How the cloud is changing unified communications


Organizations have been exploring the possibilities of unified communications (UC) for a number of years, drawn to the possibility of integrating voice, video, conferencing and collaboration tools. While some version of these functions has long been available through on-premise solutions, new offerings in the cloud have added benefits and made existing ones more pronounced.


Hosted solutions reduce capital spending, make updates and expansions faster and more flexible and allow businesses to adopt only the features they need, making the return on investment (ROI) of UC more significant and more easily demonstrable than in the past, a recent Network Computing article explained. While the cloud expands the functionality of UC solutions, the primary benefit of the cloud may be in the way it streamlines deployment by cutting capital expenditures (capex).


“Cloud UC offers IT a solution that doesn’t require a full-blown deployment for testing, nor does it require the full up-front capex costs that were required with traditional UC rollouts,” Network Computing’s Denise Culver wrote. “In many cases, that will be enough to move IT decision makers from ‘considering’ UC to ‘deploying’ UC. Determining ROI with a traditional UC system is tricky because there are many hidden costs, including capex, opex, maintenance, upgrades and the time IT spends administering and supporting the system – all of which are difficult to quantify.”


In addition to the lack of large up-front investment – costs are typically based on a set monthly fee associated with the number of users – cloud UC allows for significant flexibility improvements over traditional solutions. Using the cloud enables businesses to quickly add or remove users, as well as to automatically release updates or roll out new features to users across multiple locations. Additionally, companies can implement solutions in bits and pieces, offering certain functions only to specific departments, for instance, Culver noted.


Transitioning to cloud UC

One of the most common perceived barriers to cloud UC adoption is an existing investment in an on-premise solution, Culver noted. However, organizations can work with managed service providers to develop a hybrid solution that bridges traditional technology and cloud offerings. Cloud or hybrid approaches are likely to become standard in the years ahead, IT executive Jim Burton told Network Computing.


Culver explained that traditional UC systems only make sense for large enterprises with fixed communication needs and employees concentrated in one or two main locations. In industry verticals such as healthcare, government, financial services, higher education and retail, which have diverse, spread out user bases, cloud solutions are more essential.


Around 25 percent of enterprises are currently using a cloud-based UC solution, according to a 2012 Nemertes Research report. That percentage is likely to grow as businesses increasingly recognize its benefits. However, moving to UC is often best accomplished with careful planning and the help of a managed IT services provider.


“A key consideration is choosing a vendor or hosted services provider that has a proven track record and a platform that provides scalability,” Karen Kervin, a senior research analyst at Nemertes, told BizTech.


As organizations undergo their cloud UC transition, working with an experienced service provider can help them navigate the range of solutions and implement a plan that best suits their specific business needs.