by Chris Daly, Chief Revenue Officer, Whaleback Managed Services
Technology innovation in the workplace is now driven by consumers. We are finding more flexible and mobile ways to get information, connect with people, share ideas, and consume entertainment. Phones are smarter and tablets have become preferred devices among executives and traveling personnel–the lines between the workplace and our private lives blur.
Consumers want the same freedom and flexibility we have in our personal lives to connect and collaborate easily in the workplace. Unified Communications (UC) continues to gain market momentum because it helps achieve this goal, focusing on a wide range of communications and collaboration capabilities to solve business problems. What is at the core of a best-in-class UC solution is SIP (Session Initiation Protocol). This article discusses how unified communications is changing the way we work, the role of SIP, its underlying core technology, and as a reseller, what to look for as you choose a unified communications partner.
As the workplace evolves, businesses will still rely on voice and face-to-face to communicate at its core. Business deals and transactions will not be exclusively conducted digitally by text, instant messaging or social media however these new tools will be used to enhance the process. What businesses need is a common set of communications capabilities that securely integrates voice, conferencing, messaging and social tools that can be immediately leveraged for increased productivity and eventually enable new business innovation.
Unified communications is doing just that – transforming organizations by simplifying the way employees communicate internally as well as with customers, partners and suppliers. UC combines mobility, real-time communications tools including voice, instant messaging, data sharing and video with non-real-time capabilities such as messaging and fax into a single, manageable entity. It provides a consistent unified user experience across multiple devices and media types. Using a single interface, users are able to personalize their communications used a web-based interface to take advantage of all of these communications activities, using multiple devices, based on a customizable persona.
Tangible benefits of deploying a unified communications include reduced costs, both operational costs as well as travel costs, and increased productivity that can be measured by shortened sales cycles and shorter project times. Other benefits include the ability to integrate into business processes, making them more agile and efficient and improved customer service.
Under the Covers – Demystifying SIP
SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) is at the core of truly interoperable unified communications solutions. SIP enables endpoints to find one another, establish a session and terminate the session once communication is complete. It is the signaling standard that enables person-to-person multimedia communication in a single network session. So here is a brief non-technical overview of what you need to know about SIP.
What UC functionality does SIP enable?
- Telephony, Instant Messaging, Streaming Media, Video Conferencing, Multicast –SIP is used to create, manage and terminate sessions in an IP based network. A session could be a simple two-way telephone call or it could be a collaborative multi-media conference session and can be used to implement services like voice-enriched e-commerce, web page click-to-dial or Instant Messaging with buddy lists in an IP based environment.
- Presence - the ability of a person or device to communicate with others and to display levels of availability. Presence is essential for real-time communications, if you can see a person’s level of availability; you can instantly know whether or not that person is available to take your call.
- Interoperability – Sharing communications among different devices can be very difficult but in a SIP environment, all devices act as part of one system. Users are reachable through a small number of addresses, and can easily move communications from one device to another. In other word, SIP enables easy mobility.
What is SIP Trunking and why should you care?
As we move towards all-IP networks, SIP trunks are on the rise. SIP trunks bring data, video, and voice into an enterprise over the same line, saving costs in the process. SIP trunks eliminate the need for local PSTN gateways and costly ISDN BRIs (Basic Rate Interfaces) or PRIs (Primary Rate Interfaces). The result is reduced overall costs, increased network capacity and enhanced reliability for multimedia services. For many enterprises, SIP trunks are a good way to migrate from the traditional PSTN network and to start to take advantage of an all-IP network and unified communications systems.
Choosing a SIP-based Unified Communications Partner(s)
Resellers have many choices when it comes to partnering for unified communications. Large enterprises will migrate from IP-PBX to full-fledged UC solutions and will use UC as a platform to develop communications-enabled business processes, while small-to-medium enterprises will want to reduce the complexity and choose a more cost-effective solution – Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS). Here are a few things to consider when choosing a partner.
Know your Market – Your first consideration while contemplating a UC partner should be your target market. There are four UC delivery options;
- On-Premise – own and manage systems in-house
- Managed Services – own the system but have a service provider manage it remotely
- Hosted Services – a service provider purchases dedicated systems and manages it within their data center
- UCaaS – a service provider or system integrator deliver unified communications services over the cloud
It is likely that large enterprises will lean towards on-premise, managed or hosted services while small to medium sized businesses will seriously consider UCaaS because it can be deployed more quickly and managed less expensively than doing it themselves.
However, not all SIP-based UC and UCaaS solutions are alike. Here are some things you should consider while evaluating a potential partner.
