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Unified communications – at the heart of the digital workplace

Unified comms is key to a modern and agile business. But what’s the most productive way to achieve this with the minimal disruption to your organisation?

Digital has become the new unified comms, and everyone has their own definition. Broadly speaking, the digital transformation agenda that is critical to most organisations’ survival has a key component at its core – the digital workplace. Comprising technological, people and environmental pillars, the digital workplace allows an organisation to be agile enough to survive and thrive in market disruption.

At the heart of the digital workplace is an organisation’s unified communications strategy, driving the way people communicate and collaborate on a daily basis. Every organisation will have a different version of their collaborative utopia. It’s defining how you want your users to work, both from a technological and a process perspective; e.g. will they be home based, flexible, mobile or other – will there be many different profiles of user?

Un-unified comms

Many organisations end up with a so-called un-unified comms environment due to disparate technologies that have been implemented across the business. There may also be multiple departments and procurement entities sharing responsibility for technology decision making. On top of this is the cloud-enabled increase in user-driven or shadow IT – end users in the business who find applications and communications solutions that help them achieve their objectives outside of the corporate standards. This disparate environment is driving organisations to look at consolidation of platforms, vendors, and communications. Unifying the comms environment across an organisation can bring significant benefits in terms of speed and agility, quicker resolution on SLAs, and improved governance and efficiency.

It’s well understood that Skype for Business and Office 365 can help remove this complexity – and there has been a surge of interest in telephony as part of the UC story since Microsoft switched on their cloud PBX platform. Whereas in the past Skype would have been used for IM, presence and conferencing, telephony is now a critical part of the Skype for Business application stack. The challenge is often whether to approach this as a big bang or as a journey. The answer, of course, is that both are possible.

Examining the possibilities

Option 1

In this scenario, organisations already have Office 365 and are managing this in-house. The challenges revolve around the internal resources required to port your users and numbers to the cloud whilst effectively managing the change internally.

Option 2

In this scenario, your UC environment is entirely on premise, either managed in-house or by a third party. With more and more organisations moving to a cloud-first strategy this is becoming less common, even for a large enterprise. This trend will only continue as cloud unified communications spend continues to accelerate (from 28% of UC spend in 2015, to 49% of UC spend in 2020 – Gartner).

Option 3

In the third option, the UC environment is fully outsourced to a managed service provider. This could be either a multi-tenant or private cloud environment depending on the complexity. We see more and more organisations taking this journey and looking for support at each stage on their way to the nirvana of fully-enabled UC. There may be contractual or organisational factors that prevent a ‘big bang’ approach, which makes a staged approach much more practical and successful.

The road to nirvana – 365 to fully-enabled UC

  • The first phase, which many organisations have already undertaken, is the deployment of Office 365.
  • This is followed by the implementation of Skype for Business (initially as an IM and presence tool).
  • In an ideal scenario, there will be a change management programme running to embed these applications into the business from a user perspective. This helps organisations overcome one of the biggest challenges – adoption.
  • The next stage is to enable conferencing within Skype, providing predictability of telephone costs and more accurate resource planning.
  • Finally, the introduction of voice/cloud-PBX enables the full functionality of the UC environment.

These stages could be phased over several months or they could be implanted as a big bang – it all depends on the organisational appetite and capability.

What happens in reality – whether it’s an organisation of 100 or 10,000 – is that pockets of people use a variety of applications across the Microsoft suite and others. Understanding your organisational vision and objectives up front is critical, and a phased approach will allow the organisation to transform whilst bringing all the users on the journey.

The service approach

Microsoft is continuously releasing new features in the voice and telephony arena. However, in addition to feature richness, the key to a successful UC deployment lies in understanding business critical applications as well as the end-to-end service approach.

The service approach spans from understanding the business objectives, assessing the current state, and defining success criteria. It lies in making sure your UC project meets your end goals within your timeline. Success must be defined and agreed with the right stakeholders before you start, then measured at each and every milestone along the way. With this approach the benefits of workplace transformation can be achieved – and they are worth it!
The way to get there is to work with a trusted partner. Work with Arkadin.


  • Unified comms and the digital workplace are intrinsically linked
  • Disparate technologies and rogue users create un-unified comms
  • Big bang or phased approach is possible, dependent on the individual business
  • Partnering with an expert can deliver optimum results within agreed timelines

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About the author

I am a technology evangelist for Arkadin and have helped many companies transform to a digital workplace. How? Well, firstly understanding the culture and workplace environment, secondly by delivering user-driven technologies and finally by designing bespoke change management strategies.

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