The number of hosted unified communications (UC) services available to businesses has exploded over the past few years, eliminating the need to procure, deploy and manage premises-based infrastructure. Although these services are known by many names -- hosted UC, cloud-based UC and Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) -- the thing they all have in common is that they offer an alternative to deploying UC in-house.
UCaaS through a different lens
UCaaS market development: The service providers' point of view
Addressing the love-hate relationship with UC integration
Despite the increased availability of hosted UC services from Tier 1 service providers, competitive carriers and UC vendors, the majority of enterprise IT professionals are skeptical of the value of UCaaS. The results of a recent ZK Research study on hosted UC and collaboration services revealed that 25% of buyers feel that hosted UC provides a viable alternative to a premises-based UC solution. The primary reason for this lackluster support appears to be based on previous experiences that weren't exactly optimal.
It's true that the hosted UC services that were available a few years ago weren't quite business-ready, but the new generation of hosted UC services isn’t your father's IP Centrex service either. In fact, many of these services have reached feature parity with premises-based solutions. For many smaller organizations or companies with limited IT staffs or budgets, a hosted UC service is actually better than premises-based. Here's why UCaaS could be the answer:
- Better disaster recovery. Disaster recovery capabilities are one of the biggest reasons to look at a hosted UC solution. For most companies, continuity of communications means everything. Losing communications means losing customers, money and even an organization's reputation. Large enterprises with deep IT pockets can build redundancy into their architecture, although redundancy can be expensive. Smaller or budget-constrained companies or need a more cost-effective way to build redundancy, and hosted UC is the right answer. Since UCaaS is cloud-based, end users can have access to communications tools whether they are in a physical company location, at a disaster recovery facility or working from home.
- Rapid service deployment. Premises-based solutions can take months, even years to roll out company-wide. Upgrades or feature enhancements can take just as long. With a hosted solution, a new feature or service can be available to all employees immediately, enabling IT to roll out new functionality on its own timetable, depending on business needs.
- Addresses the mobile BYOD challenge. Consumerization or "bring your own device” (BYOD) mobile device strategies are here. Whereas only one out of every five CIOs had embraced consumer technologies in the workplace in early 2011, I believe it's more like four out of five today. Premises-based UC solutions are often optimized for desktop delivery and are tied to specific operating systems, making UC interoperability difficult. In addition, virtual private network (VPN) clients or other software may be required on-premises, which is fine for laptops but can be a problem for tablets or smartphones. Since most hosted UC solutions use a browser to access the service, they are ideally suited for multiple operating systems and different form factors, which makes them the best BYOD choice.
- Lower cost and lower risk deployment. Migrating from a legacy communications system to a newer premises-based UC solution can be an expensive, risky process for companies, as it can often require ripping out old technology and replacing it newer infrastructure overnight. The migration can make the service unavailable to end users for some time, which is often followed by a troubleshooting period as the system is tweaked for the current environment. A hosted UC solution has a low up-front investment, which means IT can enable the new functionality immediately while the existing communications system is still intact, then run them in parallel to understand the impact of the deployment and best practices before rolling the solution out more broadly.
- Centralized management. One of the more significant challenges in managing any kind of premises-based application is scaling the administrative functions, which can include setting up new users, applying patches or updating features. These tasks may need to be repeated a number of times, depending on the architecture of the on-premises solution. With a hosted UC solution, all of the administrative tasks are centralized so the administrator can perform tasks once and have the confidence that the changes will take place company-wide.
UCaaS has the power to change the way people work, streamline business processes and increase corporate productivity all at a lower cost than legacy communication systems. A number of premises-based barriers prevent companies from being more aggressive with their UC rollouts, which limits the value organizations get from their UC investments. Yet UCaaS can give IT departments the ability to deploy UC faster and with less risk than with traditional premises-based solutions.
About the author: Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He provides a mix of tactical and long-term strategic advice to constituents, including end-user IT and network managers; hardware, software and services vendors and the IT investment community. Before founding ZK Research, Kerravala was a senior vice president and distinguished research fellow with Yankee Group.