may help bring prices down
- Existing communications solutions and the cost of those solutions compared to the UCaaS platform
- Capital purchases (computing equipment) to support the UCaaS software
- Cost of scaling up your company’s Internet connection to support higher throughput and low latency.
Not all of these factors will come into play – and there are more that could be considered – but the point is that the transition from existing systems to UCaaS requires both research into the technical requirements for a platform and financial analysis of which solutions help the organization's bottom line.
Staffing and End Users
If your company doesn’t have dedicated IT staffers, or IT employees familiar with telephony and/or unified communications, then moving to UCaaS may enable your organization to leverage the scale, experience, increased functionality, and cost savings of the cloud without adding the additional expense of increased staff.
It is also important to consider how the end users in your organization will take to the introduction of a different way of communicating and collaborating. No Jitter contributor Melissa Swartz wrote about the challenges associated with driving end user adoption of UCaaS. Accessibility is also a key consideration, as No Jitter contributor Claudio Luis Vera wrote. And, adding to the complexity, remote work is here to stay and the UCaaS players are adapting their offerings to support both in-office and remote work as No Jitter contributor Zeus Kerravala wrote.
UCaaS and Scalability
A key part of all this is scalability – the chosen UCaaS platform should be able to scale with, and adapt to, your company’s usage over time. So, if your company needs to add ten, or a 100, or more seats to the platform, then the UCaaS vendor should be able to accommodate your company's growth.
Similarly, if video collaborations across a variety of devices is, or becomes, a priority then the UCaaS vendor should be able to accommodate that functionality. Multiple vendors make products that extend UCaaS into hybrid/remote work, as well as conference and/or huddle spaces.
UCaaS: Features and functionality
In general, UCaaS platforms combine multiple communications channels into a single platform – hence the name. This typically means combining PBX features and functionality with what’s typically viewed as more modern communications – messaging/chat, video calling and conferencing, email, etc.
It is important to consider the detailed features provided by different UCaaS companies because your business has unique communications requirements, and you need to be sure that the UCaaS platform you select supports the features you need. Some UCaaS companies offer a base level of common features and then charge more for expanded/advanced features.
Some more advanced calling (telephony) functions include automatic call distribution (ACD) which sends calls to specified extensions based on preset rules and interactive voice response (IVR) which enables callers to speak (or touch tone) their query and then get routed accordingly.
Some UCaaS platforms provide some or all the above functionalities. Some “cloud PBX” software vendors specialize in more of the “traditional” PBX functionality while also incorporating modern UCaaS features such as presence, messaging, and video chat/collaboration.
Compliance with E911 Regulations
911 compliance is one major area that cannot be forgotten when it comes to UCaaS platforms and/or replacing an on-premises/legacy phone system. According to 911.gov, there are two statutes both implemented by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that make it easier for callers to reach 911 and for emergency services to locate callers. Those statutes are Kari’s Law and RAY BAUM’S Act.
Contacting a 911 call center from a large facility like an office building, hotel or university campus has not always been as simple as dialing 911 because those venues typically require callers to dial a number/code to reach an outside line and obtaining accurate information about the caller’s location within those venues (and others) is either difficult or impossible.
Ease of Use
Because UCaaS is cloud-based, end users can typically access their data and communications, which includes participating in conferences, collaboration, etc., via a web browser. And, because UCaaS is software, the communications data are in modern data formats – saved as audio/video files, documents, text files, etc. – which makes that information easily transferrable and accessible among users and/or devices.
Most UCaaS vendors also provide mobile applications (for iOS and Android devices). These applications typically run “over the top” (OTT) and are not directly integrated into the device OS. Examples of these offerings include Microsoft Teams Phone Mobile, Webex Go and RingCentral's partnership with Vodafone. Some are now offering integration with vehicles, as well, either native to the vehicle infotainment panel or via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Data Security, Privacy and Compliance
Your company probably already has security policies, applications, and protocols in place. Because most UCaaS includes a software client running on what is likely a corporate IT-controlled endpoint (e.g., laptop), then the UCaaS client will inherit the security policies and restrictions already in place. However, those policies, etc., do not necessarily prevent end users from potentially sending sensitive corporate information via the UCaaS client. Also, end users can install the UCaaS software on personal devices that may not be safeguarded by corporate IT security tools. Additionally, your company needs to have solutions in place that require end users to authenticate to their applications – commonly called identity and access management tools –to safeguard company (and customer) data.
UCaaS software platforms offer IT administration and management panels where IT staff can provision users, set permissions for which users (or groups of users) can access what types of corporate data, etc. Via these panels, IT can typically enforce secure logins, etc., regardless of the device used to access corporate data.
Another aspect of security is encryption. All UCaaS vendors provide high level of encryption for their products. This helps protect the data while it is “in transit” between the client end points and the data center where the UCaaS platform is hosted. This encryption has always been critical, but it has only grown in importance thanks to the rise in working from home.
Most UCaaS providers also provision connections through what is known as a session border controller (SBC) which, essentially, is a firewall for telephony traffic.
Adherence to local, state, national and international laws and regulations is also a key consideration. The EU’s GDPR is of note here, along with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), as well as the U.S. HIPAA regulations, along with various financial regulations and compliance measures both in the U.S. and internationally. Depending on your company’s business and customers, any and/or all of these regulations may need to be followed.
