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Unified communications as a service (UCaaS): A complete guide

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As we move further into an age of digital transformation, information technology continues to fundamentally change the way businesses interact internally and deliver customer experiences.

Enter: Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS).

In a business world scrambling to adapt to global remote work trends, organizations of all shapes and sizes have made the move to UCaaS systems—or in some cases, the similar but distinct alternative of Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) solutions—to drive better workplace communication and collaboration. 

We’ll cover:

What is Unified Communications as a Service?

Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) brings together internet telephony, instant messaging, and other communication tools. UCaaS technology unifies communications for businesses into a single cloud-based communications platform. 

UCaaS platforms are designed to function across any user device, including desktops, laptops, and mobile phones, allowing users to switch between different modes of communication with a single click or tap.

What does UCaaS stand for?

We can break this down into two main points:

  • Unified Communications (UC) refers to the integration of business communications tools like internet phone, voicemail, email, text message, video, and more. 
  • As a Service (aaS) describes the delivery model used for cloud-based services and software. It refers specifically to APIs and communications.

How does UCaaS work?

With UCaaS, business teams no longer have to switch between separate communications apps when communicating and collaborating. UCaaS enables businesses to integrate multiple channels of communication and business apps through a single cloud service provider for improved organization and efficiency. 

UCaaS streamlines business communications by bringing together communications apps such as voice, video and web conferencing, SMS, and even contact center capabilities into a unified digital communications environment to facilitate better team collaboration.

UCaaS vs. VoIP: What’s the difference?

VoIP refers to the specific technology used to convert voice into digital signals sent via the internet. UCaaS, on the other hand, combines all business communications (voice, video, chat, text, etc.) into a unified platform hosted in the cloud—and uses VoIP to facilitate voice communications.

Previously, enterprise communications relied on on-premises PBX systems to keep business teams connected. The switch to Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) systems changed the role of communications forever.

VoIP technology meant enterprise communications could take place over the internet, meaning users no longer relied on analog phone lines in a colocated business infrastructure. 

UCaaS systems are rooted in VoIP technology. Using VoIP, UCaaS solutions facilitate real-time voice communications using the internet rather than traditional phone lines. They function using the cloud and offer increased flexibility, better scalability, and improved business continuity by mitigating the challenges posed by on-site hardware and storage. 

VoIP alone is enough for some businesses, allowing them to save on the costs associated with traditional on-premises PBX systems. However, larger organizations will find that UCaaS solutions provide better scope for real-time communication and collaboration.

UCaaS vs. CPaaS

UCaaS provides users with a fully-functional unified communications environment where they can access phone services, video conferencing, text-based chat, and more. 

CPaaS offers the same communications functionality but acts as a foundational platform that allows developers to add features to suit personal business needs. With CPaaS, developers can use customer SDK and API integrations to build on the existing cloud platform without developing a new back-end. 

The main difference between these two communications service models is that UCaaS is ultimately “ready-to-go,” whereas CPaaS solutions require customization by developers. That being said, UCaaS can integrate with other API's with tools like single-sign on for a streamlined user experience.

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Examples of the essential functions of UCaaS

The UCaaS market is booming. There are a plethora of UC service providers out there, which is why it’s important to consider the UC functionality your business requires before deciding on a vendor. Below is a look at the key functions a great UCaaS platform should offer.

IP telephony

UCaaS communications solutions often feature a range of business phone services like call forwarding, advanced call routing, and call recording to streamline internal business communications and workflows.

Video conferencing

UCaaS solutions typically offer high-definition video conferencing capabilities for facilitating face-to-face meetings in real-time. This is an essential cloud communications feature for remote workers, as it allows business teams and guests to communicate and collaborate in online meetings as though they were in the same room.

Messaging

Synchronous and asynchronous messaging is another important feature of any UCaaS platform. Messaging allows dispersed and colocated teams to stay connected instantly with real-time chat, providing a convenient alternative to email. Moreover, users can switch between messaging with a colleague to a video call with a single click.

Collaboration tools

UCaaS platforms can be integrated with a range of collaboration technologies that allow teams to work better together. Along with message, phone, and video, UCaaS solutions feature open APIs and can integrate with all of your favorite office tools, including:

  • CRMs (e.g. Salesforce)
  • Help desk apps
  • ERP systems
  • Project management tools
  • Scheduling tools
  • File sharing and storage

Take such open APIs one step further and you get CPaaS solutions. These platforms give businesses even greater room for innovation and customization. They’re ideal for companies that want tight integration between systems and truly unique communications solutions.

Cloud-based

UCaaS platforms are hosted over the internet using a private cloud or fully secure data centers. This means that users can access an entire communications workspace from anywhere with an internet connection. 

Moreover, storing all your business data in the cloud provides business continuity in the event of a disaster and better protection with high-grade security.

