With digital transformation and new tech all the buzz, an established technology’s ability to support strong and reliable lines of communication make it an important element in organizations’ digital transformation strategies. Unified communications (UC) tools, including voice over IP (VoIP), video conferencing and instant messaging, have proven to be a critical requirement for worker productivity, business continuity and, more recently, supporting remote workers and keeping businesses operational during the pandemic.
UC services have become a primary method that businesses use to communicate with colleagues and customers, so expectations are high for the tools to run effectively. While enterprises and contact centers have long relied on UC, with digital transformation taking place, organizations have increased their need for UC functionalities. As an example, Microsoft (News - Alert) Teams has approximately 145 million daily users these days. When organizations were forced to support countless remote locations and work from home employees, UC was a saving lifeline. This, of course, led to a number of challenges for organizations as millions of workers established home offices overnight, including securing all these company devices remotely, and rapid cloud migrations.
With the world thrust into its new mode of working during the pandemic, allowances for disruptions in connectivity and communication were considerably high. As time passed and workers adapted to their new normal of working, expectations for a continuation of services grew. But, with several technological solutions aimed at resolving these disruptions, organizations continue to find new challenges with UC.
As the most critical service for employee communications, it is important for UC systems to allow for reliable and smooth connections. This includes supporting different platforms, including video communications. Video calls have become a paramount substitute for the face-to-face engagements most employees and clients had while working in the office. If a chosen UC system does not support reliable video connections, then overall client and employee interactions and relationships may suffer.
Over the years, there have been two key elements of UC that continue to plague businesses today: Security and Quality of Experience.
Securing Vulnerabilities Created by UC Systems
Cybersecurity remains an important concern for organizations in their digital transformation. With businesses relying on UC platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, new security concerns have emerged, often created without users realizing it. For example, video calls may contain confidential and sensitive information, and are often recorded. These recordings are typically stored on a server or downloaded to a desktop without much consideration.
In addition to risks revolving around sensitive data and content, real-time collaboration can cause security vulnerabilities as well. Cybercriminals can break into necessary links to access private documents and conferences on a UC platform. While hackers may simply be eavesdropping or there to cause a serious disruption, this type of breach can result in a number of detrimental consequences. Calls and documents containing confidential information prove ripe for hackers to exploit. Disruptions to conference services will not only cause user frustration, but may also potentially harm the reputation of the business.
In addition, with almost all UC services hosted in the cloud, organizations must address the challenge of securing their sensitive information against cyber threats targeting the cloud. These services can be a lucrative target for cyber criminals who aim to hijack accounts and bypass authentication procedures.
Ensuring Quality of Experience
Customer satisfaction is the goal for any organization, but there are several factors that can put this at risk, including poor quality of experience, which many saw firsthand during the COVID-19 crisis.
Quality of experience can make or break a company. Contact center agents taking calls from home are on the front lines of customer engagements, so naturally a reliable and strong connection and user experience for both sides is critical. Many calls involve a customer issue, so a poor quality of experience and struggle to communicate effectively will only further frustrate the situation.
On the company side, latency, unreliable connections, and frequent disruptions – either on video or voice calls, or through sharing and collaboration tools – can cause frustration and test relationships between employees and businesses. When workers have to drop off video or stop sharing a document because of a poor connection, it reduces the effectiveness of the worker and the team.
There are a number of technical approaches that can help address both security and quality of experience challenges, all of which can help enhance the effectiveness of organizations’ UC approaches.
With many UC services hosted in the cloud, it’s clear organizations require a solution that delivers security and network functions through the cloud. Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solutions are rising in popularity to address this very need. SASE is a cloud-native technology that establishes network security as an integral, embedded function of the network fabric. Including SASE in a digital transformation strategy can help secure UC services, since SASE applies security based on the communication session and can take into account the identity of the user and the device, as well as the data context of the transaction. By securing dedicated internet access, SASE ensures optimized 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 connecting the client to the best SASE gateway. Overall, SASE helps secure network connections, while improving quality and performance.
With its evolution over the past decade, UC enabled businesses to operate during the COVID-19 crisis. If the pandemic had hit 10 years earlier, the disruption would have been substantially worse. Moving forward, with security measures and optimal quality of experience a top focus, UC will be an important tool for organizations in their quest toward network digital transformation.
About the author: Mike Wood is CMO of Versa Networks. He is an entrepreneurial, creative, results-oriented and hands-on CMO, VP Product, Board Member, Advisor, and Investor with repeated success scaling incubation businesses and startups. Mike has extensive expertise scaling products, businesses and processes to take a business from limited revenue to hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. In addition, Mike has deep expertise in networking as a service, virtualization, cloud, mobile, video and security.
Edited by Erik Linask