It’s no secret that the unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) market is hot right now, with the pandemic-prompted shift to remote work pushing organisations towards solutions designed to keep their teams in touch, despite physical distances.
Industry data and analyst firm IDC estimates that worldwide UCaaS service provider revenue, including over-the-top (OTT) providers, will reach US$16.1 billion in 2024, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.0 per cent over the 2019-2024 forecast period.
While UCaaS spend continues to surge, the way such services are being consumed and used has evolved over the past year, as has what organisations are looking for in a UCaaS vendor.
While the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic constrained the ability for some businesses to proceed with their planned communications transformations, many organisations now have increased their resolve to adopt cloud-based, seamless UCaaS to bring scale and agility to meet their changing, or changed, business needs.
With demand comes supply, and so the market has become flooded by UCaaS providers of all shapes and sizes working to capture the attention and the investment dollars of organisations of all shapes and sizes.
But with so many vendors now vying for market share as businesses around the world settle on long-term solutions to keep their workers connected, how should organisatons their IT partners work out which vendors to go with?
For partners, the obvious choice might be simply to double down on the UCaaS solution provided by whichever vendors they happen to have existing partnerships with.
But perhaps the answer isn’t so simple.
Indeed, there are a number of considerations to weigh up, not least of which is the kind of customers a partner might typically service, if IDC’s research is anything to go by.
According to IDC, two provider categories represent the bulk of the market – network carriers that sell cloud-based multitenant or multi-instance UCaaS offerings, or OTT UCaaS service providers that use an existing broadband connection via which integrated UCaaS capabilities are layered.
Meanwhile, there are some other vendors from the infrastructure side filling in the balance, according to IDC.
In both major camps, the market is crowded by vendors that are moving upmarket and downmarket.
In the downmarket segment, the variety of options available continue to be refined to meet small- and medium-sized business (SMB) needs, namely hosted voice over IP (VoIP) that is connected with other basic communications services.
These solutions are usually designed to provide just a taste of the more sophisticated analytics and contact centre capabilities available in a more robust manner for upmarket solutions.
While network carriers and OTT service providers tend to compete on the seamlessness of the user experience and integrations into broader unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) solutions, the smaller end of the market has particular needs that the big end of town probably won’t, and vice-versa.
"SMBs need a service provider that can meet their communication requirements today, grow with them into the future, and deliver an exceptional user experience for employees," IDC worldwide telecom and unified communications research director Denise Lund said.
"UCaaS solutions that offer a good value entry point are a good way for an SMB to begin the journey."
Meanwhile, in the enterprise market the pandemic has already challenged the way large organisations enable their employees to communicate, share information and have meetings as needed with colleagues, customers and business partners.
But, as IDC notes, the needs of large organisations typically extend beyond the core capabilities of a UCaaS suite.
As such, an important differentiator for providers targeting enterprises includes partnering up with vendors that have security and network orchestration services across a broader set of voice and data communications services.
Moreover, vendors that have a simplified administrator experience also stand out in this market. Similarly, integrations with popular enterprise software, including collaboration suites, is increasingly important to enterprises.
Ultimately, the ability to mix and match UCaaS bundles to cost effectively and efficiently meet an organisation's business needs is critical to any service provider's success.
"Enterprises need a service provider that can deliver on the promise of UCaaS flexibility, reliability, security, integrations, and a vision for how it contributes to the broader role of unified communications and collaboration across their organisation, especially as hybrid work models begin to emerge," Lund said.
"Paramount to success are a broad and rich portfolio of UCaaS services and integrations, as well as enterprise-grade support and implementation services,” she added.