Unified Communications: A necessity and not a luxury

Unified communications is fast becoming a necessity for the regional workforce. This is not only related to audio but also includes boardroom video conferencing, meeting room video conferencing and desktop video conferencing. Channel Post spoke to industry experts about the regional demand for UC solutions, who shared some in-depth information about the way UC is perceived in this region and the applications it supports.

Business communications in today’s work culture is having a significant impact on how companies and people operate. People want information right now, want to share complex applications to brainstorm ideas, make decisions, etc. This is driven by global workforce, rapid travel and faster business cycles.

Applications such as instant messaging, IP telephony and video conferencing are becoming a necessity. In fact, businesses not adopting unified communications are being forced by their customers, suppliers, vendors to do so.

For businesses, deploying unified communications over an IP infrastructure has the following benefits:

  1. Workforce Productivity gains can be realized if people can connect anywhere, anytime. This can be due to a faster decision time, quick time-to-market, increased collaboration and increased employee morale
  2. Increase business profitability due to better employee customer interaction
  3. Cutting costs due to reduced travel and efficient utilization of IP resources

Regional Market Trends

Dharmendra Parmar, General Manager for Marketing at FVC.
Dharmendra Parmar, General Manager for Marketing at FVC.

Dharmendra Parmar, the General Manager for Marketing at FVC, says, “The MEA region is quite dynamic in that it seems to go straight to the front of the line when it comes to adopting the latest UC solutions. It’s a matter of convenience that this region adopts a technology like UC so rapidly. Enterprises have branches in various countries and need to collaborate with partners, customers, branches across a variety of borders and leveraging technology like UC just makes communications and collaboration not only faster but also quite cost effective.”

According to Parmar, FVC has been in the UC solutions arena since 2000. “We have seen the transition from just video conferencing to web based hangouts (pun intended) to the addition of Microsoft Lync to Skype and the addition of BYOD which enables the seamless transition from video to audio and then back to video,” adds Parmar.

Some of the trends driving unified communications over an IP network are:

  1. Higher connectivity speeds through devices such as smartphones and laptops. This is due to adoption of Wireless LAN technologies (802.11a/b/g/n) and next generation wired/wireless networks everywhere providing 1-10+ Gigabit and/or 3G connectivity speeds.
  2. Adoption of interactive applications like Instant messaging, Microsoft Lync, WebEx, Cisco Telepresence, VoIP phones, PC based Video cameras, etc. These applications enable sharing of voice, video and data.
  3. Cost and time saving measures.
Bobby Joseph, Director-Middle East and India, Plantronics.
Bobby Joseph, Director-Middle East and India, Plantronics.

Bobby Joseph, the Director for Middle East and India at Plantronics, explains that unified communications technologies are showing widespread adoption among organizations in the Middle East, and while IP telephony has accounted for the larger share of UC in the past, the industries are not waiting idle when it comes to spreading adoption to new solutions.

“Awareness of unified communications (UC) across the GCC continues to grow although manufacturers and vendors are seeing unpredictable levels of uptake. For some interest is still slow, but the majority are seeing an improvement in uptake. We are seeing steady growth in the UC market, with the largest adoption within private enterprises followed by education and finance,” adds Joseph.

Joseph also agrees that BYOD has made UC even stronger in communication and effective tool for the large enterprise sector. “We see significant advantages especially in the hospitality and customer service sector. As, every smartphone, tablet and laptop has a built-in high-definition camera, employees are able to leverage video conferencing solutions much more comfortably which was missing in the past. Clearly mobility is set to play an important role in the UC space,” says Joseph.

Renjan George, Managing Director, DVCOM Technology.
Renjan George, Managing Director, DVCOM Technology.

Meanwhile, Renjan George, the Managing Director at DVCOM Technology, says, “UC is still a vague term and defined by vendors with their application platform in mind. POTS/Legacy system is phasing-out and all the client requirement is UC centric though the client many not be able to categorically define. Scope and definition is provided by Vendor and SI partners. Technology has changed in geometric proportion in the five years. Analog to Digital-IP and now from Digital IP to Converged-Unified Communications; it keeps on growing and evolving as more and more developers contribute to the open-source environment.”

Solutions in Demand
The demand for unified communications is rapidly increasing, with the market expected to grow 17 percent annually, according to many market research companies. More and more companies are realizing the financial benefits of a UC and collaboration system that is more sophisticated and efficient than standalone communications tools.

