Cloud-based UC and collaboration tools are starting to make more sense for global companies with distributed employees.
While unified communications (UC) vendors have been touting a variety of hosted and cloud-based public, private and hybrid Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) options, enterprises have been unsure of where to start, what vendor to choose and what delivery model will best fulfil their business goals.
Orange Business Services, a Paris-based global IT and telecommunications provider, recently unveiled its new UCaaS offering, Business Together as a Service. The cloud-based service will give users access to UC and collaboration tools -- including telephony, instant messaging, presence and video conferencing from any location or device -- from an established telecom with a global network, said Evan Kirchheimer, practice leader of enterprise telecoms for U.K.-based research firm Ovum.
UC as a Service: Cloud offers flexibility for IT, end users
Orange's Business Together as a Service (BTaaS) is based on the Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS) and is hosted in Orange's Atlanta, Frankfurt and Singapore data centers. BTaaS' pay-as-you-go model allows businesses to avoid large, capital investments. It also allows customers to spin up and down services as employees change or open new office locations, said Michael Burrell, director of UC and collaboration for Orange Business Services.
The cloud-based service allows IT to assign employees UC and collaboration tools from six preset user profiles through a management portal. The user profiles vary from basic user needs, starting with pure telephony, to more advanced feature sets, like integrated email and messaging, single number reach and video conferencing.
"The majority of employees within an enterprise can fit into one of the six profiles, and IT can easily scale up or down, or change a user's profile type at any time," Burrell said.
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Flexibility and control isn't just in the hands of IT. End users can also manage their own services within the bounds of the profile set by IT administrators. Through an online portal, they can change their availability or customize their phone features.
"This portal gives end users the tools and convenience to manage their own services … but only the network administrator can change their user profile plan," he said.
While the UCaaS offering is based on Cisco's multi-tenant HCS platform, the service is multi-instance, not multi-tenant, Ovum's Kirchheimer said. Businesses are still taking advantage of the pay-per-month, per-user model, but benefit from having securely partitioned communications.
"Many larger businesses won't feel comfortable sharing the same instances on a server as another company," he said. "Customers won't notice the difference, but they will feel more comfortable and secure with multi-instance over multi-tenant."
UCaaS: Are telecoms more reliable than UC vendors?
While many vendors have introduced their own UC as a Service offerings, enterprises are more comfortable turning to a trusted provider with a communication services heritage and a reliable global network, said Sandra O'Boyle, research director of business telecom services for Washington, D.C.-based Current Analysis Inc.
Telecoms have more experience than a UC vendor with providing managed data and voice services and meeting strict customer service-level agreements. UC vendors typically work through a service provider to deliver their own branded UCaaS offerings, O'Boyle said.
Many businesses are aware that even when they purchase UCaaS from a UC vendor, there is a telecommunication provider involved. "Some businesses would prefer to go straight to the telecom for an end-to-end UC service," Kirchheimer said.
"There is a growing awareness among [enterprises] that UC services are very tied to the managed network, and you can't deploy UCaaS without a robust network -- something they are used to getting from telecoms," he said.
Telecommunication providers are also typically known to be more consistent across regions because they aren't at the mercy of a simple Internet connection, thanks to their established global network and private connections.
"Companies could get the same UCaaS features for employees in the U.S., Europe, Asia etc.," O'Boyle said.