The State of Unified Communications as a Service in 2021

By Mike Dolloff, Chief Revenue Officer

2020 ushered in a new era for the Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) technology. The global pandemic made some of the UCaaS solutions household names. The role of communication tools elevated for most businesses as work from home became a necessity for tens of thousands. Organizations spent much of 2020 scrambling to enable collaboration with colleagues and engagement with customers. While much of this will remain in flux for some time, there are some very clear technologies and themes in the UCaaS space that will be prominent in 2021.

Here are some insights on the state of UCaaS in 2021 from our efforts working closely with the major technology players and with hundreds of companies around the globe. We’ve put this information into an infographic to help provide some context to the various players, themes, and key differences in the UCaaS space:

Top Trends In Unified Communications

Technology, innovation, and outside disruption have caused more innovation in the past year than at any other time and we are all better for it. Quick change calls for quick solutions, and with the rush to work from home IT professionals everywhere delivered.

Security In UCaaS

The enablement of tens of thousands of work from home employees accelerated a lot of conversations around security pertaining to UCaaS. The two most common asks we’ve seen in this space are: can the UCaaS solution support SSO and 2FA? The good news is we can’t really think of a legitimate UCaaS solution that can’t address those in the affirmative.

Analytics Are Invited To The The Unified Communication Table

In line with a larger business shift towards data and analytics over the past decade-plus, analytics are starting to become a more critical part of organizations’ UCaaS discussions. The analytics typically break down into two categories: business and technical data.

The business data is often historical in nature (e.g. number of calls for a group, activity for an individual), but sometimes there are use cases for real-time (e.g. lite call center needs, sentiment analysis). Time will tell, but the recent acquisition of Microsoft buying Nuance could signal a new level of depth in UCaaS analytics, depending on if Microsoft sees that product as providing insights into data from phone calls and Teams meetings for data mining.

The technical data is most usually around quality of service (QoS) as this is one of the most common technical issues to troubleshoot. However, there is a growing expansion around technical data that helps show utilization/adoption of the end-users for the various parts of the UCaaS solution (e.g. how many video meetings are held vs audio conferences, what percentage of assigned users are accessing the mobile device daily). The latter signals a growing level of maturity in the space – being able to show utilization so organizations can address training and knowledge gaps about how to use this technology.

The cautionary tale in all this is the UCaaS market has a very wide range of capabilities when it comes to analytics: some are sparse and others are very data-rich.

Harnessing APIs In The UCaaS World

APIs, integrations and interoperability continue to be important discussion points for organizations in their UCaaS evaluations. Some of the fastest-growing stars in the UCaaS world happen to have open APIs, deep app libraries and generally play nicely with others. The one exception to that is Teams, but when you’re Microsoft you don’t have to play as nicely with everyone else.

Contact Center & Unified Communications Playing Nice?

Like some family reunions, this could get awkward. UCaaS and CCaaS players generally approach the other in one of the following 3 ways:

  • Use what you want (agnostic) – e.g. Microsoft
  • Use what we have (native) – e.g. 8×8
  • Use what we prefer (partnerships) – e.g. Fuze

The trend has been towards the agnostic and native approaches. There have been increasing acquisitions or native developments bringing together UCaaS and CCaaS under one roof (e.g. RingCentral, Mitel, Dialpad, and Fuze continuing to build out their own CCaaS technology). This is understandable as UCaaS providers try to get the increased per-seat pricing and customer stickiness that the contact center brings. Interestingly though, there has been a generally accepted best-of-breed approach to UCaaS and CCaaS where Unified Communications providers are also cooperating to make their respective solutions play nicely with the leaders in the CCaaS space. Some of that is driven by the growth of Zoom and Microsoft Teams – two UCaaS solutions that don’t have a native contact center solution.

Microsoft Teams Emerges As A Player In Unified Communications

Zoom became one piece of business tech that successfully transferred into our personal lives and became a household staple and has seen massive success. Interestingly, Microsoft Teams took an even different but wildly successful route. Being packaged in with the millions of Office 365 users globally, Teams had already been building as a reliable business communications tool. However, in 2020 it became a lifeline for internal and external communications overnight.

Teams is THE dominant part of most UCaaS conversations, although it can play out in a number of different ways. It also remains to be seen how the Metaswitch acquisition plays out, but Microsoft’s general reluctance to take on the telco side of UCaaS has made for quite the gold rush of other UCaaS providers marrying their strong voice capabilities to Microsoft’s highly adopted and collaborative Teams tool via the Direct Connect service (e.g. RingCentral, 8×8, Genesys). Right now, Microsoft needs those players to round out some weaknesses, and those players are relying on Microsoft, but the future of this is worth keeping an eye on.

Wondering How To Navigate The Fast-Changing Unified Communications World?

Join us for our conversation on this topic and more! Although Unified Communications has felt anything but unified, the pieces are really coming together as new and old players continue to innovate. Competition is a beautiful thing, and options benefit you and your business.