Cloud-based, hosted and managed services are turning the traditional IT model on its ear. While IT and communications outsourcing to a cloud or managed service provider is becoming more common among enterprises, managed communications is a different story, and geography is a major factor.
Enterprises have options for outsourcing communications. Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) is a public or private cloud-based approach in which the servers are housed in a third-party or cloud provider's data center. Hosted UC services also live outside of the enterprise, but are often accessible to customers via a direct network connection, as opposed to UCaaS, which is accessible through the Internet. Managed UC services are also managed by a third-party provider, but the physical infrastructure can still live within the walls of the enterprise.
But adoption of hosted telephony and collaboration as well as managed communication services is growing at a faster clip in the European market than in North America, said Mike Sapien, principal analyst for U.K.-based research firm Ovum.
The United States hasn't embraced managed services -- UC notably -- as quickly as Europe has, and leans more towards on-premises infrastructure. "European service providers have been more advanced in developing more managed services than their U.S. counterparts in terms of managed services," Sapien said.
Communications outsourcing : European vs. U.S. IT models
The lag in U.S. adoption of managed communications is traceable to the difference in European and U.S. IT organizations, Sapien said. "U.S. IT departments tend to have a lot more network expertise in them, whereas European IT departments tend not to."
U.S. businesses -- especially large enterprises -- also prefer a do-it-yourself approach to networking and communication services, said Evan Kirchheimer, practice leader of enterprise telecoms for Ovum.
"European companies tend to be more comfortable with that managed service approach, and while it's partly cultural, larger U.S. companies usually have older and established IT departments and practices. European companies have a longer history with using outsourced solutions," Kirchheimer said.
While the gap is starting to close, the two markets have been distinguished by investment priorities, Sapien said. "U.S. enterprises have a history of investing in [IT] staff and running their own network. [They invest in] people, skills and systems to operate their networks. Most European customers have not made this investment, and therefore are more interested [in] and more accepting of managed services," he said.
While the European market may be embracing managed communications and network services more quickly, UCaaS adoption is bucking the trend.
"The American market is more interested in public cloud delivery for the future, as opposed to the European market where [there] is a little less willingness to consider the cloud," Kirchheimer said. "When [European businesses] do choose cloud, they are most likely choosing private cloud offerings."
While American businesses may more readily adopt cloud-based UC tools and UCaaS, IT hasn't always given its blessing to that adoption, said Bill Haskins, senior analyst for Duxbury, Mass.-based Wainhouse Research LLC.
"Users are adopting cloud-based services as a way of filling gaps between what they are getting from IT," he said. "Skype, for example, is being used not because it was given to users by IT, but because end users don't have any other good way of doing video with individuals outside of their company."
Global enterprises need scalable, reliable UC
Although U.S. companies are slow to outsource to managed communications providers, geography might force them to change. As enterprises become more distributed and grow their number of locations without on-site IT staff, larger U.S. businesses -- especially those with global offices -- will need a centralized service provider.
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"All of these providers and telcos are working hard with their partners to be able [to] service all regions," he said. "That small London office from a U.S. multinational company has to have a local provider out there to service their needs, without bringing them all the way back to U.S. infrastructure."
Despite the need for global reach, concerns are still centered on reliability and quality for managed communications.
Managing network services -- like security and application acceleration -- are different than handling communications and collaboration. Many enterprises remain unconvinced that hosted IT service providers have what it takes to move from managing network pipes, to managing real-time communications, Haskins said.
"For large businesses with 50,000 seats that IT is responsible for, the business has to ask themselves if a hosting or managed services provider can give the same level of quality and experience that their own IT staff or hired staff could accomplish," he said.
Managed communications and UCaaS providers can offer some advantages over internal IT services. They can upgrade services faster. They also free up network administrators to focus on other tasks, aside from worrying about whether or not the Lync server is up, he said.
"If enterprises do offload [UC] services, they will realize they have additional needs for their IT teams," Haskins said. "Europe is probably more open to that partnership because of the huge amount of infrastructure and support models in the U.S. that will have to be slowly pared down over time."
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