The COVID-19 pandemic tested business continuity plans in ways never before imagined as employees largely shifted from in-office to home. This led to a rapid rise in adoption of cloud-based collaboration and communications applications including video conferencing and messaging to enable distributed worker engagement. Moving forward, successful organizations must go beyond simple point applications to leverage the ability to integrate workflows and collaboration services.
The State of Work Today:
According to Metrigy’s latest unified communications study, published in September of 2021, just 21% of companies have brought all employees back to the office on a full-time basis. The rest provide employees with a choice of work location (24%), require only specific individuals to return to the office based on role (38%) or require remote work (15%). This new hybrid-work reality has profound implications for business continuity planning. Companies can’t just focus on ensuring continuity of operations for their data centers and in-office employees, they must also ensure continuity for remote employees, often across the globe and outside of core operating regions.
The shift to hybrid work is rapidly changing the way companies leverage communications applications. According to Metrigy’s Workplace Collaboration: 2021-22 global study of 476 organizations, 47% now use Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) for their calling, meeting, and messaging needs, up from just 19% before the pandemic. What’s more, of the 29% still operating on-premises calling platforms, a quarter plan to shift to UCaaS by the end of 2021, and another 14% are evaluating such a shift. Clearly we have moved into a cloud-first paradigm for enterprise communications.
With the workplace now distributed, and cloud communications the primary way of communicating and collaborating among employees and with partners and customers, business continuity strategies must evolve to ensure continuance of operations in light of a new set of threats including:
- Weather, fire, and other natural disasters that could impact remote workers as well as offices
- Growing security threats, including ransomware and nation-state attacks that disrupt business operations
- Migration of employees as they are no longer tied to their offices and are free to live and work from virtually anywhere.
Five Ways Cloud Communications Supports Continuity Planning
To meet business continuity needs, cloud communications buyers must evaluate competing solutions to assess architectures, features, and security. Key areas of concern include:
- Ensuring highly-available access to applications, geographically diversified within global data centers. Buyers should review their provider’s architecture to ensure that it provides robust reliability in all operating areas, and that the provider has a demonstrated ability to maintain customer connectivity in the event of significant local or regional outages.
- Ensuring application and data security through encryption, access control, governance, and policy enforcement. Cloud providers must offer granular, role-based security options in support of Zero Trust access to applications and service. Ideally this includes support for single sign-on and end-to-end encryption of customer data
- Enabling advanced collaboration capabilities to enable coordinated response. Cloud communication platforms with integrated calling, meetings, and messaging, can also provide the basis for coordinated incident response, allowing IT and business leaders to easily collaborate in the event of a continuity disruption
- Enabling the flexibility to support on-premises capabilities where needed (e.g. local PSTN connectivity, survivability). Cloud communications providers should offer reliability options that include diverse network paths, optimized application performance, and the ability for calls to reach a local PSTN gateway in the event of a loss of connectivity to the cloud provider, especially for calls made to emergency services answering points
- Enabling employees with the ability to work from anywhere, without being reliant on applications hosted in enterprise data centers or access to the enterprise network. Another way in which cloud communications supports business continuity planning is by offering redundancy in the way that remote employees can access communications apps. The cloud model isn’t reliant on the use of a VPN to connect into the corporate network. It doesn’t rely on apps deployed within a single data center, or without geographic redundancy. However, successful continuity plans include ensuring that in-office employees have multiple backup paths to reach cloud service providers in the event of a failure of an Internet connectivity point.
Selecting the right cloud communications provider means not just ensuring access to reliable apps, but also access to capabilities that enable communications applications to support workflows and provide a superior employee experience. Key requirements include:
Integrated applications, including calling, meetings, messaging, and contact center that allow seamless access and movement among different communications modalities, and that allow customer service agents to easily bring in back-office expertise as necessary to address customer needs.
Integration through off-the-shelf or APIs to enable process-driven communication workflows providing individuals, workgroups, and the organization as a whole to easily create communications-enabled workflow for scenarios including sales management, internal help desk support, onboarding employees and customers, and day-to-day enterprise operational management
Reliability, security, performance to meet employee and company needs for high quality communications experiences across voice, video, and messaging interfaces, at the desk or on mobile devices, regardless of employee location
Conclusions and recommendations
Cloud communications is an integral part of supporting the hybrid workforce of today and the future. Successfully choosing the right cloud communications partner means conducting a careful assessment to gain insight into their ability to deliver reliable and secure services in all operating locations, and their support for business continuity needs. Cloud communications provides not just diversely provisioned services, but capabilities including integrated messaging, voice, and video that can support business continuity incident response. Consider as well the availability of APIs to enable creation of communications-driven workflows for both internal and customer-facing use cases.