What do you really think of unified communications (UC) as a business solution? Not bad as a concept, right, but how well is UC working at global scale?
UC products in the era of IP telephony have been around for more than a decade. The exciting promise of integrating the key tools for collaboration to increase overall productivity has been reality-tempered by the challenges faced by enterprises in deploying the technology – particularly those deployments with a global footprint.
UC as a Service (UCaaS) has emerged as a solid option for companies that appreciate that consuming IT as a service allows them to shift their valuable people to projects that better align with business objectives. A once-in-a-lifetime UC deployment is fraught with risks. UCaaS providers have entered the market to assuage the pain CIOs have around running their own UC services.
A capable UCaaS provider will offer three primary advantages over running UC in-house. First, they have experience with UC, which means they know the products, they’ve seen most of the use cases, and they’ve engineered solutions and approaches that leverage the products to satisfy those use cases. Second, they have relationships with the major UC product vendors that provide them deeper insights into the product and the IP around it which, coupled with the UCaaS provider’s experience, enables them to de-risk a UC deployment more completely than can an in-house team. Third, the UCaaS provider already has the management and reporting tools that help enterprises support and evaluate the UC experiences of their employees.
One common shortcoming of UCaaS providers is that they tend to be vendor-specific. Larger telco UCaaS providers tend to offer multiple UCaaS products but with separate sales and/or engineering teams aligned along the respective product lines. Unfortunately, a product-line approach does not make the most sense from a customer perspective. How does a customer know whether Spark or Skype for Business is the best solution for them? Or, even more interestingly, what if a global enterprise is using both products – will the customer need to contract with two UCaaS providers or work with two different sales / support teams? One UCaaS vendor team makes more sense from an enterprise’s perspective.
Another and deeper technical problem for global UCaaS is the very nature of “global.” Data connectivity around the world relies on a backbone of fiber networks that have finite routes and connection points. Because of technology issues, shortest isn’t always fastest and fastest isn’t always the most reliable.
Loss, jitter, and latency are all impacted by the networks and the fiber on which the packets run, and end-user experiences can vary greatly on a single global conference because of a variety of network effects. Most UCaaS providers do not have visibility into or control over the end-to-end UC experience and are forced to rely on their own network service providers and whatever SLAs they can negotiate to address global network effects. The outcome, as many who have been on global UC conference calls can attest, is spotty.
As I boil down the basics here wearing my former CIO hat, I usually recommend UCaaS as opposed to in-house UC. I would rather work with a vendor-agnostic provider that has great partnerships with my likely two products (Cisco Spark and Microsoft’s Skype for Business) and that provides both as services that complement rather than compete with each other. And I’m looking for a provider who understands how to make UCaaS work as a global service for my team and for our employees, customers, and partners wherever they are in the world.
Looking across the range of UCaaS providers the field narrows rather quickly. Of the very few who make the cut one provider really stands out: Tata Communications. I do a lot of work with trans-oceanic fiber cable and know that Tata Communications is a major player; with their extensive global customer base they certainly know how to manage for global network effects – about 24% of the world’s internet routes run on their networks. Tata Communications has strong relationship with both Cisco and Microsoft and has taken its engineering of Spark and Skype for Business “under the hood” to enhance the product offerings in consultation with both.
In terms of adding value to UCaaS, Tata Communications’ integration of Nectar Corp’s UC Management Platform into their UCaaS products substantially enhances the reporting and analysis capabilities for enterprise customers. In addition, with its Multi-modal SIP capabilities, Tata Communications can run voice and video on the same SIP connection, making for more efficient bandwidth management. Tata Communications has a strong partner ecosystem that is white labeling its UCaaS offers, which means that Tata Communications understands how to provide customer and engineering support. And, in a break from most of its telco UCaaS competitors, Tata Communications has one sales and support organization that looks at UCaaS from their customer’s perspective rather than a line-of-business quota perspective.
As we approach this year’s Enterprise Connect we now have enough experience to start asking providers very hard questions about what it means to effectively unify communications – and we should expand that very hard questioning to address global scale and performance.
This paper is sponsored by Tata Communications.
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