Back when companies had to work on an ISDN30 basis, the process of setting up an ISDN connection looked like this:
- Researching viable options
- Choosing equipment
- Choosing the underlying carrier network
- Wait for 12 weeks to get lines installed before finally moving forward
Where we are today is a different world. We now see 2, 3, or even 4 tools being used, and all of these are SIP-interface capable. Companies from resellers to web development hubs have all sorts of communication options, and using different tools for different aspects of your business has become the norm.
But when you scratch the surface, things are not always as straightforward as that previous paragraph might imply. And this is partially due to the fact that these tools are often owned by different parts of the business, with the usual lack of transparency and siloes that this can entail. It used to be that a comms architect or an internal telco expert would be responsible for anything in this realm. But today, comms platforms are often acquisitioned by CIOs or CEOs, and the comms manager is left to sweat the details. Where we find people increasingly running into problems with this multi-tool worldview can be summed up in one word: interoperability.
The “Free Comms” Fallacy
Modern cloud solutions make it easy to go live very quickly, but the ease of an OpEx model means that due consideration is not always given to the long-term costs associated with a given solution. If tools have been selected by other parts of the business, comms architects are left with a limited ability to shape and configure a company’s overall communications strategy, especially if one solution doesn’t always play nice with others.
This headache is compounded by budgeting concerns that can come about when communications spending is not centralized. As their comms come bundled with their other IT software, comms architects are facing “hidden costs”, like bundled PSTN coverage and porting fees that get lost in the bill for their overall tech stack.
These practices, combined with short-term decision making, are leading to lots of problems down the line and ‘Dark IT’ – the use of non-sanctioned solutions that haven’t been properly vetted and configured – is becoming a much greater challenge to the technical side of the business that is contributing to the fallacy that these comms solutions are ‘free’.
Allocating Your Spend
It’s not just small or medium organizations that have these challenges, and actually, it’s very possible for two distinct parts of a business of any size to make selections on UC tools and have completely contrasting and competing goals.
This can come back to bite the business in the long-term because what it doesn’t often recognize is that there is always a need to manage the overlapping cost and feature sets of multiple tools that are designed to do at least some of the same things, based on these decisions.
Even more to the point, costs actually increase dramatically when these decisions are not made centrally. Nemertes published research at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak looking at the costs to businesses when more than one UC tool was used.
What they found was that businesses, when they get 2/3/4 tools, are often spending more than twice the amount than if they used a single unified strategy and made sure the organization was structured in a way that a comms lead is actually making the decisions behind platform implementations.
The problem here is that when this all takes place, the kind of environment that comms architects are forced into isn’t ideal for the growth of the business.
Different Tools For Different Departments
It’s important to stress that the use of multiple tools isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. Depending on differing use cases and needs, it can be the preferred solution. The key is to make sure that all these different pieces coexist harmoniously in your corporate ecosystem.
But saying and doing are two different things. And often what this approach creates isn’t just ‘hidden costs’, but a very specific set of challenges around how you can drive interop and get platforms from different departments to talk together or pass data.
So when it comes to interoperability, and creating an ideal communications ecosystem, how is the industry responding to this growing need?
Closed Practice Ideas
The industry’s general direction when it comes to integration has so far looked like it has been trending towards an open ecosystem, with increased integrations between some big players.
However, what you’ll see if you look closer is a proliferation of comms strategies incorporating the idea of a ‘closed practice’, where some platforms have strict certification requirements and large costs associated with it.
This means that a lot of vendors are actually now launching services without a proper partnership. And there are so many integrations out there that are not ‘platform certified’ that it seems like the cloud comms ecosystem and comms industry as a whole has come to the decision that ‘certification’ for these types of products doesn’t really hold a lot of weight.
And due to integrations launching without certification things are opening up, just not in the most appropriate way.
In our opinion, the number of integrations we might have seen by now between big platforms and services would have been far higher if this restrictive ‘certified’ mindset wasn’t as prevalent.
How Can The Industry Do Better?
No one organization can create an open industry, but there is a growing push in this direction from multiple providers that we’re happy to be spearheading.
For our part, we’re trying to publish more about how we use SIP in an open way, including:
- Publishing the SIP spec through integration guides for the interop openly
- Having test labs available online as that’s how the products are generally consumed
What this creates is an environment where new integrations can be set up in a matter of days and not weeks or months.
What does This Open Ecosystem Achieve?
- Improved market access for everyone
- Better relations for us with suppliers and clients
- Easier introduction of innovative products provided by interoperability between new and existing products
- Helps bridge the gap between research and marketable products or services
- Implementation of industry-wide standards of practice (Diversion headers, HTTP, etc)
Carriers and platforms alike need to see how, by integrating their offerings, they can get closer to a Global Communications offering that benefits everyone. And that this kind of openness and interoperability is a big step in the right direction for the industry as a whole.