This article is part of a series (links below). I would recommend reading the articles in order, starting with “Greenfield Opportunity”, which provides the required framing.

Within this article, I will highlight our proposed Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) architecture, describing our philosophy, key technology decisions, and positioning. In the interest of brevity, this article will reference “Unified Communications and Collaboration” as UCC.

Introduction

In the broadest sense, UCC can encompass all forms of communication and collaboration across a network, ranging from one-to-one engagement to public broadcasts.

Over the years, the techniques and technologies used to enable UCC have evolved dramatically, but the goal has remained largely unchanged.

“Unify human and device communications, streamlining business processes and improving user productivity.”

In 2014, like Jive, Chatter and Yammer before it, Slack was positioned as the technology that would “kill email”, enabling a true UCC experience. Inevitably, this did not happen…

In my opinion, looking for “one technology to rule them all” is futile, recognising that UCC is very subjective and context-specific. For example.

  • Subjective: One person may like email, while another may prefer instant messaging, it comes down to personal preference and working style.

  • Context-Specific: Different communication channels are effective in different scenarios. For example, a Webinar (live voice and video) is a more effective channel than email for a virtual event.

With this in mind, our architecture will not target a single technology. Instead, we plan to create a UCC brand, positioning technologies that complement each other.

We believe this approach will promote diversity within the workplace (encouraging different working styles), whilst still providing a framework for effective collaboration.

Architecture

To ensure clear positioning, we have defined a model that groups different forms of collaboration into four types.

  • Personal Collaboration: Collaboration between a limited number (less than 10) of known participants. Collaboration could include Asynchronous Messaging, Synchronous Messaging, Voice, Video, Screen Sharing, Document Sharing, and Document Co-authoring.

  • Team Collaboration: Collaboration within a team or group (less than 50), where all participants are known. Collaboration could include Asynchronous Messaging, Synchronous Messaging, Voice, Video, Screen Sharing, Document Sharing, and Document Co-authoring.

  • Community Collaboration: Collaboration within a community (more than 50), where all participants are known. Collaboration could include Asynchronous Messaging, Live Video Streaming, Town Hall Meetings, Webinars, Digital Signage, Information Portal, and Document Sharing.

  • Open Collaboration: Collaboration with an open community of any size, where the participants are unknown. Collaboration could include Asynchronous Messaging, Synchronous Messaging, Live Video Streaming, Webinars, and Call Centres.

The diagram below builds upon the model, mapping our UCC architecture across the four types of collaboration.

Unified Communications and Collaboration

As depicted in the diagram, we have positioned the following technologies.

Personal Collaboration

  • Outlook: Email.
  • Teams: Messaging, Voice, Video, and Screen Sharing.
  • Zoom: Voice, Video, and Screen Sharing.
  • OneDrive: Document Sharing and Document Co-authoring.

Team Collaboration

  • Teams: Messaging, Voice, Video, and Screen Sharing.
  • Zoom: Voice, Video, and Screen Sharing.
  • OneDrive: Document Sharing and Document Co-authoring.

Community Collaboration

  • Workplace: Messaging and Live Video Streaming.
  • Zoom: Town Hall Meetings, Webinars, and Digital Signage.
  • ServiceNow: Information Portal.
  • OneDrive: Document Sharing and Document Co-authoring.

Open Collaboration

  • Public Social Networks: Messaging, Live Video Streaming, and Webinars.
  • Genesys Pure Cloud: Call Centres.

UCC can be a contentious area, as the technologies are widely used, but prone to error (specifically real-time voice and video). Therefore, outlined below are some of the key considerations that informed our architecture positioning.

Microsoft Office 365

Building upon our partnership with Microsoft, we plan to leverage key Office 365 services (specifically Outlook, Teams, and OneDrive) to enable a highly integrated experience, which includes our core productivity tools (e.g. Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.)

Although the diagram does not specifically reference SharePoint, it is worth recognising that many of the Office 365 services are powered by SharePoint, including Teams, and OneDrive. Therefore, although we will not be promoting the use of SharePoint natively, it will exist within our ecosystem, enabling capabilities such as unified search, etc.

Teams will be our primary technology for Messaging, Voice, Video, and Screen Sharing. However, Microsoft has had a “checkered past” when it comes to voice and video, with a history of poor execution (e.g. Office Communicator, Lync, Skype for Business, etc.)

As a result, we have positioned Zoom as an alternative option for individuals who require the best possible voice and video experience. In our testing, Zoom offers a “best in class” user experience, prioritising performance, reliability and multi-platform support.

