Unified communications have come a long way in a very short period of time, especially considering the fact that the first step in this direction, marked by the spread of Voice over Internet Protocol phone systems, was only taken about 15 years ago. Today, one would be hard-pressed to identify an organization that has not started to use VoIP, video conferencing, instant messaging and other modern communications services, while more than ever have unified these frameworks to boot.
Small-business owners have been among the most aggressive pursuers of these technologies, as they come with significant benefits by way of cost savings, ease of use and collaborative power. Taking all of this a step further, cloud-based UC has risen to prominence of late, helping companies to more fluidly provision the communications solutions they need, as well as the support, maintenance and management services required to optimize the frameworks.
The cloud computing model has had a profound impact on all different forms of IT provisioning cycles, allowing firms to invest as they go rather than putting up massive initial investments and staffing their technology departments with experts who know how to manage UC properly. Again, entrepreneurs have likely enjoyed the most dramatic improvements from these options, as they were once not able to possess the most advanced technologies that were withheld by the largest enterprises in the world.
If you want an idea of where UC is heading in the eyes of the analysts, check out this video from Telecom Reseller that discusses intelligent solutions and the road ahead:
For the purposes of this blog, let's keep the focus on video conferencing and the UC market at large, rather than broadening too far into VoIP, mobility and other matters. Have no fear, though, as we will certainly come back to those topics in the future. Considering the ways in which video conferencing has transformed the collaborative aspects of small businesses - especially those that have expanded into new territories and globalized - it makes for a good subject of analysis.
A quick look at the market
TechNavio's latest report on the video conferencing market revealed that organizations from around the globe spent roughly $7 billion on the solutions last year, and even more gains are still to come. The researchers found that while mergers and acquisitions have been largely absent from the industry, new entrants are a dime a dozen, with smaller operations that specialize in certain sector demands or particular components of video conferencing technologies stepping up in greater numbers as time goes on.
This is part of a much bigger trend in UC and IT services, as a wealth of transformations have translated to greater opportunities for startups, and it would be somewhat easy to make the case that smaller firms are more capable of competing with giants today than ever before. This has opened the proverbial floodgates for a universe worth of options that fit the unique demands of a much greater diversity of businesses.
TechNavio noted that this particular trend will continue to intensify for the foreseeable future, and that it will positively benefit the video conferencing market at large, while hosted options will outplay the in-house solutions segment. The analysts pointed to financial services, higher education, retail, manufacturing, health care and legal sectors as being the most likely to drive the video conferencing market's value higher in the coming years.
Information Age recently reported that the opening of doors for small-business owners to begin using tools that would have been only feasible with much higher profit margins in the past is a notable aspect of cloud-based video conferencing. Remember here that video conferencing is not necessarily a cosmetic type of investment, nor one that would only come with minor, negligible benefits for the average firm.
Rather, studies have shown that these tools can significantly improve a firm's ability to collaborate internally and with clientele, especially when employees and customers are located far away from the physical working location. According to Information Age, the one major factor that many leaders have appeared to ignore involves interoperability, which can make or break a video conferencing investment's returns before long.
When solutions are not compatible with one another and the infrastructure itself, functionality will lag and it will be all but impossible to optimize UC as a whole. The source affirmed that more modern video conferencing solutions based in the cloud can be exceptional means to avoid interoperability issues, especially as some of the leading providers such as Cisco have focused upon maximizing compatibility of their latest technologies.
Cleveland, Ohio-based news site The Plain Dealer recently listed three of the more common misunderstandings and myths involved in video conferencing, first pointing out that many companies believe the technology will not be feasible from a financial standpoint, or will have too many bugs and glitches. The news provider argued that solutions are indeed becoming far more affordable and viable for a wider range of firms, and that reliability has been boosted.
"Cloud-based UC is more reliable than traditional options."
Cloud-based video conferencing and UC at large will often be more reliable similar to the ways in which hosted storage, infrastructure and software will generally have greater resilience to outages and disruptions than in-house models. According to the source, despite the fact that video conferencing's central advantage is the ability to reduce travel expenses and resources, this is far from being the only benefit companies enjoy.
Finally, The Plain Dealer noted that video conferencing solutions have indeed become more user-friendly as time has passed, meaning that firms do not need to have a robust IT department filled with seasoned professionals to implement and support these tools. Taking that a step further, the ability to leverage managed services for video conferencing and UC illustrates this particular advantage, as hosted solutions will be integrated, maintained and optimized by professionals who specialize in these matters.
Whether they take the form of video conferencing or another solution within the UC market, cloud-based options will likely continue to gain traction as time goes on, fueling more affordable and reliable collaboration services for business owners.