Unified communications: leading the cloud revolution

The 101 of UC

The term unified communication (UC) is a popular subject that has been floating around the workplace for some time….but is it really an essential component for businesses today? Do employees, or businesses for that matter, really understand the pros and cons?

The problem with the current workforce is that it is dependent but scattered: 78 per cent of workers are part of global teams that can be scattered across the world.

Being part of the global workforce isn’t in itself a hindrance: technology allows communication. It is estimated that the average worker carries 2.9 devices, increasing their accessibility. While having multiple devices – from email, to mobile phones, to desk phones, to videoconference and beyond – should make getting in touch with someone easier, it can actually hinder the process.

A simple example is this: calling someone on their office phone could see you leaving a message at reception, to be emailed to their inbox with the request to call you back. Ultimately, the excess in opportunity to contact someone wastes time and resources.

Unified communications (UC) is a solution that streamlines this process, uniting full time employees, managers, top level staff and part time workers to communicate in a new way, across broad geographic space and time zones.

UC integrates a variety of communication tools, from the traditional non real- time to the advancing real- time. Simplified down, a unified communications system should have five core capabilities: email, telephony, real time communications, calendars and directory services.

Originally, UC was the natural progression for a world where multiple communications channels could be accessed all at once. Now, however, it is a strategic business choice which enables easier workflows and more efficient workplace operations. According to a report by Frost and Sullivan, globally, the UC market is expected to grow from US$1144.8 million to US$2287.6 million by 2019.

The network effect

Regardless of the catalyst, as an organisation moves to UC, a platform can be adopted to integrate with existing frameworks – be it emails with a particular provider or a cloud solution. The UC platform, Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), intrinsically changes processes within an organisation. As UCaaS takes hold, employees begin working more efficiently, adapting to the ease of communicating in real time via a single interface, but across multiple communication styles.

This hyper connectivity will benefit performance and capability but could also cause network performance issues. Things that need to be considered are:

- An increase in network traffic and applications and the need to address incidents
- Monitoring UC components to assess if they are working correctly across the network
- In-depth or packet level monitoring

With the growth of unified communications and additional new applications, the management of each new service is becoming far too complex for IT departments. Finding the right UCaaS provider can actually address all of these issues, by generating a customised and optimised solution strictly for your business.

If UCaaS is running optimally, the benefits to the end user and the broader business are extensive. Shorter time frames and less follow-ups results in increased productivity. The allowed interactivity can also increase decision making, reducing time lines, and increasing satisfaction and budget delivery.

Data, cloud and the security conundrum

These benefits are undeniable, which largely explains why 88% percent of enterprises have deployed or are planning UC deployment. Increasingly, UCaaS is deployed across a hybrid cloud scenario. In any business running UC, unstructured data is being created, and at a rapid pace. When UC is run either wholly or partially via the cloud, this data and the security risks alongside it increase.

The cornerstone of a successful UC implementation is having up-to-date accurate user information. This raises the question of security and privacy. Do I really want others to see my personal details?

The implementation of UC also changes business workflow and the need of a middle man to assign telephony UC. Some other core security threats include:

• Host and network-based intrusion - something that we have lived with since the dawn of computer technology.
• A VoIP-enabled form of phishing – basic phishing techniques are applied to the UC suite, meaning confidential information can be revealed over the phone by appearing to call from an official location, but actually infiltrating the organisation.
• Toll fraud – the incorrect lodging and pricing of media traffic (images, videos etc.) and voice and video calls. Toll fraud means that attackers can create a video call, but it appears as a telephone call. This misrepresentation means incorrect charging and scamming the system.

The top concern for organisations is the tapping of endpoint UC devices – laptops, smart phones etc. These breaches could infiltrate VoIP, IM or other traffic, potentially unleashing not only sensitive organisational information in the form of documents, but intercepting telephone calls, and sensitive emails. While this is the base level risk of unauthorised access, the next step is an organisation’s full network security being compromised. If a hacker infiltrates the network, there is the potential to not only access information but launch attacks and alter network settings - jeopardisinge the organisation on many levels.

These kinds of malicious attacks can come in many forms. Two common ones are denial of service attack and platform compromise. While different styles of attacks, both disrupt the communications infrastructure on different levels and in different manners.

Companies of all sizes are adopting unified communications and the collaboration capabilities it fosters to boost productivity and innovation, increase mobility and enhance flexibility. However the risks apparent in the cloud environment are also booming in.

UCaaS is the turning point for communications as we know it, and the way the cloud is utilised. At the beginning of this, the cloud revolution, we are looking to a more interactive, available yet accommodating time. To ensure that as UC takes hold of business it maintains the same robust nature and safety standards we are used to, the same considerations need to be at play. The same guidelines need to be put in place, including:

1. Develop a strong defence strategy
Assess the enterprise infrastructure and identify where vulnerabilities lie and how infiltrations could occur. Look at servers, endpoint UC devices and the actual network. Your security strategy should already address these core areas, but launching into the field of UC only enhances the demand.

2. Secure your infrastructure
As UCaaS becomes a reality, your organisation needs to build a secure infrastructure. This includes all aspects of ‘locking down’ your organisation, from data regulations, to securing PCs and tablets to the phone network and the protection, integrity and confidentiality of calls.

3. Check the legal side
The platform that you deploy UC on might be stock standard or could be strategically developed for your organisation. In any scenario, you need to ensure that the platform complies with all relevant laws and regulations of your region.

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