To maximise our partnership, Zoom will also be positioned for specialist capabilities, such as Town Hall Meetings (5000+ participants), Webinars and Digital Signage (predominantly used within Manufacturing).

Social Collaboration

In 2012, Microsoft acquired Yammer, which is a social networking service designed for enterprise communication. Unfortunately, over the past seven-years, Microsoft has failed to capitalise on this acquisition, resulting in a disjointed user experience. With the new focus on Teams, it is unclear how Yammer will be positioned in the future, potentially remaining a standalone service or perhaps being merged into Teams (we might learn more in November at Microsoft Ignite).

Due to this uncertainty, we do not plan to implement Yammer immediately and instead have explored Workplace as a credible and cost-effective alternative. Workplace is built by Facebook and therefore delivers an intuitive/comfortable user experience for social collaboration. Thanks to Facebook’s estimated 2.45 billion active users, Workplace requires very little training, dramatically reducing the impact of organisational change management.

The screenshot below highlights Workplace in action, providing a familiar experience for anyone that has used Facebook.

Workplace

Although running on a separate technology-stack, Workplace and Facebook share the same DNA, enabling common capabilities such as News Feed, Groups, Live Video, etc. Also, Workplace enables specific enterprise capabilities, such as Single Sign-On, Org Charts, OneDrive and Zoom Integrations, as well as Safety Check (supporting crisis communications).

Information Portal

A traditional Information Portal (AKA Intranet) may be considered antiquated, but it is easy to overlook the power of a simple page that provides links to important resources (e.g. Help Desk, Payroll, HR, Training, etc.)

We have positioned ServiceNow as our Service Integration and Management (SIAM) platform, therefore we plan to leverage their “Employee Service Centre” as our Information Portal.

The screenshot below is an example of an Information Portal built using ServiceNow, highlighting key capabilities such as Search, Service Requests, Case Management, Virtual Agents, etc.

ServiceNow Employee Service Centre

The use of ServiceNow will deliver a solution that is simple and cost-effective to implement, maintain and support. It also provides direct access to all requests and knowledge articles stored in ServiceNow, as well as native integration with our HR system (e.g. Workday).

OneDrive and Digital Assistant

Positioned across all collaboration types (e.g. Personal, Team, and Community) are two key services, OneDrive and a Digital Assistant.

OneDrive will provide unified content synchronisation and collaboration, tightly integrated with our wider productivity and UCC architecture (e.g. Teams, Workplace, etc.) It will provide a consistent foundation for document sharing and document co-authoring, as well as central control pane for governance, security and data loss prevention.

The Digital Assistant represents our vision of the future, enabled via intelligent chatbot, which can be accessed from any of the UCC technologies (e.g. Teams, Workplace, ServiceNow, etc.) The goal of the Digital Assistant will be to streamline business processes, by providing answers to commonly asked questions, as well as automating daily tasks. For example, a user could ask “how many holiday days do I have left” or “submit a holiday request for Friday”.

Telephony

Although telephony is one of the most mature forms of network-based communication, it is often still the most complex and costly to implement at scale.

As previously referenced, we have positioned Teams as our primary technology for Messaging, Voice, Video, and Screen Sharing. Building upon this strategy, we will enhance the Microsoft 365 E5 Phone System feature by integrating with a Direct Routing service to enable a PSTN breakout at available sites.

To facilitate the PSTN interconnection we have chosen to partner with AudioCodes as our Session Border Controller (SBC) and Analogue Gateway supplier. The SBC architecture will be hosted in Microsoft Azure and/or turnkey appliances at the local sites (driven by in-country regulations for the provisioning of Direct Inbound Dial numbers).

Finally, we have partnered with CenturyLink (who will also be supporting our Data Network and SD-WAN), to seamlessly integrate the telephony components, enabling a single dial plan across the enterprise, delivered to us “as-a-Service”.

This approach to telephony compliments our winder UCC architecture, delivering a singular interface for all voice requirements.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we believe our UCC architecture promotes our desire to enable personal preference, while still delivering a consistent, simple user experience. This will be accomplished through a unified brand and carefully positioned technologies that complement each other.

To ensure a successful implementation, we may not enable all capabilities on day one, ensuring we prioritise business-critical capabilities (e.g. Messaging, Voice, etc.) This incremental approach will also ensure we fully understand the user requirements and usage patterns, allowing us to evolve the strategy over time.

In short, I feel our UCC architecture will provide a cost-effective, reliable and extensible foundation, whilst opening the door to more advanced/innovative capabilities.