Why UC Platforms Are Better than Best-of-Breed Tools in the Digital Workplace
Effective communications has always been in demand in the workplace, but the value of communications became abundantly clear as hybrid and remote work approaches became widespread. Vendors have been quick to act on the demand, with considerable movement in the unified communications sector specifically in recent years, as enterprises focus on finding the offering that can best enable staff and boost productivity in the digital workplace.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you navigate the crowded vendor field to find the best solution for your business.
Interoperability in Communications
With countless collaboration and communications tools and apps on the market today, it is in vendors' best interest to make their products as accessible and interoperable as possible.
The result is an ongoing expansion of product capabilities and multi-platform integrations that, while fantastic news for business, also comes with a caveat: choose wisely. No company wants to implement a platform only to find out it can't be scaled down the road.
And the recent announcement by Google Workspace to enable bi-directional interoperability between Zoom Rooms and Google Meet shows the issue is top of mind in the industry.
Going forward, users of Zoom Rooms will be able to join Google Meet meetings — and vice versa — either from a Zoom Room or a Google Meet device calendar with a single touch of a button. At launch, Zoom interop will be supported on all ChromeOS-based Meet devices.
Dave Citron, director of product at Google Workspace, said in the company blog that the company recognizes that hybrid organizations are struggling to connect all the different communication elements in the workplace. So, to help, Google has been collaborating with partners to offer as much communication flexibility as possible to its Meet customers.
Just last year, Google introduced new interoperability capabilities between Cisco Webex and Google Meet devices, as well as ongoing support of Pexip for Google Meet users so they could seamlessly join Meet meetings from a wide range of third-party video conferencing solutions.
Cisco also did some of its own integration work, this time with Microsoft Teams, to enable the Teams Rooms experience on Webex devices. Cisco is now a Teams Rooms certified partner, meaning that Teams meetings will be available natively across certified Cisco meeting devices.
Developments Coming in the Communications Space
The Aragon Research Globe for Unified Communications and Collaboration, 2022, published at the end of September, shows that a key need for enterprises today is an integrated unified communications and collaboration stack — known as UC&C — that can work and integrate with other enterprise applications.
But the research found that intelligent communications and collaboration continues to be a big ask in the current market, with intelligent video conferencing emerging as the main driver this year. The research also identified a number of trends in the space that are expected to dominate in the coming year, including:
- Team collaboration is overtaking email as a means of communication.
- Chatbots are becoming increasingly important in driving employee engagement and customer engagement.
- Unified communications and collaboration platforms are getting smarter with significant intelligence capabilities.
“The fundamental issue for keeping people interested in your company is communication. The channels that work for communications are changing, which is one of the reasons why UC&C providers have been making their platforms omni-channel over the last four years,” the Aragon report reads.
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Unified Communications as a Platform
All of this development makes a compelling case for deploying UC as a platform, rather than best-of-breed, but is that the right strategy?
David Lessin, director with the global technology research and advisory firm ISG, said unified communications has evolved since its inception and what was once a less expensive alternative to proprietary voice systems has morphed into complex, cloud-based digital platforms.
The past few years have enabled UC to live up to its meaning and promise, he said, because during the pandemic, the need to integrate and support multimodal communications between remote workers was paramount. Phone, e-mail, mobility, SMS and MMS — a modern UC system makes all these modes of communication available, while providing the governance businesses require.
In short, he said, UC enables a greater variety of communication modes to connect people (and machines), while allowing both customers and employees to select the most appropriate communication mode for their needs at any given time.
He cites the example of UC in the contact center, a specialized work environment facing the same challenges in multimodal communication as other parts of the business — only magnified. Functionally, UC allows customers and contact center employees to select the most appropriate communication mode available for a particular type of engagement. It could be a customer watching a TikTok video wanting to purchase an item featured in the video. Streamlining communications simply makes business easier.
Lessin also said native cloud functionality further extends the capabilities of UC systems, enabling markets to decide best-of-breed approaches while fostering partnerships between companies and driving even more innovation. With native cloud, a machine learning/AI technology from one vendor can more readily be integrated into to a UC and/or CCaaS system of another.
Of course, that's not necessarily the consensus.
Mark Simon, VP of strategy at San Mateo, Calif.-based Celigo, argues that there are advantages to a best-of-breed approach to all enterprise technologies, among them the management of data siloes.
He says that the number of organizational data silos across an organization continues to grow as each department deploys its own set of foundational and specialized apps. This creates security issues and bottlenecks in business processes that span multiple teams and applications and can lead to costly errors.
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“A best-of-breed approach allows enterprises to quickly adopt and implement new technologies that accelerate growth and solve business challenges,” he said. “However, for this to be successful with digital workplace technology, it requires an integration strategy and enterprise-wide commitment to enabling automation at scale.”
Simon also believes that one way to truly bring agility to business processes is with an automation solution that empowers enterprises to build, deploy and manage all their integrations in one place, mitigating the issues that come with implementing multiple best-of-breed systems.
“Enterprises should choose the best-of-breed technologies that work best for the needs of their organization. But when adopting new best-of-breed SaaS applications, businesses need to have a way to seamlessly connect them,” he said.
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So What Now?
Both solutions have their advantages and disadvantages, though many argue that the benefits of best-of-breed outweigh the drawbacks, making it a more advantageous strategy for UC.
Boris Jabes, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based Census, is among that group for several reasons. Of note, he says best-of-breed are:
- Easier to scale because they are not tied to a specific platform or application and can be easily added to or removed from existing infrastructure.
- Better quality because they have been developed with a specific purpose in mind and, as such, tend to be more focused and offer better functionality than products that are part of an integrated suite.
- More choice: When you go for a best-of-breed solution, you have more choices in terms of which products to use.
Nevertheless, Jabes admits there are several issues with best-of-breed that are making them increasingly problematic. For instance, users often need to use multiple products from different vendors. This can lead to increased complexity and a need for more training and support.
There is also a risk of incompatibility between products from vendors of different communications products. Although this can usually be overcome with careful planning, it is something that needs to be considered.
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A Single Digital Workplace
When companies first pivoted to remote work, many scrambled to find the right tools that would enable employees to work from home. The result was an excess of tools that duplicated the work or performed in silos.
Dean Guida, CEO and founder of Infragistics, said that while companies thought they were creating their own version of a digital workplace, they instead introduced a labyrinth of channels for people to do their job, including communications and collaboration channels.
These technologies may be best-of-breed in their respective industries, he said, but when put together, it is impossible for them to work as one because they are separate tools.
“When workplace tools are separate like this, teams spend time switching from app to app, trying to find where content lives and conversations happen,” he said. “It’s this app-switching that lowers productivity for teams because they’re spending more time searching for things than actually doing their work.”
Guida believes that instead of focusing on individual solutions, enterprises should seek to build a best-of-breed digital workplace — a single place for teams to get work done, where employees can find data dashboards, chat, content and task management, all in one place.
“With everything in one place, teams can access everything they need quickly and efficiently, which drives productivity across the organization," he said.
About the Author
David is a European-based journalist of 35 years who has spent the last 15 following the development of workplace technologies, from the early days of document management, enterprise content management and content services. Now, with the development of new remote and hybrid work models, he covers the evolution of technologies that enable collaboration, communications and work and has recently spent a great deal of time exploring the far reaches of AI, generative AI and General AI.