Frost & Sullivan’s Connected Work research team has been charting the progression of enterprise communications for over two decades. In that time, we have collectively witnessed several significant shifts. The first was the evolution from standalone on-premises telephony PBXs to include collaboration and conferencing, forming end-to-end unified communications solutions. The next wave migrated these end-to-end communication and collaboration tools to the cloud, enabling global reach and significant opportunities to scale. Each of these transitions has been reflective of two factors: the advance of the technology and infrastructure to support them, and the evolving communications needs by businesses of all sizes. Today, providers are reaching the next pinnacle of communications solutions, the communications platform. Cloud-based communications platforms take the key components of business communications including telephony, messaging, conferencing and collaboration, contact center, and programmable communications through APIs, and deliver them as a centrally managed and tightly integrated, yet modular, service. Designed for public or private cloud deployments, collaboration platforms provide a level of scalability and adaptability previously not possible or cost-effective. In addition, a communications platform differentiates itself from even the most advanced end-to-end UC solution or UCaaS in a couple of important ways.
First and foremost, a true communications platform enables businesses to take advantage of nearly all modes of internal and external communication, including telephony, video, web, text messaging and social media chats, in exactly the way the business and its customers want to consume them. Business workers, for example, can continue to leverage desk phones and other hard endpoints, or user-friendly software clients and mobile apps for their daily calling and meetings. In addition, today’s communications platforms incorporate a rich set of application programming interfaces (APIs), allowing automated communications with customers from within a business application. While each of these capabilities has been available for some time as standalone services, a communications platform incorporates them into a modular solution, enabling a holistic view of the inbound and outboard communications within an organization. This stands in stark contrast to standalone applications for each communications modality or even a bundled suite of UC apps. Individual communications apps, operating out of distinct clouds, force end-users to live on several “islands of collaboration”, while also forcing the organization to bring in a team of data scientists to unlock the siloed data contained in each application. A communications platform offers a single source of data, including call detail records, call recordings, and chat logs, to provide a complete and comprehensive state of communications. With this full view, data-driven analytics, machine learning, and ultimately business intelligence can be gleaned from the platform. Ultimately, a communications platform offers a centralized and complete view of how both people—employees, contact center agents and customers —and machines (applications, bots, automated marketing campaigns, etc.) interact with customers, prospects, suppliers and partners.
Openness and Extensibility
Another critical differentiator that separates a communications platform from previous UC and UCaaS solutions is the ability to be highly open and extensible. With a suite of APIs and application integrations, an open communications platform can ultimately be what the business wants it to be: an integrated user experience with calling, team collaboration and meeting capabilities leveraging the providers’ native UC and contact center applications, a set of programmable communications elements embedded within another application, or even a hybrid of both, depending on user needs and business requirements. These elements can also be extended to integrate with third-party collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, or business applications such as Salesforce, completely supplanting the provider’s native UC applications. In this regard, a communications platform is distinguished from UC in that it allows businesses to only consume the components that their particular business processes need. Unlike standalone UCaaS solutions, a communications platform is positioned to adapt to a business’ overall communications strategy, rather than forcing the business to adapt to the solution. An extensible communications platform enables businesses to incorporate all of today’s modes of communications into their workflows today, as well as position themselves to be ready for the next big thing in the future. The extensibility of a communications platform allows the provider to deliver a steady stream of service updates and new capabilities, available almost immediately. Cloud delivery of a communications platform enables businesses to quickly take advantage of the next big thing while also removing the need to manage the lifecycle of their communications services.
An open and extensible platform also addresses a recurring pain point among most businesses: adapting communications to their specific industry or market vertical. Business communications solutions have traditionally been horizontally focused: the same phone system was sold to retailers and professional service organizations such as law firms. Communications platforms, on the other hand, allow a high degree of integration and customization in order to make the platform fit into vertical-specific workflows and business processes. For example, most of today’s UC soft clients are still designed with knowledge workers in mind and may not adequately address the needs of an organizations’ front-line workforce. By bringing to bear a consolidated mix of services, including voice assistants, bots, and embedded telephony or video, a business can build a communications service uniquely tailored to improve the productivity of all of their employees. In the past, such solutions would have required significant investment in professional developer services or selecting a niche vertical solution, as well as a considerable commitment to long-term service contracts. Today’s communications platforms can be adapted in-house with a bit of code or even new low-code/no-code workflow designers, and consumed in a pay as you go approach.
Communications Platforms Drive Digital Transformation
Ultimately, a communications platform is more than simply a next-generation unified communications service. It is the culmination of decades of technology evolution coming together in a highly consumable and scalable way to address the unique pain points for businesses of all sizes. Well-architected cloud communication platforms allow businesses to align their enterprise communications services to exactly where they are in their own digital transformation journey. Many businesses might start with a set of pre-packaged UC applications and services that don’t look or feel much different than the on-premises UC or UCaaS they are accustomed to. Over time, these businesses can unlock the capabilities of the communications platform to incorporate APIs, leverage AI and machine learning, or even add new communications, to tailor the experience to specific workflows and unique needs of their business and industry.