There’s nothing new about globalization, but it wasn’t so long ago that communications infrastructure was at best an afterthought when businesses planned to move into new markets. Before the internet became the hub of communication, IT only had to worry about the PBX, and the choices were simpler back then. In some cases, there were interoperability challenges when different regions had PBX systems from different vendors, but these were largely tactical issues.
More recently, as the web has matured and as mobility has become essential, communications has taken on a more strategic role. Aside from employees being far more connected now, the web has reduced the natural barriers of time and space that have made global business so difficult. Internet connectivity happens at wire speed, and with data transport costs being close to nil, globalization is now viable for businesses of any size.
At face value, this makes for exciting opportunities as businesses seek ways to expand regionally and acquire new customers. However, not all communications applications are created equally, and employees all must be able to utilize the tools that allow them to collaborate globally. This is where the most recent wave of innovation comes into play, and truly makes communications strategic for businesses looking to grow along these lines.
Going global from the cloud
I’m referring to the cloud, and more specifically how it is being used for providing hosted forms of unified communications. Initially, UC was premise-based, mainly because the first-generation vendors were IP PBX players who needed a successor offering with desk phones being in terminal decline. While there are several compelling use cases for UC, global expansion scenarios are especially well suited for hosted offerings, otherwise known as UCaaS (unified communications as a service).
Businesses need far more than expanded phone systems to enable and support a global workforce, and this is where UCaaS enters the picture. Voice will remain important due to its real-time nature, but in today’s environment, end users have several real-time and near-real-time options, and to collaborate effectively, they’ve got to be able to use them all.
Currently, they tend to use these in a stand-alone fashion, and while that’s fine for personal communication, it’s not strategic in terms of helping the organization perform at a higher level. This is exactly what UC was invented for; and when hosted in the cloud, businesses can provide a consistent experience that integrates all these applications regardless of where employees are located. That, in contrast, is strategic, and is of far greater value to the business than the phone system when expanding globally.
Being strategic with UC for global expansion
With UC still being fairly new—especially UCaaS—businesses may not recognize this opportunity. There are two trigger events that bring UCaaS to the fore, and both require a strategic response for businesses to make an impactful change.
The first case is when the business is already global and the phone system has reached ‘end of life’. A change will definitely be needed, and if the business has experienced limitations from having an older system—especially for supporting a global workforce—this will be the ideal time to deploy UCaaS. As such, instead of thinking about an updated phone system, UCaaS is a more holistic solution since it supports all communication modes, not just voice.
The second scenario is when the business has some global presence, with a mix of telephony vendors across their locations. Multivendor environments are common for a variety of reasons, and in cases where the phone systems are at different points in their life cycles, challenges will arise, especially if there are plans to expand into new regions. For one thing, as the organization becomes more disparate, the greater the need for collaboration, and those phone systems simply won’t be up to the task. Secondly, this telephony scenario will soon become too unwieldy and costly to support as replacement times approach. Again, a more holistic approach is needed, and UCaaS is an ideal solution.
Four considerations for UCaaS
To better understand why, here are four factors to consider when choosing a UCaaS provider:
- UCaaS saves money. Initially, this will certainly be the case when compared to the investment needed to replace premise-based phone systems, either in one shot or staggered over time as each system runs its course. Being Opex-based, UCaaS is cash-flow friendly and will be easier to budget for. And because it’s a consumption-based model, you won’t be overpaying for the service, much like you might be doing now with legacy trunking.
- UCaaS saves time. Saving money is tactical, but this is where the strategic value comes into play. While replacing a phone system is about voice, UCaaS is about communication. To work effectively on a global basis, you need more than voice, and UCaaS allows employees to use all the tools—messaging, video conferencing, mobility, file sharing, etc. The time-saving comes from using all the applications and modes on a common platform, which allows employees to collaborate seamlessly from any location.
- Flexible deployment. The more premise-based infrastructure you have, the more important this becomes. UCaaS makes it possible to migrate at a pace the business can manage, both for IT and end users. This matters for IT when planning to shift to UC from telephony as they can continue using each phone system until it’s time to move on. Furthermore, they will have to worry less about dealing with separate PBX vendors in each country, both for sales negotiating and ongoing support in the local language. For end users, this flexibility means the choice to utilize the collaboration features they’re most comfortable with. This is especially important when considering cultural differences in terms of how people communicate based on local customs and norms.
- Simplicity. Cloud is complex by nature, and even more so when using it to manage a global business. Conversely, when properly leveraged, it’s the best path for businesses as they expand into new markets. With less need for physical infrastructure, the process of scaling for growth is low risk and fast. IT won’t be constrained by the complexity of managing UC, such as for provisioning, feature updates, or providing localized service.
For end users, simplicity is about ease of use, and this is where UCaaS providers must be carefully evaluated. Success with UC requires some degree of behavior change, and the starting point for end-user adoption is always ease of use.
Finally, simplicity is about the relationship between the business and the UCaaS provider. With UC being the driver for global collaboration, it has a lot of business value, so the provider must be easy to work with. In terms of the offering, this means having subscription packages that are easy to understand and can be modified as adoption grows. Operationally, this means that the provider has a local presence in the markets you do business in, which really helps in terms of ensuring QoS, and providing localized features that end users will expect based on what they’re used to.
Originally published Jan 18, 2017, updated Aug 10, 2020