Welcome to the RingCentral app for Desktop: Message. Video. Phone. video

UCaaS benefits

Once you’ve adopted UCaaS into your company’s tech stack, you’ll quickly begin to see the numerous benefits it offers for small and large businesses alike.

1. Mobility

Implementing a UCaaS solution as part of your business strategy empowers your teams to work from anywhere, at any time—as long as they have access to an internet-connected device. As a result, employees are no longer tied to an office environment and can choose to work from home, from a co-working space, or anywhere else. 

Mobility is a huge benefit for the modern workforce. It increases productivity as employees can continue working even when being present in the office isn’t possible.

2. Increased flexibility

With UCaaS, you can facilitate all your communication-related business needs in a single platform without having to manage and maintain separate business phone systems. This allows SMBs and enterprises to connect multiple business facilities in a single communications environment for better flexibility when working with remote and dispersed business teams. 

In this way, businesses can streamline communication and collaboration via a single-access unified platform, adding or removing users with a single click. Colleagues can communicate and collaborate from wherever they are in the world, with all information kept up to date in the cloud.

3. Scalability

Another advantage of UCaaS solutions is that they can scale to suit any size business. 

UC solutions are hosted in the cloud and can expand as a business grows without incurring extra maintenance and hardware costs. Instead, users can be added or removed to scale with your business. 

This makes UCaaS systems a viable option for small-medium businesses (SMBs) and large enterprises that are experiencing fast periods of growth or that need to scale quickly to facilitate large projects.

4. Cost savings

UCaaS systems are cloud-based, meaning they don’t incur the same costs as on-premises PBX systems. Along with cost savings on installation and maintenance, UCaaS platforms can also save you money on:

  • Real estate costs/costs of renting a physical office
  • Utilities
  • Adding new users as your business grows
  • Data center management

There’s more. UCaaS solutions bring together a host of communications apps into a unified solution, meaning you can save on expenses relating to investing in individuals apps like:

  • Audio and video conferencing apps(including equipment and services) 
  • SMS
  • File sharing solutions
  • Internal messaging apps

It’s important to remember that removing these added costs doesn’t equate to less robust functionality! Quite the opposite. UCaaS solutions deliver great value for money while offering a more convenient user experience than a system reliant on multiple business communications applications.

5. Enhanced security

UCaaS providers handle all the security measures that keep your sensitive business data safe. If you have a remote workforce, this means you don’t have to worry about endpoint security of multiple user devices.

Choosing UCaaS providers for your business needs

When it comes to choosing the best UCaaS vendors to suit the needs of your specific business, you’ll need to consider which services and what level of security is the right fit. Consider the following questions when making your decision:

  • Do you only need voice and video services?
  • Do your employees need tools that allow them to collaborate in real-time, such as screen sharing, file sharing, etc.?
  • Do you want to integrate messaging and social media platforms for customer support?
  • Are you planning on building out your contact center?

UCaaS service providers offer different platform functionalities for a range of business sizes at varying pricing options. Some are best suited to small businesses, whereas others are designed to connect global enterprises. 

You’ll need to determine which UCaaS features you require, as well as the level of architecture security you need to keep your business data safe (e.g., public, hybrid, or private cloud models).

Manager explaining to the board of directors why RingCentral is the right UCaaS provider for their company

UCaaS and RingCentral

RingCentral’s UCaaS solution, RingCentral MVP, integrates all of your business communication and collaboration needs in a single, easy-to-use platform. With voice, video, team messaging, and a host of business app integrations, RingCentral is a secure cloud-based unified communications solution that can be deployed and scaled up or down in minutes. 

When you choose RingCentral MVP, your team can work from anywhere on any desktop or mobile device. Consolidating communications brings all your teams together, streamlining collaboration and enhancing productivity to help you achieve business results and maximize ROI.

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In addition to its UCaaS solution, RingCentral also offers a comprehensive CPaaS solution through its developer platform. With RingCentral CPaaS, users can access free communications APIs and technology that allows businesses to add various capabilities (like voice, SMS, team messaging, data, etc) to business apps. With CPaaS, the possibilities are endless. 

CPaas is a great option for start ups and medium-sized businesses who want to remain competitive and keep up with technological advancements without having to overhaul their entire communications system to add new features.

Make the switch to UCaaS (or CPaaS!) today

UCaaS and CPaaS solutions offer significant benefits for small businesses or large enterprises looking to consolidate their communication structures. As workforce trends continue to shift, businesses must find cost-effective solutions that facilitate better teamwork and productivity in a remote environment. 

A unified communications platform like RingCentral MVP provides modern businesses with the flexibility, mobility, and scalability they need to create collaborative workplace cultures, streamline operations, and—ultimately—deliver better customer experiences.

Want a closer look at RingCentral’s UC solution? Experience it for yourself and sign up for a free trial or personal demo today.
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