We are at an interesting intersection as the lines between telephony and Unified Communications (UC) blur. UC is on the rise, integrating communication tools such as voice, messaging, presence, and collaboration. As workforces are increasingly mobile and are using highly integrated applications in their personal lives, the expectation of being able to chat, talk, video conference, and share documents from a single application is increasing. And we want these tools across any device, anywhere, and at any time, making UC ideal for a cloud deployment model. In truth businesses have been steadily migrating voice and UC to a hosted model for a number of years. We forecast hosted UC seats to grow 27% worldwide to 35.5M in 2015. That installed base has only begun to tap the potential, with over 150 million premises-based PBX seats installed.
The concept of UC is further extended into the world of business applications through the availability of APIs and pre-integration. Integrating voice and UC with applications companies use every day provides richer tools for employees. This integration of business applications—off the shelf and custom built—with voice communication has been building over the past several years. A prime example is CRM with services such as Salesforce.com that integrate with a business’s phone system to automatically record call details tied to specific customer records. The integration provides increased levels of productivity and efficiency by making two disparate tools more valuable through integration. Though more applications and communication infrastructure move to the cloud, we are at an ideal juncture to break down silos and enter a new era of business communications through seamless integration.
“Business applications” is a broad category that encompasses applications that can be simple and complex. The benefit of using an application is not always clear to an enterprise without an extensive trial. Software as a service (SaaS) allows businesses to mitigate the risks by reducing upfront costs. Categories of applications that have found success in the cloud include CRM such as Salesforce.com, business productivity such as email and desktop applications with Microsoft 365 or Google for Work apps, and data storage or repositories such as Dropbox.
In a March 2015 survey of North American enterprises, we asked respondents what capabilities they deem important in choosing a UC solution; 79% said the ability to integrate voice with business applications is “very important.” It is no longer enough to have a communication tools unified; it’s necessary to bring those tools to individual applications, to launch communication sessions—chat, voice, and video—directly from an address book, for example. Having one truly integrated directory to launch calls rather than having to scroll through a list of extensions seems so simple but does not exist for most people. And though we have become used to click-to-dial within email or webpages from our mobile devices, the same is not true of our desktops.
One company’s move toward the cloud UC and Microsoft 365
The benefits and opportunities for businesses are best summarized by one company that uses cloud UC from RingCentral and Microsoft 365. Binswanger Glass is a large installer of glass in the commercial, automotive, and residential markets, with over 66 retail locations in 14 states. The company began its move to the cloud to better serve its employees while having a limited IT staff of four people. With a highly distributed workforce, Binswanger Glass’s IT staff couldn’t be onsite at every location to manage phones and desktop applications.
It first began with Microsoft 365 for email almost three years ago, then migrated its phone system to RingCentral with 550 extensions. Moving to cloud UC allowed the company to be on one system and have a common set of features and capabilities. Previously Binswager Glass had various phone systems spread across its organization, many of them old and outdated. One of the key requirements the IT staff considered in choosing a hosted provider was integration of voice and fax, which RingCentral was able to handle.
The company is moving toward integration of its RingCentral service with Microsoft 365. Through trials, Rob Parsons, Binswanger Glass’ Director of IT, has been able to immediately recognize the benefits for his staff, which he summed up in one word: “Productivity.” Tying Microsoft 365 and RingCentral together makes the two applications better. The integration provides a speed dialer with click-to-call from phone numbers in email or contact lists, the company can use a single directory including phone extensions, and screen pops with incoming calls provide the employee with valuable information.
In moving to the cloud for business applications and UC, Parsons articulated the benefits for Binswanger Glass as fast implementation, ease of deployment, simplification of management and usability for employees, and flexibility to support workers in the office and home employees. This matches what we find in surveys. In our March 2015 UC survey, 86% of respondents said flexibility was a very important driver for moving to the cloud.
Applications and communications are migrating to the cloud, but in most cases it is only the deployment model that has changed. Email is still just email to the corporate user; where it resides and who manages the application is only of concern to the IT staff. Little has changed regarding cloud services for the business user. However, we are in the early days of integrated communication, with advances coming through open APIs and Web technologies.
Businesses recognize the value of integrating communications and business applications. The opportunity to bring the two pieces together creates greater work flow efficiencies while opening up the number of touchpoints for communication to occur. With voice and video capabilities enabled within everyday applications, the possibilities for rich data and insights become more impactful.