Over the past five years (and especially during the past 18 months), more companies than ever have found themselves relying on multiple unified communications (UC) platforms to ensure successful enterprise collaboration. However, IT leaders are increasingly realizing that a multiplatform application communication environment may not be their ideal end-state. In this blog, we’ll go over the causes and evolution of multiplatform application UC environments, then highlight potential pitfalls and upsides of environments with multiple software systems. Finally, we’ll outline considerations and solutions for migration from a multiplatform application UC environment to a single platform.
How Multiplatform Application Environments are Born
Until recently, multiplatform application UC environments in enterprise organizations were seen as a potentially undesirable, but unfortunately inevitable end-state for organizations. Cisco’s systems were aging quickly, and endless licensing and phone system alterations in Microsoft’s Skype for Business and Teams line-up introduced IT change fatigue. The solution to this, in some cases, was to opt out of Microsoft Voice and instead use a system like Zoom or another end-user friendly UCaaS platform to augment other Microsoft productivity apps like Outlook.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, organizations required a quick transition option for remote work scenarios. This transition was sometimes led by IT and at other times driven by pragmatic Shadow IT efforts. The net result was, more often than not, a multiplatform application environment. Because of the urgent migration to working remotely, ease of implementation and system function were the primary decision factors, rather than sustainability or cohesiveness. The result was a mix of on-prem legacy systems like Skype for Business and Cisco Call Manager, and cloud-centric UCaaS platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, or Cisco Webex Teams. Most frequently lost in this rush migration was any notion of PSTN Phone — when working from home (WFH) most employees only required a robust video conferencing platform and their trusty cellphone.
However, in our current phase of hybrid work, organizations are realizing that a multiplatform application environment may not be best aligned with their strategic IT and end-user productivity goals long term.
What do Organizations Need Now?
In short, IT should consider whether a multiplatform communication application system will make strategic sense for the organization over the long run.
Because of COVID-related budget shortfalls, many C-suite executives are being pressured to cut costs however they can. Multiplatform systems are possible to manage, and many organizations are choosing to do so, but their cost and usability drawbacks can be significant, especially if improperly managed.
Additionally, as organizations return to the office, IT teams will need a tighter level of control over their organization’s UC environment. This is because of security considerations and because the hardware in most conference room systems is only aligned to work with one platform but not multiple.
However, multiplatform UC environments are not problematic in and of themselves. Each platform has different strengths and weaknesses, so multi-platform strategy means that your organization has access to a huge range of helpful capabilities. And, if a multiplatform application environment is what’s most efficient for end-users, or if it’s where employees have been able to build a community and a company culture, migrating away from it will require extra consideration and planning.
So, let’s dive deeper into some of the primary considerations of choosing to stick with multiplatform systems or migrate to a single-platform solution.
Pros and Cons of Multiplatform Application Systems
There are significant issues with multiplatform systems, causing many organizations to desire a switch to a single-platform environment. But, multiplatform application systems are not inherently flawed. Migrating to a new single-platform environment might cause its own problems.
Let’s preview the main topics of this section:
|1: Each Platform Provides Different Metrics & Admin Consoles |
|Each platform offers different strengths||Without a 3rd-party tool, IT will struggle to get a single pane of glass, apples to apples comparison of their UC environment|
|2: Multiplatform Systems Can Be Confusing||The use of specific platforms for targeted subsidiaries/geos and/or specific work functions can align well with end-user satisfaction goals||Employees will have a steep learning curve navigating different environments and UI’s|
|3: Users are familiar with Multiplatform Systems||End-users (especially Gen-Z) are used to navigating multiple app platforms and have built community and made connections on their platform of choice||Migration away from a multiplatform system can be expensive and time consuming|
Factor 1: Each Platform Provides Different Metrics
In a multiplatform environment, there are a lot of questions about end-users that IT teams need to be able to answer. Who uses which platform the most? And for what? Which platform has the most calls below a certain quality? Usually, IT teams can unearth these analytics using metrics provided by the native Admin Console in their UC platform.
However, each platform provides IT teams with different metrics and/or defines a metric using different parameters. When an IT team wants to know which platform hosts more low-quality calls, it’s not good enough to compare one platform’s metric on poor call minutes with another platform’s metric on the number of users who experience poor call quality. To put it simply, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison that doesn’t give IT teams the answers they need.
Because of this inability to directly compare platforms, it is impossible for IT administration to understand if their multiplatform UC and collaboration system is really working. And, if an organization should want to reconfigure their multiplatform application system or migrate to a single platform, they don’t have the metrics to tell them which platform performs best for their end-users. Really, the only way to get accurate comparisons and insights into platforms is with a third-party tool.
However, it’s important to remember that the metrics provided by a certain platform do often reflect where the platform considers its strengths to be. For example, a platform that reports a poor quality percentage might have a focus on overall performance, while a platform that provides a metric on number of poor quality calls might focus on individual experience. Depending on your organization, it might make sense for your UC system to focus on one, the other, or both of these metrics. Different platforms do work best for different things, which is after all how multiplatform UC environments come to be.
Switching to a single-platform environment might mean that your IT team no longer has to compare different metrics provided by multiple platforms, but it also could mean that your organization loses access to a platform that focuses on a certain important set of use cases.
Factor 2: Multiplatform Application Systems Can Be Confusing
While an organization’s end-users might be accustomed to a proliferation of different apps – for example one platform for voice and another for chat — this type of setup may be confusing for older gen or newly hired employees. Each platform’s specific purpose can feel arbitrary and confining.
