Rather than achieving the goal of consolidating platforms, unified communications (UC) seems to have accomplished the opposite – creating disparate solutions with users either having too many means of connecting or not enough. Like my colleagues, I’ve become so accustomed to communicating through collaborative platforms that it seems draconian when I can’t share a document, quickly “ping” someone on a chat, or easily convert a chat into a video call. Instead of UC, it seems we’ve developed more of a “pan communications” situation.
Is Sole Enough?
While my reasons for having multiple platforms might be different (I communicate with clients in their preferred method), having more than one communication modality is the rule, rather than the exception in most enterprises. While organizations might restrict communications protocols that aren’t supported, shadow applications are frequently utilized because they’re easier to use, provide additional functions outside the corporate solution, and are often “free.”
Once an organization has made the strategic decision to implement UC and collaboration company wide, the next step is to determine from an architectural perspective whether to deploy one solution for all communications and collaboration or to select “best of breed” for individual components such as video conferencing, voice, contact center, and team collaboration. Communications vendors prefer to push their solutions as comprehensive for all needs, but if an organization has standardized on an office suite such as Microsoft Office 365 or Google G Suite, they may already have some collaboration and communication components ready to deploy. And while these solutions may fit some requirements, there may also be holes in critical features.
How to Choose?
What criteria should be considered when deciding whether to sole source or implement best-of-breed solutions?
One of the first things to consider is whether the organization has specific strategic or high-priority initiatives that could impact communications and collaboration requirements. For example, a global company with frequent national or international video calls for large teams may choose a video-focused solution to support feature-rich meetings. Similarly, an education-oriented institution that frequently broadcasts live educational content might require advanced Web conferencing tools.
While UCaaS providers like RingCentral allow for video collaboration, many haven’t advanced to the clean interface and bullet-proof video experience provided by video-first solutions like Zoom. In a situation where video fidelity must work on time, every time, implementing a separate best-of-breed video solution may be preferred over using the one included with the UC platform.
Another consideration might be whether an organization is part of an industry that requires conformance to specific regulations, such as finance or legal. Government regulations that drive you into specialized requirements, such as those related to storing or transmitting documents to federal or county agencies, may also limit options – a catch-all solution may not provide the needed transactional information. Because these industries often use custom document storage and retrieval systems, integrating these systems with collaboration platforms that include file sharing may be difficult, or inadvisable, as they may violate privacy regulations. Federal, state, and local governments may similarly require records to be stored for extended periods, making non-integrated storage a preferred approach.
While integration with Salesforce or other contact management tools is often offered by UC providers through APIs, custom development may be required to ensure the integration meets all requirements. Integration with other back-end processes, office systems, accounting systems, etc., all require careful consideration as strategic initiatives are implemented to move from traditional telephony to UC and collaboration platforms.
Equally, an organization with simple telephony needs such as manufacturing, logistics, or factories may be better served keeping their back office on traditional backend systems and deploying an inexpensive, voice-only or mobile-first platform for voice communications.
Finally, internal IT resource availability should be a significant consideration. One of the goals of organizations with a small IT staff is often to outsource system management where possible. Many organizations move to an outsourced first model to reduce internal technical staff and allow company resources to focus on their business, rather than the technology that supports it. If procuring a managed solution is a priority, sole source is, in most cases, the best fit. If an organization has a strong IT staff with diverse skills, as well as a procurement, contract management, and accounts payable resources to manage multiple contracts, either approach has its technical merits.
Ultimately, there are many variables to consider when deciding between sole source or a multi-solution architecture. Being aware of the limitations and benefits of each is the first step in making the decision.
"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.