Managed service providers: Outsourcing unified communications applications

To manage enterprise unified communications apps, there are three options: on-premise with either internal management or third-party management or fully outsourced or hosted unified communications. Learn more about managed services providers (MSPs) and if managed services is a good fit for some or all your unified communications applications.

IT organizations face extremely challenging times right now. For many, budget cutbacks for 2009 were worse than predicted, forcing organizations to trim already-lean IT departments: Sixty-seven percent of organizations are decreasing their IT staffs, by an average of 17%.

The recession has forced many IT decision-makers to re-evaluate what is and is not core, assess their teams, and move people to strategic areas to concentrate on more tactical, business-value services and projects.

It's also prompted many to consider third-party support. Even organizations that traditionally kept services "in house" are assessing whether to selectively outsource day-to-day monitoring and management to third parties, to cut back on capital expenditures and to take advantage of the predictable monthly operational expense that managed services offer.

Increased adoption of complex unified communication and collaboration applications adds further impetus to the shift. In 2007, just 17% of organizations were deploying UC, meaning they were using at least one unified communications application. By 2008, that figure increased to 47%. This year, that number has grown to 60%.

Growing UC adoption creates a challenge for IT, as applications often exist in isolation, deployed and managed separately. Add end-users' high expectations of application performance, regardless of where they work, when, or from which device -- and with no concern for increased complexity or shrinking staffs.

Unified communications management solutions
To meet growing demands, organizations increasingly are evaluating their UC application deployment, monitoring and management options. There are three options:

  • On-premise with internal management (build-your-own UC)
  • On-premise with third-party management (managed UC)
  • Fully outsourced (hosted UC)
More on hosted unified communications solutions
How do I know if hosted UC services are for me? 
Do hosted and managed UC systems provide more benefits for certain enterprises? 
Hosted unified communications options can save the enterprise money, but expect limited feature sets.
Making the decision to shift to hosted VoIP 
To decide which is most appropriate, companies must consider capital and operational costs, management, flexibility and scalability.

Should an organization decide to keep everything in house, IT must possess the capabilities to identify and measure the performance of collaborative applications across the network, using specialized monitoring tools. Where distances are long, networks are iffy, or bandwidth is dear, they may require optimization tools as well. They also must be trained on the technology, be able to determine metrics for management, and have the time to provide support.

Unfortunately many IT teams struggle to support these collaboration applications as they work with limited on-site resources and inadequate centralized management and monitoring tools, leading to increasing evaluation and adoption of third-party support.

Using a managed service provider (MSP)
Sixty-five percent of organizations are using, or evaluating, some flavor of managed services at one or more of their locations. That's quite an increase from the 46% we saw in 2007, and 27% in 2006.

The type of managed services an organization uses varies. Once limited to whole-network outsourcing or limited equipment maintenance contracts, managed services now encompass an enormous variety of services and network-delivered applications.

Nemertes uses a comprehensive definition when referring to unified communications managed services. We include managed solutions for VoIP, unified messaging, email, instant messaging, audio/video conferencing and Web conferencing.

Once limited to whole-network outsourcing or limited equipment maintenance contracts, managed services now encompass an enormous variety of services and network-delivered applications.
Katherine Trost
AnalystNemertes Research 
Typically, in a UC managed-services scenario, companies own the equipment and house it in their own locations, or within a third-party's site. A managed service provider (MSP) manages the infrastructure. Providers install remote-monitoring tools and manage each site from a central location, and/or they assign their staff members to work on the customer premises.

Today, the most widely used UC managed service is managed IP telephony. Forty-six percent of organizations are using managed IP telephony, a tremendous increase from only 14% in 2006. Generally telecom staffs use an MSP after finding IP telephony more difficult to manage than expected, especially on a 24 x 7 basis.

Video conferencing boosts need for MSPs
We expect increased need for managed video applications. Videoconferencing demands not only low-latency and reliable network performance, but also large amounts of bandwidth, especially to support high-definition and telepresence platforms and services. Most IT managers Nemertes works with have not made any specific investment in dedicated video quality management tools. Instead, they rely on a combination of overlay bandwidth for telepresence and class-of-service prioritization for other video applications. They lack in-depth management and reporting tools to support quality of experience metrics such as pixilation, drop-outs or dropped video sessions. They increasingly are looking to MSPs to deliver management and guaranteed bandwidth for IP video and on-site support for remote locations. Nemertes believes this type of end-to-end management requirement will favor large carriers or SIs over smaller, regional MSPs, as providers will need to manage both WAN optimization and application performance, or partner with someone to do so. Today, a majority of organizations that procure managed services rely on systems integrators, carriers and large, value-added resellers (VARs). Almost 60% of organizations with fewer than 1,000 employees depend on smaller, regional MSPs. A smaller percentage, between 15% and 25%, get managed services directly from their vendors. They are usually very large organizations.

Nemertes Research predicts, as organizations deploy additional UC applications, they'll look for providers with the expertise and global reach to be a single solution. Examples of carriers offering UC managed services include AT&T, BT, Orange Business Services, Global Crossing and Verizon. Systems integrators include EDS, IBM, CSC and Dimension Data. Additionally, there are thousands of regional providers offering anywhere from a very specialized single solution to complete UC services bundles.

Nemertes' recommendation: evaluate managed services for all or some of your UC applications. Assess your needs and take time to find a provider (or multiple providers) that offer the right blend of services, evaluating where you need help, and what you can internally handle.

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