And the confusion doesn’t stop there. In some organizations, different departments vary between what platforms they adopt for the same use case. Sales might prefer Zoom, for example, while marketing might prefer Microsoft Teams. When an employee wants to set up a meeting with members of the sales team and members of the marketing team, what platform should they use?
Similarly, users’ home hardware setups, as well as in-office conference room systems, often are set up for one platform or another. When a user is switching between multiple different platforms for meetings, it can be a challenge to make one hardware system work for everything they need to do. The time needed to reconfigure a setup for different platforms also decreases an employee’s productivity.
On the other hand, single-platform UC systems can be confusing as well. For example, each group might set up their file-sharing differently. This can make it extremely difficult for an end-user to find a file that they need, even though they are only navigating a single platform. Additionally, in the twenty-first century, we’ve all had a lot of practice learning new technology. While a multiplatform system might be extremely confusing for a week, it might be no more confusing than a single-platform system after an employee’s first month. On a large scale, it makes sense to consider the needs of legacy employees more than those only faced by new hires.
And, let’s give end-users some credit. People do not generally continue to use a system that is difficult or confusing if it’s possible to do something different. In a multiplatform environment, users have many options for calls, file-sharing, and other key capabilities. So, if a user has a particular system that they use for communication, that system is likely the one that they’ve found to be most effective for them. They may also be implementing Shadow IT technology which hasn’t been approved by the central company IT team. This is evolution on a micro scale — survival of the fittest means that a confusing, cumbersome multiplatform UC system won’t be in use long.
Factor 3: Users are Used to Multiplatform Application Systems
The most challenging obstacle for IT teams to overcome in a multiplatform environment is also the simplest: users don’t like change. While a multiplatform environment might confuse some employees, such a set-up will be familiar and effective for legacy users. This is especially true if it allows employees to continue to use the app with which they’re most familiar.
When many businesses introduced a multiplatform UC environment because of COVID, there was no user adoption period. End-users simply had to learn how to use the new system because they needed to do their jobs. But now, businesses are dealing with the aftermath of their quick migration into a multiplatform environment. In a non-urgent migration, users won’t rush to a new platform.
While moving from a multiplatform environment to a single platform environment is cost-effective and increases efficiency, users can feel like the migration means a removal of options. Maybe a user prefers a certain platform that isn’t the future single platform. At this point, most users are accustomed to frequently switching between apps and platforms. In general, people do not want to change.
Overcoming this obstacle requires massive strategy, planning, communication, and coordination between different departments and teams.
However, it’s important also to understand that a UC environment is more than just a tool for working together. As organizations learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, UC platforms are where connections are made and communities are built. For remote workers, their UC system might be the only way they connect with their coworkers. Considering this, organizations are asking a lot of employees when they completely migrate to a different UC environment. A multiplatform system might be the virtual place where employees have come together and built company culture — what might be the cons of taking that away from them?
So What Do We Do Now? Migration Considerations
Whether your organization will stick with a multiplatform application UC environment or migrate to a single platform, there are some considerations to keep in mind.
Timeline: It’s Not Urgent
First, any migration to a single platform environment is not urgent. Your organization’s workflow will change dramatically as we return to the office, and only after things stabilize will it become clear which single platform would make sense to adopt for your organization.
Also, consider what type of employee turnover exists in your organization. If your teams are always changing, you will be able to test out different platforms and change your workflow system more easily. However, long-term and legacy employees will quickly tire of constant alteration and platform migration. IT leaders will have to be sure that their choice whether to continue with a multiplatform environment or to switch to a single platform is a choice that has longevity.
You should also consider how your employees report to work. The work environment is facing huge changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from remote work to a hybrid work environment to a return to office. If most of your employees tune in virtually, either in a fully remote or in a hybrid fashion, then a migration to a different UC environment might not make sense. Remember, your organization’s UC platform is where employees connect with each other, and it might damage those connections to migrate to a different platform.
However, if the majority of your employees are coming to work in person after the pandemic, then moving platforms might be a good idea. Since employee connections will be made in more traditional in-person ways, like water cooler conversations or hallway encounters, the cost and efficiency benefits of migrating to a single platform might outweigh the harm to virtual company community.
What Do You Need from Your UC Environment?
Thirdly, ask yourself what you and your organization’s employees use your UC environment for. If you primarily use chat but don’t need an integrated email or video conferencing solution, consider using a platform like Slack. If video conferencing and telephony are your priority, try Zoom. Or, if you’re looking for an all-encompassing solution and aren’t concerned about option overflow, look into Microsoft Teams.
Alternatively, if you find yourself and others in your organization regularly using every platform in your multiplatform environment, it might not be worth the hassle of migrating. It’s possible that your current multiplatform system is the most effective way to access all of the capabilities that your organization needs. While potentially confusing and inefficient, a multiplatform application environment is a good way to obtain access to a wide array of high-quality apps.
Still Unsure? Unify Square Can Help
Third-party UC monitoring software can assist with this type of platform decision. Unify Square’s PowerSuite allows IT teams to see which platform is most popular within the organization, as well as compare metrics like call quality across platforms. If your IT team is overwhelmed managing a multiplatform application environment, you can enlist Unify Square’s Cloud Managed Services team for 24/7 support, ensuring that the environment is functioning as it should and solving any problems immediately.
If your organization is considering moving away from a multiplatform environment but isn’t sure how to start or needs some assistance along the way, Unify Square’s Consulting Services can help. You’ll get all the guidance you need to successfully transition your organization from multiple platforms to a single platform that works for everyone. Contact us today to learn more.