Driving network transformation with unified communications

Unified communications (UC) has become a significant part of an organization’s digital transformation strategy, with the aim of establishing strong and reliable communication lines. UC tools, including video conferencing, instant messaging and VoIP, are now an absolute mandatory requirement for business continuity, productivity, and most recently, keeping businesses operational during the pandemic.

unified communications

UC tools have become the primary method that organisations use to communicate with customers and colleagues alike, meaning expectations for the tools to run smoothly are high.

Contact centers have always relied heavily on UC, given the nature of their role, however they are no longer alone in their dependency. As the world has become more digital, businesses have increased their UC capabilities. For example, Microsoft Teams now hosts around 145 million daily users.

When every company was forced to operate from remote locations due to the pandemic, UC became a lifeline. This led to a number of challenges, including rapid cloud migrations, securing company devices remotely, and not to mention millions of people having to set up home offices overnight.

However, the global situation meant that certain allowances were made and tolerances for disruptions were considerably higher. As time passed and people got used to the new way of working, these tolerances lowered again. Whilst there are several technological solutions for these disruptions, businesses continue to find new challenges associated with UC.

As the most relied upon service for employee communication, it is essential that systems allow for smooth and reliable connection. This means being able to support different platforms, including video communications. Businesses have tried to re-enact the face-to-face engagement most employees and clients have if they were working in the office, and video calls have been paramount to that. If current systems do not allow for reliable video connection, then the overall employee and client engagement may be lacking.

Throughout development, there have been two standout elements of UC that continue to challenge organizations today: security and quality of experience.

Staying on top of security

As with most digital processes, cybersecurity remains a primary concern for businesses. With the increased use of UC platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, new security challenges are emerging. And quite often these vulnerabilities come from actions that we do not think twice about. Video recordings, for example, often contain sensitive and confidential information that could prove detrimental if discovered outside of the company. Yet, these recordings are typically stored in a server, or downloaded onto a desktop without much consideration.

In addition to threats against sensitive content and data, real time collaboration can cause security weaknesses. With the right tools, criminals could acquire the necessary link to access private conferences and documents on a UC platform. Whether to simply eavesdrop or cause disruption, this breach could result in a number of consequences, both in the short and long term. Again, these calls and documents may contain confidential details which could be exploited by criminals if leaked. Disruptions to conferences will not only cause frustrations at the time, but also potentially damage the reputation of organizations.

As almost all unified communications are hosted in the cloud, businesses are faced with the challenge of protecting their sensitive data against cyber threats targeting the cloud, which can be a lucrative target for threat actors who look to hijack accounts and bypass authentication procedures.

Maintaining quality of experience

Keeping customers content is the goal for any business but there are several factors that can jeopardize that progress, including quality of experience, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Quality of experience can make or break a company – unreliable connections, latency, and frequent disruptions, either on voice or video calls, or through collaboration and sharing tools, can cause frustrations and fractious relationships between businesses and employees. The number of times on conferences when individuals have had to ‘go off video’ or ‘stop sharing a document’ simply because their connection is poor has caused many an awkward call.

Contact center agents taking calls from home are on the front line of customer enquiries and a strong and reliable connection is critical. Most calls taken relate to an issue a customer has with something, and so to have poor quality of experience and struggle to communicate effectively will only worsen the situation.

There are various technical solutions that can help with both security and quality of experience challenges, all of which can improve businesses’ unified communication approaches.

Technical solutions

With a large proportion of unified communications being hosted in the cloud, businesses need to find a solution that delivers network and security functions through the cloud.

Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solutions are rising in popularity. SASE, as a cloud-native technology, establishes network security as an integral, embedded function of the network fabric. Implementing SASE as part of a digital transformation strategy can help secure unified communications, as it applies security based on the communication session and can therefore take into consideration the identity of both the user and the device as well as the data context of the transaction.

By securing dedicated internet access, SASE enables the optimization of the user experience and cloud access, regardless of location, and reduces latency by securing the most direct user access path. It also improves user experience by anchoring the client to the best SASE gateway. Overall, SASE helps secure a network connection, without having to compromise on quality and performance.

Unified communications has evolved considerably over the past decade, so much so that it allowed businesses to somewhat function during the pandemic in 2020. If the crisis had taken place some fifteen years earlier, the disruption could have been substantially worse. By staying on top of security measures and optimal quality of experience, UC will aid businesses in their onward journey of network transformation. Only when both of these factors are at the top of the priority list will organizations truly benefit from unified communications.

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