COVID-19: Generating Demand for UC
Driving Forces in the Telecom Industry
Despite the lightning speed at which new technologies are becoming available, enterprises can be notoriously slow to adopt them in their telecom environments.
Unlike consumers who will gladly camp outside an Apple store for days in advance of a highly anticipated new iPhone, telecom IT leaders within the enterprise are more likely to take a wait-and-see approach to make changes in their network. After all, telecom systems can chug along for years after the system has been amortized and usually these systems continue to work just fine for most of the users. Unless of course, there is an outside force that makes change unavoidable.
Historically, driving factors that force change have come in the form of technology (such as the perceived threat of Y2K), government deregulation (opening up more competitive markets), and cultural shifts (such as the surge in network traffic enabled by 5G).
Or a pandemic.
A Tale of Telecom and COVID-19
COVID-19 appeared quite suddenly, unexpected, and affected nearly all industries to some degree.
Immediate winners in the changes brought on by the pandemic included e-commerce, pharmaceuticals, logistics and delivery, streaming entertainment, and video conferencing.
The immediate losers were transportation (especially airlines), tourism, oil and gas, traditional retail, and sports and entertainment.
The pandemic is having a significant impact on telecom infrastructures and applications as well, beyond conferencing.
Changes in the way the world does business calls for new infrastructure and services to support a distributed and remote workforce, provide for crisis management and business continuity, adapt to operational and supply chain issues, and in some cases comply with new regulations.
Recently I had a discussion with Greg Zweig, Director, Solutions Marketing at Ribbon Communications, about the effect the pandemic had on Ribbon and their customers. Specifically, I wanted to hear any perspectives he had on the response to the sudden surge of the new work-from-home (WFH) workforce.
As Zweig pointed out, the underlying infrastructure to support WFH workers has been in place or at least available for quite some time. Soft clients, mobile clients, video conferencing and collaboration, and cloud offerings, have been lying in wait like solutions waiting for a problem.
Consider, for example, telemedicine in the healthcare industry. It has been around for years. Yet prior to COVID-19 it had very limited adoption by patients, healthcare providers and insurance companies. Suddenly, it is the preferred choice for a doctor's visit unless the nature of the complaint absolutely requires an in-person visit.
Just like the pandemic is the problem to drive adoption of the telehealth solution, it is also a driving factor for UC adoption.
From a network infrastructure, Ribbon feels its customers are well prepared to handle the scaling and security issues brought on by changing traffic patterns attributed to the requirements to WFH. To demonstrate how one of their customers is leveraging Ribbon technology to respond to and support the sudden move to WFH, Ribbon introduced me to IPFone.
IPFone Wins with UC
I had a nice conversation with Damian Chmielewski, President and CEO of IPFone, whose company deploys Ribbon's Intelligent Edge™ portfolio as a part of their cloud UC service.
IPFone deploys Ribbon's EdgeMarc 2900s as their “eyes and ears” inside a customer’s network. Since most of a cloud UC deployment is inherently virtual, IPFone needs a way to proactively monitor local network performance and troubleshoot issues in their customers' installations. IPFone credits the EdgeMarc technology with giving them the ability to respond to the sudden spike in traffic in their network attributed to customers moving from the office to working at home. The EdgeMarc 2900s, along with the EdgeView Service Control Center application, enabled them to deliver 99.99% uptime, as well as to manage and monitor quality of service and offer zero-touch provisioning for their customers.
While their previous investments in the EdgeMarc technology really paid off to respond to and support existing customers, IPFone also saw an increase in new bookings.
Initially, the company's new business bookings understandably came to a screeching halt. At that time the world was still in shock and scrambling to figure out what to do next.
However, there was a welcome surprise ahead for IPFone as they then found their bookings steadily increasing. In fact, in July they saw an increase of 40% year-over-year growth.
A big driver for this growth is UC. Whereas prior to COVID-19, the demand for UC among IPFone's customers was a mere 15%, in wake of the pandemic that number has doubled.
Between the uptick in new customer bookings and sudden interest in IP, and a churn rate of less than 1% among existing customers, business during the pandemic has been good for IPFone. "We know we have to work hard every day to keep our customers happy and we know we have the tools, the knowledge and the resources to continue to do that," said Chmielewski.
What Lies Ahead
So, what's ahead for UC in the enterprise, even after the pandemic eventually subsides?
As with IPFone, the industry can expect to see an increase in user adoption of soft phones, mobile clients, video conferencing and collaboration. The consolidation of PBXs from multiple sites into one unified UCaaS solution was already well underway and that will continue. What will be interesting to watch is what happens for businesses that decide never to return to the office.
From UCaaS applications, to SBCs deployed as virtual machines in the cloud, to mobile and desktop clients for the end user, for some office space may become a thing of the past.
As Zweig puts it, "The move is on. You can't put the genie back in the bottle."