SIP Based Platform From the Ground Up – Look for solutions that were designed from the ground up based on SIP – not retrofitted systems. Native SIP platforms eliminate many of the interoperability and features upgrade challenges found with non-native SIP systems. New productivity applications that integrate video, voice, and instant messaging will emerge as mobile business models and end user devices evolve. Integration and adoption of these new emerging applications will be an issue if the underlying unified communications platform is not based on SIP.
Ability to Run SIP to the Premise – As video and audio conferencing, unified messaging, instant messaging and presence become more popular, running SIP trunks to the premise is becoming a fundamental building block as companies move to an all-IP infrastructure. Organizations are choosing SIP trunks to consolidate traffic and to increase call quality, reliability, security and efficiency by maximizing the use of network capacity to drive down costs. Choose a UC partner that has the capabilities or partnerships to enable this.
Cloud-based UC – Cloud-based unified communications is driving down the cost of deploying a fully integrated unified communications solution. Cloud solutions do not require huge upfront capital investments and as a result, it allows organizations to shift capital expenses into more predictable operational expenses to reap significant annual costs savings. Cloud also provides flexibility and facilitates mobility improving collaboration.
Hybrid Solutions = Ability to Isolate Problems Anywhere in the Network including the LAN – Pure unified communications–as-a-service solutions lack reliability as well as many of the enterprise features companies rely on that are available with traditional on-premise solutions. Hybrid solutions that combine the best of on-premise and cloud are emerging and these are the solutions that warrant serious consideration. These are the only solutions that have the ability to assess the entire network – LAN, access connection, or upstream carrier for call quality and to diagnose the problem. This eliminates finger pointing among vendors and lingering issues are easily diagnosed and corrected.
Integrated BYOD – With the introduction of tablets and smart phones, many companies are beginning to adopt “Bring Your Own Device” strategies. Cloud-based unified communications combined with versatile soft phone applications enables resellers to deliver a uniform experience to all users regardless of the device they use. Choose a solution that offers integrated, extensive and flexible soft phone features.
Can Scale Up and Down Quickly - Scaling for seasonal spikes in the business, growing or downsizing your organization has never been easier. Cloud-based unified communications provide point and click management interfaces that enable companies to simply add new users, one phone at a time with no costly on-site technicians, no service downtime, and no hidden fees.
Automatic Feature Upgrades – As businesses grow, needs change. Cloud-based SIP solutions eliminate the problem of hardware obsolescence and costly software licensing and lifecycle management. Make sure that your partner regularly updates their solutions and as new features become available, they can be deployed on a per user basis or to the entire company so that you can take advantage of them.
Built-in Disaster Recovery – Most businesses have a disaster recovery plan for their data systems, but many don’t have one for their phones and communications systems. The SIP-based cloud model provides an embedded continuity plan that’s built into your implementation, not just a bolted on as an afterthought. Cloud based solutions allow you to protect your business communications, simply and cost-effectively. Choose a solution that offers redundancy and enables automatic failover to alternate network links for business continuity.
Offers Managed Services – A well managed unified communications system just works reliably all day, every day. The most critical element in delivering high quality reliable services is the ability to monitor and manage all communication services and connections from the end device through the cloud, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Select a vendor that can take the daily complex operational and management headaches off your plate so that you can focus on your core business.
Whether you choose one UC partner or several partners to meet your target market needs, it is important to align yourself with vendors as well as service providers that understand that the move to unified communications is a strategic decision for most businesses. As a reseller, it helps you become a strategic partner with your customer and if you partner with a UCaaS vendor, it can help you move to a recurring monthly revenue model helping you stabilize your business through uncertain economic times.
Chris Daly, Chief Revenue Officer, Whaleback Managed Services
Chris Daly brings 30+ years of multi-disciplined telecom executive experience to Whaleback, leading the company’s sales, marketing and business development efforts to drive revenue generation and growth. Daly was most recently Chief Marketing Officer at Atlantic Broadband where he led marketing for nine years and drove revenue, providing strategic and tactical direction for maximizing revenue per customer, market share, customer profitability, and customer satisfaction. Prior to this Daly was Chief Operating Officer at Horizon Servicios Digitais, a startup cable company in Brazil, where he directed customer care, technical operations, network operations, sales and marketing. Previously at BellSouth, Daly developed the market strategy, plans and tactics for the entry into digital video products delivery, and built and implemented field marketing and sales support systems and processes. Daly also held senior executive marketing and business development positions at A2000, AT&T Wireless Services, Continental Cablesystems and American Cablesystems. He holds a B.S. in Business Administration from Plymouth State University and a M.B.A. from Pepperdine University.