What Is Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS)?
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Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) enables you to deploy all your enterprise communication solutions via a cloud provider on a pay-as-you-use basis.
Today, more and more companies are finding this to be a better solution, in large part because UCaaS providers like Cisco, Microsoft and Zoom offer cost-effective options for deploying collaboration, file sharing, instant messaging, video conferencing and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) solutions.
UCaaS largely works in the same way as other as-a-service models.
A cloud or unified communications (UC) vendor is responsible for hosting and supporting solutions and delivering them to your users over-the-top (via Internet) or via dedicated connections. As a result, you can deploy multiple communication apps and only pay for what you use without the worry of hardware costs and data center space.
There are three main UCaaS design types or approaches available:
- Single-tenancy UCaaS: Single-tenancy UCaaS (also known as dedicated instance) utilizes a customized software platform, which connects to your on-premises users and applications. In this design, your data is stored privately, potentially offering better compliance with corporate security or regulatory requirements, and typically gives you more control over updates and upgrades than a shared multi-tenant service. However, it can be more expensive than multi-tenant solutions.
- Multi-tenancy UCaaS: Multi-tenancy designs use your UCaaS provider's unified cloud service alongside all its other customers. This approach can come with lower costs and faster deployment and migration, but might not offer the customization and control opportunities needed for customers with very complex requirements.
- Hybrid UCaaS: When it comes to choosing the best deployment option for different users in your organization (single-tenancy UCaaS, multi-tenancy UCaaS or on-premises UC), consider a hybrid approach. A hybrid design is an ideal option if you have highly sensitive data that you want to keep in a secure on-premises location or have existing legacy services that you need to maintain while taking advantage of a cloud-based approach. However, the hybrid model needs careful design for a seamless experience along with multi-platform UCaaS management tools to manage users wherever they are deployed.
Among other benefits, the UCaaS model ensures you unlock other solutions and channels to serve clients.
Specifically, UCaaS enables you to deploy multiple communications services, including:
- Messaging: UCaaS providers enable you to access various types of messaging, including MMS, SMS and social media chat. Your users can engage in real-time conversations with colleagues and customers through popular collaboration applications on any device. Importantly, it also gives users a choice of channels and platforms, enabling them to select the medium that individual customers prefer.
- Video conferencing: Video communication has become increasingly important to customer engagement and employee collaboration with the rise of remote working. UCaaS enables you to easily share files with contacts, have a quick chat with a client, launch presentations from your desktop or mobile device, and host virtual meetings with customers or team members. Video conferencing also enables participants to recognize non-verbal communication, such as body language and facial expressions, if a face-to-face meeting isn't possible.
- Voice and telephony: Social media, text messaging and video may be increasingly popular, but voice communication remains critical. Modern call systems enable call recording and artificial intelligence-powered features like sentiment analysis and intelligent call routing. These advanced offerings help you understand what customers want, learn how they feel about your brand and ensure they always reach the most appropriate agent.
- CPaaS and APIs: UCaaS is one piece of the larger Communication Platforms as a Service (CPaaS) puzzle, which adds the flexibility to integrate your preferred communication and collaboration tools with your existing infrastructure. For example, you can utilize the context and data of your customer relationship management (CRM) system when using instant messaging and video tools with customers. Application programming interfaces (APIs) enable you to build custom communication stacks that help employees to be as productive as possible and engage with customers via the right channel every time.
There is a wide range of reasons that the deployment of UCaaS solutions is becoming more popular. The rise of remote working, access advantages and cost savings are the primary drivers for most companies.
The following breaks down each of these key UCaaS benefits in more depth.
The rise of remote working means employees need access to communication and collaboration apps wherever they work from. UCaaS solutions ensure your users can access the apps they need on their desktops, tablets and smartphones at any time from any location.
Downloading new software to start or join a meeting can be time-consuming and frustrating for users. New technology, such as Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC), enables immediate access to applications via mobile and web browsers through APIs. Users don't have to download software or install plugins; they simply join a meeting with the tap or click of a button from their email inbox through their browser.
Purchasing, deploying and maintaining multiple communication and collaboration tools can see costs stack up and become highly inefficient if your employees don't use them. UCaaS enables your staff to pick and choose from the apps they need when they need them. You no longer have to purchase new solutions or pay costly licensing fees as solutions are on a pay-as-you-use basis from your cloud provider.
Based on Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications as a Service, WWT's customer engagements and our findings from the Advanced Technology Center (ATC), we've identified the top five UCaaS providers.
Cisco's WebEx suite offers services for collaboration and meetings, telephony, messaging, workstream collaboration and contact centers. It also has made AI/cognitive enhancements to meetings through WebEx Assistant, voice commands and real-time transcriptions.
Microsoft Teams includes telephony, personal and team messaging, meeting and collaboration capabilities, and integrations with Microsoft's Office 365 services and applications, including Azure Active Directory, SharePoint, OneDrive and Exchange Online.
Zoom's core UCaaS offering includes Zoom Meetings, Zoom Chat and Zoom Phone, and is known for being user-friendly and reliable. Although it doesn't offer contact center functionality to deliver both UCaaS and CCaaS from a single platform, Zoom can be integrated with leading contact center providers.
RingCentral MVP, formerly RingCentral Office, includes telephony, messaging, meetings, SMS/MMS and fax services to deliver a seamless experience across all devices and simplify workflows.
8x8's UCaaS suite includes telephony, meetings, personal and team messaging, and contact center services that can meet most requirements of small, midsize and large businesses. In addition to its UCaaS suite, its CPaaS capabilities provide SMS, chat, text-to-speech and video functionality.
Choosing the right UCaaS provider for your business relies on selecting a solution that integrates with your existing infrastructure, guarantees compliance and security, offers a wide choice of communication apps and provides technical excellence. UCaaS providers also provide analytical information that helps you enhance and fine tune your communication strategy — so be sure to do your homework before you make a choice and sign a contract.
As an independent technology solutions integrator, we can provide an expert opinion on which offerings will work best in your organization and test them out in our ATC before deployment.
Learn more about how WWT can help your company get the most out of UCaaS.