Cloud providers make sure their UCaaS offerings are compliant with latest rulings across all the jurisdictions in which their customers operate. Note that due diligence of course requires your company to double-check that the UCaaS platforms you’re considering follow the regulations and will protect your data and your customers’ data.
Fraud prevention and protection is also a key concern. For more on that topic, check out this article on how to Protect Your Voice Network From Fraud.
API and integrations
An application programming interface (API) are “hooks” into an application that allow software developers to integrate new functionality into an existing product and/or connect one application with another. Most UCaaS platforms provide native integrations with certain other large platforms and provide APIs that allow various other systems to become interconnected.
These two articles from AWS discuss how API and developer software development kits (SDKs) to add functionality to UCaaS and other communications platforms.
- Harnessing Communication APIs and SDKs for more Powerful Apps: How communication APIs and Client Library SDKs have revolutionized the way developers integrate communication functionalities into applications.
- Amazon Chime SDK Simplifies ML with call analytics feature
UCaaS: Deployment considerations
There are two basic options when deploying a unified communications system:
- Buying, installing, operating, and maintaining the system on premises, either with your own IT staff or by outsourcing that system to managed service provider which might also run your Internet connection, internal wired/wireless network, maintain your computer systems, etc.
- Contracting with a UCaaS vendor to get access to their cloud-based platform. The UCaaS vendor, a managed service provider, other third-party or your own company’s internal IT resources can be involved in selecting, installing, operating, and maintaining that cloud-based system.
Assuming your company selects UCaaS, there is another decision to make – between single-tenancy, and multi-tenancy:
- Single tenant: your company accesses its UCaaS applications on private, hosted software and hardware infrastructure in a provider’s data center. The provider could be the UCaaS vendor itself (which may lease space in a data center), with a cloud company (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud) or third-party managed service provider. A single-tenant solution is beneficial to companies that need to maintain a higher level of information security.
- Multi-tenant: Multiple customers share a single software and hardware platform. These “instances” of the UCaaS platform are private, secure, and discreet, but the underlying platform is still shared among multiple users/companies. This option tends to be less expensive than others.
Obviously in either of these scenarios, someone (or a department) has administrative control over the UCaaS platform. These administrators deploy patches, handle tech support, add/remove users, etc. Because UCaaS is delivered “as a service,” your company does not have to host the software on premises, which of course means that your company also avoids handling software updates and patches and upgrades, as well as server / hardware upgrades, purchases and/or maintenance. This may also mean that fewer IT personnel are required.
Required software/hardware updates are handled by the UCaaS vendor and/or the cloud provider that owns/operates the data center in which the UCaaS software is actually hosted.
Platforms and vendors
Some UCaaS vendors include Zoom, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, Nextiva, GoTo Connect and RingCentral MVP.
UCaaS: Cost and pricing
UCaaS pricing is typically subscription-based, which is part of the appeal as it allows companies to transition from capital expenditures on equipment and software deployments to paying per end user (or “seat”) per month.
A great deal has been written about the advantages of operational spending for cloud-based technology versus capital expenditures. The standard argument is that moving IT spending from upfront investment in IT assets that have to be owned, operated, maintained and depreciated, to “X-as-a-service” which not helps the organization respond more quickly and flexibly to rapidly changing technology but also allows those expenses to be deducted in the year they were occurred thus reduced income taxes and improving cashflow. That argument is more fully developed in this article.
But the argument is not settled as discussed in a Wall Street Journal CFO Journal article which states that the “pay-as-you-go pricing model—which allows companies to treat cloud costs as operating expenses (opex) and avoid making a significant upfront investment—has frequently been touted as an advantage. Increasingly, however, some desire a different approach.” One such approach highlighted in that article involves leasing technology assets for on-premise use.
Pricing varies greatly by type of package selected, vendor and number of seats. Many providers publish base pricing on their sites. There are usually price tiers of service with more functionality offered in the more expensive tiers.
Obviously, it is important to budget and plan the transition to UCaaS and to track what is being spent against what was being spent (or what would have been spent) on your company’s pre-UCaaS systems. This will help provide a benchmark.
UCaaS Reporting Features & Licenses
The reporting features of the UCaaS platforms should also be used so that your company can compile reports on what “bells and whistles” of the UCaaS platform are being used – or not used – as the case may be. That will help give your company an idea, perhaps, of where employees could use some support in learning how to use the UCaaS platform and/or if there are features that just are not useful and can perhaps be removed to reduce monthly cost.
It is also critical to track and manage the seat licenses your company purchases. For example, if an employee leaves your company that license can get used for their replacement which would avoid purchasing a new license. This can happen in large organizations, in particular.
UCaaS: Support and customer service
At a minimum, your company should look for a UCaaS vendor that offers 24x7 customer support via phone, chat and/or email. Depending on the subscription plan your company selects, dedicated support representatives may be included in that cost. It may also be possible to pay more to access a dedicated group of representatives. Dedicated agents are individuals trained on your business, systems, processes, etc., the idea being that these agents are thus able to provide a higher level of service and support to your workforce.