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Cloud UC in all its forms -- managed, hosted, and private and public cloud services -- can be confusing, making adoption a daunting task. A panel of customers and independent consultants shared their experiences with cloud-based communications deployments at Enterprise Connect, and while some businesses saved money and others broke even, many agreed that cloud UC has benefits beyond the potential financial returns. The ability to offload daily maintenance tasks and having a dedicated support system can outweigh any cons associated with a move to the cloud for some enterprises. When considering the switch to cloud-based communications, a business has to take the time to understand its current infrastructure, what kinds of flexibility it might require down the road, as well as a cloud exit strategy.
Users, consultants make the case for cloud UC
Gannett Company Inc., a Tysons Corner, Va.-based media company operating in 42 states, with 82 daily newspapers, 40 TV stations and 27,000 employees, knew it needed to upgrade its communications systems in the wake of a transition toward digital media and a series of recent acquisitions, said Dave Orth, director of voice and data communications for Gannett Co. The acquisitions prompted some major office relocations that called for very large infrastructure Capex, which Gannett wanted to avoid.
In 2012, Orth and his team, along with fellow panel member Douglas Carolus, founder and senior consultant of DJC Consulting LLC, started looking at the hosted UC market to see whether Gannett could subscribe to a hosted, but private, UC environment. Gannett chose Avaya. "Housing the infrastructure on a single software instance running on a dedicated server with dedicated resources were what we felt was the best solution for [Gannett]," Carolus said.
"We are projected to save about $7 million dollars over the next seven years with cloud UC versus that Capex model," Orth said. "After that, it might start to break even."
St. Elizabeth's Physicians, a multi-specialty physician organization that operates in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana, was also no stranger to acquisitions. The organization --consisting of 310 physicians and 98 healthcare facilities -- was "a messy collection of phone systems, many of which were 15 to 20 years old," said Mark Hoover, director of IT for St. Elizabeth's Physicians.
"It was good that the phones were really cheap to maintain, but bad because it was having a negative impact on our organization. There was a lack of common platforms and constant downtime," Hoover said.
St. Elizabeth's has been growing at a steady clip of 15 to 20 new offices a year, so Hoover and his team had to implement a new, more reliable system fast. The company wasn't expecting a hosted offering to be the answer, but it ultimately deployed a hosted voice service from West IP Communications with Cisco phones.
Cost-wise, St. Elizabeth's has broken even, but the tech support from their hosting provider has made the transition worth it, Hoover said. "This is a top-notch solution when you start comparing this hosting provider's support to others in the market. When a phone system [at a healthcare facility] would go down, calls would flood the corporate office and our executive's phone lines -- this was a nightmare, but that's not a problem anymore," he said.
Similar to Gannett, Fujifilm, a Tokyo-based film and imaging software company, recently adopted a hosted Voice over IP [VoIP] service as a cost-savings opportunity. Today 3,500 employees are currently using the service and the number will reach 5,000 by this summer, said Allan Feeney, IT director for FujiFilm. "Parts of the company are expanding, while others are shrinking, and we need to be able to move around dynamically -- especially as we bring together vertical business units," Feeney said. "We wanted a more integrated communications model."
Unlike the other panel members, however, Fujifilm is exploring more than just cloud-based telephony. "We are starting with cloud-based unified messaging and presence in a small group, and we really want to focus on mobility and UCaaS [Unified Communications as a Service] in the future so we can have a vendor worry about the infrastructure -- things that keep you up in the middle of the night -- and our IT team can focus on other things."
Cloud UC lessons and challenges that can't be ignored
Exit strategies are important when considering any cloud offering. Gannett wanted the option of transferring its UC assets back to its own data center in the future with minimum risks, DJC Consulting's Carolus said. "We wanted to make sure we achieved greater flexibly to manage the services on an as-needed basis and avoid that significant Capex, but we also wanted to be able to transfer the services back to the company should the vendor not perform," he said.
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Knowing what your company currently has as far as network infrastructure and hardware -- like private branch exchanges -- will make moving to a cloud-based environment a smoother transition, the panel agreed. "When you look at [cloud UC] from an ROI [return on investment] perspective like we were doing, you have to understand what you already have," Gannett's Orth said. "Spend a lot of time gathering this information; we stopped when we had about 40 percent of the information, so our plan wasn't as detailed as I wanted it to be."
"If you document what you have, and set standards for where you want to be, it will be a lot easier come roll-out time," St. Elizabeth's Hoover added.
And even though a cloud or hosted voice system will be a new undertaking for IT, as well as a new system for employees to get used to, ease of use should also be evaluated. Rolling out smaller-scale deployments first is a good strategy, as well as offering training sessions, but the training can't be too much of a time commitment, Gannett's Orth said.
"Our users don't feel like they have time for several training sessions; they don't want to potentially miss that award-winning story. You have to try to keep it simple," he said.