Why businesses need to get crazy with their communications

It’s been a long time coming. Fifteen years after VoIP proved its cost benefits, ten years after ‘telephony’ reinvented itself as unified communications and five years since the whole lot became ‘just another app’, we’re finally witnessing the consumerisation and democratisation of enterprise-class, personal communications and messaging by going ‘over-the-top’.

In the telecoms world, the OTT (over-the-top) acronym is well understood, if not a little overused. Traditional telecom providers have been forced into developing innovative services that move above their traditional infrastructure markets of lines and minutes, in order to compete with the innovative OTT services provided by the likes of Google, Facebook and Skype that capture the user so effectively and give them an experience they just can’t do without.

Now enterprise IT teams are getting in on the OTT act: To deliver business services with the kind of brilliant experience that consumers take for granted in their personal lives; to provide the kinds of communications tools to enterprise users whose reputation and user-base will grow within the business and to make unified communications (UC) really work.

In the past, UC has not had a great rep - far too many organisations would tell you from experience that it was a poisoned chalice. The problems with UC's promised benefits were that they could only materialise if you a) mostly stuck with one vendor everywhere and paid the price they asked you to pay and b) users actually used it.

In hindsight, we now know that the first was impossible to live with and the second impossible to enforce.

Many vendors maintained high margins through proprietary systems and expensive desktop hardware, leaving enterprises to really struggle to drive end-user adoption and deliver RoI. Thankfully, today's outlook is very different as the consumerisation of IT and availability of enterprise-ready cloud services have tipped the balance back in favour of IT teams and users alike.

Listen to the consumer inside every business user

The rise of the tech-savvy, mobile, enterprise consumer and the dramatic uptake of services such as Skype, Facetime and WhatsApp shows there's huge demand for great communication services.

BYOD has progressed to Bring Your Own App, and there’s the obvious opportunity for enterprises to grasp the agility and potential cost savings proffered by tablets, mobile OS's and the vibrant developer ecosystem that surrounds them.

Then, there’s the emergence of genuine, enterprise-grade cloud solutions for voice, video and messaging. Cloud services that are genuinely flexible and on demand, subscription or PAYG based and you don’t need to know whose hardware, or whose call control, makes it work. It just does.

Whilst not every enterprise is going to leap over to a pure cloud solution, they have served to shape perceptions of the value offered by traditional suppliers past and teach IT teams the art of the possible: They’re glimpsing ways to be a better service provider to their enterprise users.

For business communications there is really nothing more important; fail to deliver the right user experience, and forget any promised benefits of productivity or cost savings.

Users have got to want to use the communications tools you give them. They are crying out for services to match the mobile and app experiences they have in their personal lives, at work. And importantly, they want to do it on any device they choose, in a secure and compliant manner.

Find your inner service provider

IT teams need to turn themselves into the enterprise equivalent of an OTT service provider to rival the likes of WhatsApp and Snapchat. To deliver what employees want, need and will use as a go-to communications service, they need to go above traditional business communications - in the same way that traditional telecom providers are doing.

This is about giving the end-user the experience and choice they want, but without losing control over security, policy and cost.

Unlike UC solutions of the past, an OTT model can offer compatibility with any vendor and many-vendor, on-premise and cloud. Cisco in your datacentre, Lync messaging in the cloud, and MobileIron securing devices? Sure! Who cares? It should just work. And any other combination thereof for that matter. Over the top.

The important bit is that it must work with a consistent user experience, on every device and OS out there. Plus, with the management tools and systems that allow enterprise IT teams to innovate, implement and deliver.

Enterprise OTT promises to brush away both of those old impediments of UC - the right experience for the users, and for the teams delivering that experience. The RoI comes back to the promises initially made by UC vendors all that time ago: Productivity and cost savings. Except this time you’re unifying your users’ communications, rather than forking out for unified communications.

Is enterprise OTT simply UC reborn? Well, yes and no. Yes, it would be a simple way to anticipate the benefits that it will make in the market. But as I said before, UC has also become something of a pseudonym for proprietary, expensive and clunky. And the OTT market is working hard to be the antidote to that; an infrastructure agnostic, user-led approach to unifying communications.

It’s a whole different attitude for enterprise IT. If you can find it in yourself to embrace the service provider within you then you can recapture the imagination and cooperation of an increasingly savvy and cynical user-base, by innovating and delivering services that they will use and enjoy using, and that you control.