Increased user mobility is creating growing enterprise interest in cloud-based unified communications (UC). As a result, UC vendors and service providers are going with the trend by offering Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) to their customers.
“Cloud services are hugely important in the UC market right now,” said Brian Riggs, research director of enterprise communications for Current Analysis. “Right now, we are seeing vendors like Siemens and Mitel offering cloud services themselves and companies like ShoreTel purchasing other companies in order to offer cloud services. We are even seeing carriers like AT&T and Sprint getting their act together to offer these services.”
Mobile UC powered by cloud-based unified communications and UCaaS
Increasingly dispersed workforces mean that endpoints exist in an increasing number of geographic locations. According to the Siemens 2012 State-of-Enterprise Communications Survey, four out of five endpoints are not located within enterprise headquarters anymore. The survey polled 1,120 companies with at least 500 employees across the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, China, India, Brazil, Russia and Sweden and found that employees' mobile phones accounted for 33% of enterprise endpoints.
Increased interest in mobile UC has led to demand for cloud-based unified communications, said Rick Puskar, senior vice president of global portfolio management at Siemens. While only 16% of enterprises currently have cloud-based unified communications deployments, another 45% said they plan to use some form of it in 2012. The survey suggests that the need for mobility is driving enterprises toward cloud-based UC. “We find companies struggling to support an ever-growing array of mobile devices right now,” said Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Nemertes Research. “But by going with a cloud provider, [the enterprise] could in theory tap [the provider’s] built-in ability to support access and security controls for a wide variety of mobile devices without having to develop internal capabilities.”
Cloud-based unified communications projects will include both private and public deployments, Riggs said. “We are no longer talking about a hosted UC service offered by a vendor or carrier. We are talking about UC software… that a company purchases, owns, and deploys within an enterprise's data center to create their own cloud environment,” he said.
The survey noted that the top applications for cloud-based unified communications are web collaboration and video conferencing. Certain UC applications are not moving as fast as others, Lazar said. “We see a move to Google for instant messaging and email. Moving voice into the cloud isn’t happening that quickly.”
Cloud-based unified communications poses new challenges for IT
As enterprises move some or all components of their UC technology to a public or private cloud, enterprises will face an IT skills gap.
The Siemens study found that 78% of enterprises struggle with “staff-related challenges” when adopting new UC tools.
IT staff has been trained to manage more traditional, on-premises telephony technology, Riggs noted. “Now, if the enterprise is deploying its UC to a private cloud, or if they are adopting a hosted service for one or more components of UC deployment and have a hybrid environment, there is further training involved,” he said, adding that a full- blown UC deployment for some enterprises could mean IT must be trained on multi-vendor chat, video conferencing and mobility components
In order to alleviate concerns about staff skill sets, the Siemens survey recommended bringing in a managed services organization (MSO), citing scalability and cost-saving opportunities. Enterprises also have the option of outsourcing some or all of their to a UCaaS provider, but even then some integration help may be needed.
The issue of staff training is driving enterprises to managed services, Lazar noted. “Many companies are growing their use of managed services, and the number one service they use as part of a managed service approach is voice and UC,” he said. “Once most companies head down the UC road, they quickly realize they don’t have the skill set, staff or experience to manage it.”
This trend will only grow with the integration of iPhones, Androids, and cloud-based platforms like Salesforce that enterprises want to integrate, Lazar said. “These companies are looking to managed services for help.”
More on mobility and cloud-based unified communications
Mobility to broaden UC adoption
Avaya releases mobile UC platform for iPads
Unified messaging: mobile user priority
Mobile UC isn’t a simple matter for end users
Mobile UC is making its way onto personally owned mobile devices like iPad and Android devices. And although users are comfortable with these gadgets, making mobile UC work is no easy matter.
“Some social platforms, instant messages and video conferencing might be available on Androids, but not on iPhones,” Riggs said. “Unless the user is a gadget-freak, it’s going to be more complicated for [the user] and a lot more training will be required.”
Despite the complexity, mobile UC is a major focus for the industry, Lazar said. “The people at enterprises who plan around UC are currently trying to figure out how to get employee’s Android and iPhones to be their communication device,” he said.
Siemens released the new version of its OpenScape UC Suite alongside its survey. The upgraded version enables users to exchange instant messages with users of Google or any Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) solution, including UC, messaging, social media and collaboration applications from a PC, tablet or smart phone. The suite also offers mobile clients for Apple iOS and Android, which can be downloaded from an app store.
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, News Writer
Dig deeper on Unified Communications Architecture and Service Models