Lowering the barriers to unified communications with the cloud

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As unified communications (UC) becomes more widely adopted, the value proposition for enterprises is now better understood. Increasingly, IT decision makers are seeing how UC can make their operation more manageable, and on a broader scale, how it can improve employee productivity across the organization.

Given ever-tightening IT budgets and growing demands from management to get more out of employees, the business case for UC becomes more evident.

Strong as that rationale may be, enterprises face a variety of challenges to moving forward with UC. Prime among these include limited budget for capital expenses for an on-premises solution, large sunk costs in existing telephony infrastructure, and a lack of in-house expertise to properly support UC. While these are natural drivers for cloud-based UC, IT has had reservations about the cloud that are, in fact, another holdback for adopting UC.

When IT departments are faced with decisions about replacing their aging PBX, the discussion now is much bigger than telephony.

Today’s workplace demands a seamless integration of voice with other communications modes, along with a consistent user experience across all network environments and endpoints – both fixed and mobile. These needs all point to UC, but most IT teams today would be hard-pressed to address them solely with an on-premises solution, especially in multivendor environments.

Focusing on the deployment plan

The best way forward is to make the cloud part of your UC strategy, as this overcomes the limitations of managing UC internally. While enterprises have long preferred to own and operate their infrastructure, the complexities around UC present some real challenges, and with these solutions largely being software-based, it’s getting harder to justify this legacy-based IT model.

Once the rationale for adopting UC has become established, the deployment plan should be the priority. With cloud in the mix, you will have better options. This focus is important because the move to UC is transformational, and it takes time. Good planning will be needed, not just for the process, but in choosing the right partners to deploy with. Both UC and the cloud continue evolving, and you need a deployment plan that allows the enterprise to start now, as well as benefit from ongoing innovation.

The hybrid model is an ideal starting point for a deployment plan, as it allows you to keep existing phone systems and have the UC platform hosted. This allows your enterprise to get full value from your telephony investment – no “rip and replace” – while also leveraging the flexibility and scalability of the cloud for UC applications.

Another important aspect of the hybrid model is that enterprises can migrate to the cloud at their own pace rather than do a wholesale cutover. This will appeal to enterprises that maintain reservations about the cloud for real-time solutions like UC. As such, the hybrid model mitigates the risk for adopting new technology and allows you to build a track record of performance to demonstrate an ROI and secure continued OPEX funding.

To reinforce the ROI, consider that hosted UC is OPEX based, making it more budget friendly than CAPEX, while providing better cost certainty. This will be especially attractive where the business is highly cyclical or in a rapid growth mode. Cloud-based UC is a flexible consumption model that allows IT to activate licenses where and when needed, as well as introduce new features as demand develops for them.

Another factor to consider with a cloud-based deployment plan is how you can now make better use of your limited – and likely diminishing – resources by not having to manage legacy telephony. Regarding telephony, you face bigger challenges around BYOD, and will be all too happy to see fixed line voice integrated with a cloud-based solution. In terms of making your everyday lives easier, this may be one of the biggest appeals for deploying UC from the cloud.

Looking at the bigger picture and choosing the right partner

While there are many barriers to adoption for UC, this analysis shows the role the cloud can play. With that come decisions around choosing the right partner.

Most enterprises favor a hybrid model, as this provides the best of both worlds in terms of maintaining the existing telephony infrastructure, along with deploying state-of-the-art UC seamlessly from the cloud.

By nature, this implies working with multiple partners, since the PBX and UC vendors may be different. Aside from that, however, you must also consider the service provider, since their broadband will provide the connectivity that integrates telephony with all the UC applications.

When it comes to larger scale, global enterprise-grade deployments, the role of the global service provider becomes especially important. On a high level, one must consider the ability to support a globally-distributed workforce and customer base.

These scenarios require real-time communication, delivered with business-grade service quality across both fixed and wireless networks. For UC to gain meaningful traction across the enterprise, the experience must be seamless and consistent.

These results can certainly be achieved by choosing partners on a piecemeal basis. However, that puts the onus on IT to manage all the relationships, work through interoperability issues, monitor network security, ensure a full integration of on-premises voice with hosted UC, and do the same for the UC experience across fixed line and mobile devices.

Alternate approach

If IT has any reservations about doing these things, an alternate approach is to work with a service provider like AT&T that offers cloud-based UC as part of its UC services. As the cloud matures, service providers are seeing growing demand from their enterprise customers for UC offered on an XaaS basis.

While first-generation UC offerings were on-premises based–offered only by OEMs–the market is quickly moving to hosted solutions, and that has created an opportunity for service providers to become UC players.

With that said, not all service provider offerings are created equal, and due diligence will be needed to determine how well they can truly support a hybrid architecture, especially one that meets your needs. Integrating voice and UC across multiple vendors is not easily done, and this capability should be another criterion for making choices.

Looking further out, you’ll want to know how well service providers can keep you on the leading edge of UC as these platforms evolve. Key capabilities you should look for include:

  • Ability to tie SIP trunking into their connectivity offering
  • Data center infrastructure to ensure business continuity and to keep data secure
  • Class of service to ensure carrier-grade voice quality
  • Support for mobile UC applications, persistent video across your LAN, and HD for both audio and video

This may be asking a lot, but that’s what the bigger picture looks like when cloud becomes part of the UC story.

As enterprise continue to lag employees in terms of using the latest technologies to communicate and get things done, UC will become more of a need than a want.

When that happens, the barriers we’ve been discussing will become real pain points, at which point the cloud’s value in moving forward with UC will become equally clear. If that’s where you are on your buyer’s journey to UC, then the importance of choosing the right type of partner should now be just as clear.

Jon Arnold Principal J Arnold and Associates About Jon