Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C) deployments are on the rise. The entire category is forecasted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.3% to reach $48.61 billion by 2020, according to analyst firm Technavio. Enterprise collaboration software accounted for most of the industry’s revenues, at 51%.

But what makes for a great UC&C experience? How do the network and the application come together to ensure you can communicate and collaborate with employees and customers—with sufficient bandwidth and quality of service (QoS) – so that all participants get what they need from a UC&C session?

On November 15, 2017, Spiceworks hosted a “video meetup” hosted by an IT professional from the Spiceworks Community, with guest subject-matter experts from CenturyLink and its UC&C partner, PGI, to delve into this matter.

Jeff Grettler from Spiceworks led the discussion. He was joined by Susie Stanek, Senior Product Manager at CenturyLink and Frank Paterno, Vice President of Business Development at PGI.

During the meetup, we discussed how to:

  • Measure your bandwidth and other networking requirements to adequately support UC&C
  • Determine which UC&C features your users really need versus “sounds good”
  • Learn from real deployments of UC&C at customer sites

According to CenturyLink’s Stanek, the single most important thing that determines UC&C success is fully understanding the applications that you intend to deploy.

“Some applications consume more bandwidth than others,” Stanek said. “Voice, conferencing and video are all sensitive to network elements and prone to jitter, packet loss or interrupted and ended user sessions. Make sure you plan for the number of users and how often they will use these applications, and get sufficient bandwidth to ensure they work well.”

“This of course requires understanding which UC&C applications are most important to your business,” she said. “How frequently do your users need to communicate and collaborate? The more important that is, the more bandwidth and higher QoS you need on your network.”

“Among other things, doing performance testing of your network to gauge what it is capable of supporting, and working with a UC&C engineer to make sure you’re implementing the UC&C environment properly are key actions to take prior to UC&C deployment.”

“Then you have to regularly monitor the network, and do performance tests and adjust the network accordingly as UC&C application use grows,” said Stanek.

According to Paterno, the two most important aspects of a UC&C application are simplicity of the interface and support, especially regarding how the application interacts with the network.

“Users expect much more from UC&C all the time,” said Paterno. “Audio conferencing grew to video conferencing to collaboration, and users naturally expect feature sets to grow. We have to ensure that the interface – whether traditional landline or web or mobile – stays super simple no matter what kind of network the user happens to be using. We also do perpetual user testing, to keep an interface up to date.”

“Support is also critical,” he added. If a business has scheduled a live, in-person meeting that brings 40 or 50 people together, “even a five-minute delay because someone needs support can cost a lot of money.” As a result, immediate global support in multiple languages that can troubleshoot problems no matter which network the user is depending on is essential. “There’s no time to send someone to a FAQ list,” said Paterno.

Mobility was another hot topic that the meetup participants discussed.

“Mobility is playing a much greater role in how we communicate. You always have to consider what options your remote users with limited bandwidth might have,” added Stanek. She talks about parents working at home competing with kids who are engaged in gaming – which eats up bandwidth – as well as corridor warriors; who must communicate and collaborate as they’re running from meeting to meeting. “The world is moving away from the physical handset,” she said. “You need an application capable of supporting a mobile user, who can switch between W-iFi, to the Internet, to 3G as needed.”

According to Paterno, it’s essential that enterprises choose a UC&C application vendor who has a real partnership with the network provider. “Users have lots of choices of UC&C these days, in particular with over-the-top (OTT) applications,” he said. With an OTT application, an enterprise might get a decent application with a nice user interface, but OTT vendors, “will just throw their hands in the air if there’s a problem with network bandwidth.”

On the other hand, when a network provider and UC&C vendor are partnering, enterprises get a one-stop shop for solving their support needs – whether they need more bandwidth, or there’s something going on with the application. “This is especially important as high-definition video becomes more prevalent,” he said, adding that having an application that understands the individual users’ bandwidth situation is also urgent. “You want your application to be able to detect whether your user is sitting at home with DSL, is on the corporate fiber network, or is stuck in a corridor with 3G,” he said.

Because users are getting smarter, giving them a visual cue as to their bandwidth in the application is also critical. That way, it gives the users choices of perhaps not turning on video, or using a landline for the audio portion of the conference.

In terms of final takeaways, Paterno said it was essential to keep users satisfied with the enterprise’s UC&C application because otherwise it runs the risk of emerging “Shadow IT” – unauthorized applications being deployed – which isn’t good for either the budget or for security.

“Make sure that your UC&C application and network combination is really satisfying your users, and that your IT department is partnering effectively with both your UC&C application and network vendors,” he said.

Stanek also recommended to, “know what you want to achieve with your UC&C application and incorporate that into your standard business practices, and then judge how your network can support all of that.”

To get the full benefit of the entire session, visit the Spiceworks video meetup.

This article was originally published on CenturyLink Bright Ideas.

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