A unified communication system combines multiple communication technologies into one package. There is no standard set of communication tools that must be included in UC, and the list of common communication methods in UC packages will likely change as communication evolves. Currently, tools like video conferencing and online collaboration are considered necessities.

“UC is a big opportunity for Plantronics and hence we’ve created a portfolio of specific products around how today’s workers need to work,” says Joseph. “Our headsets, speakerphones and handsets enhance UC. Our portfolio delivers high-quality audio, multi-device connectivity and varied support capabilities, ensuring successful adoption of UC strategies.”

According to Joseph, the UC technology landscape has evolved in the last few years and he now sees that his company’s customers find value in call control, answer, end and mute features. “In addition, the integration of mobile devices into a UC platform has increased significantly driving demand for solutions that work seamlessly across a variety of devices and headsets that facilitate the transfer of calls from one device to another when the user would like to move the call. We develop our products around how users work and recommend products that promote adoption of Unified Communications,” adds Joseph.

While the communication methods continue to evolve, so too do the devices that people use to communicate. While the PC once dominated the business market, other devices have now grown firm roots. With more mobile-friendly laptops (or ultrabooks), smartphones, and tablets quickly becoming ubiquitous, it is of paramount importance that businesses accommodate the mobile needs of their employees.

“We are regional VAD for Digium (developer/maintainer of Asterisk Telephony platform),” says George. “Since the engine is open-source, partner/end-user can design/develop/customize a UC platform as per their requirement. This gives them flexibility and a feature reach platform which suits their specific requirements. We work with all major system integrators who have established themselves in voice application on IP domain (VoIP). Project implementation is easier with partners who have Linux with IP telephony background.”

Parmar meanwhile adds that FVC works with some of the leading vendors in UC beginning with Polycom and its eco-system of partners including Microsft Lync and Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise. “Between these vendors we offer customised UC solutions that match the needs of the enterprise whether large, medium or small (25+ users). When we first started this business, the partners offering video conferencing were mainly the AV specialists. These have now evolved and expanded to include IT specialists that understand and offer solutions that not only offer the various elements of UC but also offer the underlying infrastructure for UC deployments that includes bandwidth management and security,” says Parmar.

Cloud Vs On-Premise
By breaking down physical barriers and building a virtual enterprise, unified communications is now offering a more efficient and cost-effective way to interact. But UC is changing. Whereas most organizations over the last two decades have turned to dedicated on-premises solutions to address their needs and requirements, the introduction of cloud-based UC systems is creating new opportunities — as well as new challenges — for IT decision-makers.

“Unified Communications changed with the phone technology changed; When the ubiquitous desk phone changed the way we communicated and adopted video conferencing capabilities. Adding to that all the web- and app-based communications opportunities courtesy of the BYOD and cloud movement, we have a hybrid communications capabilities that is truly unified,” says Parmar.

According to Parmar, traditionally, UC Solutions were on-premise based, including the room based hardware and the meeting infrastructure in the network. “With the advent of Managed Video as a Service (MVaaS), more and more companies are looking at using these cloud-based services to support their room based systems. While on-premise solutions give companies full control over their infrastructure, Managed Services provide peace of mind and reduced IT overheads,” adds Parmar.

Joseph meanwhile adds that the biggest trends that Plantronics sees in technology are virtualization, mobility and cloud services. “Our customers need to be able to work anywhere and that is what UC supports. UC enables companies to attract top talent from anywhere and provides companies that value collaboration within an organization with a globally viable solution,” says Joseph.

According to Joseph, in general Plantronics sees that IT decision makers are happier to use cloud-based services if they provide a business benefit. “Some companies that are concerned about security may choose on-premise UC solutions. We see with our customers that, depending on the type of company, cloud-based UC solutions provide more manageability, flexibility and are easier to maintain which supports a more mobile work style which is what UC is all about,”adds Joseph.

George also adds that cloud is the most cost-effective and hassle-free option. “But in this region, cloud is still not mature because the security and regulatory norms are still evolving. On-premise is the option till then – this gives them complete control over the environment and customize their security and features according to their specific requirements,” says George.

Unified communications can only work if they are available and usable to everyone who needs them. That means cross-platform support and Internet-based (possibly cloud) access are critical. Furthermore, for unified communications to be effective, companies must look for solutions that truly address all of their communication needs, without sacrificing mission-critical components for the sake of attractive, yet superfluous features. As BYOD continues to gain momentum, unified communications will be more than just a luxury. It will become a necessity.