Unified communications solutions rapidly replacing legacy phone systems

Unified communications solutions are displacing legacy technologies with such speed that some industry observers have begun thinking about the end of the phone number. Facebook’s landmark $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp – an ad-free mobile messaging service that relies on the user’s screen name rather than a phone number – underscored the rapid ascent of alternatives to the aging SMS/circuit-switched telephony infrastructure.

Chat apps overtake SMS, showing changing face of consumer and business communications
Last year, E.U. Commission vice president Neelie Kroes announced that OTT chat apps had overtaken SMS for worldwide messaging volume. While SMS likely isn’t going away just yet, much of the value in communications has certainly moved from basic services to richer platforms that make the most of high-speed data connections and provide amenities beyond text messaging and voice calling.

Consumer options such as Skype and LINE have become famous for video conferencing and stickers, respectively. Similarly, business-grade offerings often distinguish themselves by including data sharing and email services in addition to text and voice. Organizations across many verticals, including healthcare and education, have put UC to work as they modernize their IT operations. A managed services provider can help navigate the common obstacles that companies face as they move to

“Many of the benefits of unified communications center on internal productivity improvements, or the facilitation of collaborative working,” Liam Ward-Proud wrote for City A.M. “But [small and midsize businesses]  also face the challenge of managing numerous client contact points, and a total communications strategy can help ensure a consistent client experience is delivered.”

University of Washington remakes IT department with UC
Universities have been at the forefront of UC adoption as they adjust to the rapidly evolving communications habits of students. Take the University of Washington, which began planning its move from a legacy phone system to UC as far back as 2010, according to EdTech.

The institution began by overhauling its infrastructure, installing fresh switches to support a network that could handle converged voice and data. Since its systems served more than 22,000 users, upgrades were made in phases over the course of a few years, with medical call centers and campus public safety among the first to receive access to the new platforms.

The university’s UC systems grew to encompass voice, voicemail, chat and video conferencing. Down the road, it has its eye on video-as-a-service and additional cloud-based functionality. Indeed one of the underlying value propositions of UC is that it creates a clear pathway toward cloud computing. Many UC components can be hosted and managed by a third-party, freeing users from having to tend to their own infrastructure. Functionality can also be changed and scaled depending on demand.

In the University of Washington’s case, the rollout of UC is facilitating creation of hybrid cloud. Hybrid setups typically involve:

  • Some infrastructure that is managed in-house, often for reasons such as security, compliance, control and performance.
  • Other applications and resources – for computing, networking and storage – that are piped in from an external provider.
  • APIs and mechanisms for determining what gets run where and when. For example, a workload that is running internally but requires more capacity can be shifted to public cloud infrastructure.

For the university, some assets will be kept on-premises while software is increasingly shifted to the cloud for greater availability.

“Right now, people can use the features in Microsoft Lync, such as chat, voice, video and conference sharing, on a peer-to-peer basis,” Roland Rivera, director network strategy and telecommunications for the university, told EdTech. “Our goal is to provide these capabilities campus-wide. As the technology evolves, we plan to keep the [session initiation protocol] core in-house, but migrate applications to software-as-a-service cloud solutions as those become available.”