It seems we’ve been talking about the rise of hosted communications services for years now, but adoption has been rather light. I think one of the main reasons is that the features and functions available from the hosted providers historically weren’t even close to what was available from the premise-based vendors.
Over the past year or so, though, this gap has closed significantly. In most cases, hosted UC solutions are on par with what one could get from a premise-based solution. As someone who used to run the phone system at a company, I can honestly say that it’s a pain in neck, and I’m not sure why anyone would want to run their own phone system when you can get most of what you need in the cloud. Sure, the biggest of the big companies will always want the control and security of doing it themselves, but most small-to-midsized companies would benefit greatly from shifting to a hosted solution.
However, when most organizations consider a cloud-based solution, much of the focus is on comparing the total cost of ownership of a premise-based solution with one in the cloud. In my mind, that’s only part of the reason to migrate to the cloud. Below are the top business reasons to consider a hosted collaboration solution.
- Deployment flexibility. Historically, businesses have deployed communications infrastructure on a location-by-location basis. Each node (branch, department, etc.) would have its own PBX, voicemail and other features. As companies migrate to IP, they often replicate this model and just replace TDM systems with IP ones. While this meets the needs of specific workers in specific locations, it makes distributing UC functions to users outside that physical location very difficult. A hosted solution provides the ultimate in deployment flexibility. The benefit of the cloud is that any feature can reach any worker over all networks. Deployment strategies no longer need to be structured around the location and limitations of the technology.
- Faster time to market. The legacy deployment model often meant companies would spend months rolling out new applications or feature upgrades to their user population. IT would need to load the new feature set to each location and then do independent testing. A hosted solution makes new features and applications available immediately, so the organization can roll them out on its own schedule. Ultimately, the company can be as aggressive as it wants to meet competitive responses overnight.
- Efficient use of budget. One of the most compelling arguments for any cloud service is having a lower TCO than traditional premise deployment models. While this can be true, many companies don’t actually reduce budget when they reduce costs. Instead, buyers should think of how to use that budget more efficiently. The most efficiency can be gained in the area of people. Premise-based solutions require constant maintenance and attention, which is why the majority of IT budgets are consumed with just keeping the lights on. This is one of the reasons for the huge gap between companies using VoIP and a little bit of UC and those that are aggressively rolling out a broader set of UC services. Shifting UC to the cloud gives IT more time and budget to dedicate to stuff like mobile UC and application integration. In the long run, this will have a bigger impact than the legacy UC applications.
- Improved business continuity. I’ve always joked that every company is an expert in disaster recovery planning. The implementation is where companies often fail. The single most underrated aspect of the cloud are the business continuity implications. Since a hosted solution is not tied to any particular location, workers can access them whether their physical office space is available or not. The alternative would mean having to build redundant data centers with infrastructure that needs to be continually maintained. Some of the biggest companies in the world can do this, but cloud brings better disaster recovery to the masses.
- Greater business agility. Look at any CIO survey today and it shows one of the main initiatives is to improve IT agility. But how does one create an agile IT environment with legacy communications infrastructure? ZK Research has found that, in the network and communications space, almost 90% of projects are delivered late or cancelled. Much of this is because of the complexity of UC today compared to the simplicity of legacy PBXs. Pushing UC complexity into the cloud lets IT leaders focus on delivering services faster instead of saying "no, we can’t do this." As the IT environment continues to get more consumerized, the ability to be more agile becomes a bigger factor in IT success.
From the research I’ve done, those are the primary business benefits of cloud-based UC. I’ll do a follow up blog with the primary technical benefits. I think the main thought I want to leave everyone with is that today’s cloud services are not the cloud services of five years ago, or even two years ago. If you've looked at them before and decided to pass, it’s worth another look again today.