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Three key questions for a successful hybrid deployment of UC

Managing on-premises and cloud-based apps is quite the balancing act. Enterprises need to determine how important each application is to their overall UC vision.

When considering a hybrid deployment for unified communications, how to manage on-premises and cloud applications at the same time is a major issue, since you're balancing two different models. But, before addressing a management approach, enterprises should remember why they opted for a hybrid deployment in the first place.

Hybrid deployments are gaining favor because enterprises are not yet comfortable enough with the cloud to have a fully hosted UC deployment. Premises-based systems remain the norm, largely because on-site phone systems set that precedent and enterprises choose to stick with their trusted vendor.

However, during the evaluation process, enterprises realize some UC applications are better supported in the cloud. At that point, you can formulate a plan to manage a hybrid deployment. Three key questions should help you determine which UC elements should be hosted and which should be managed on site.

How strategic is each UC application to the business?

While UC is an integrated service, it's really a suite of standalone applications that helps employees be more productive by supporting them with a common interface and user experience. This is harder to do than it sounds -- despite what vendors say -- and potentially more difficult with a hybrid model.

The appeal of hybrid is providing the best of both worlds, but this only works if there's an overall vision, not just for UC, but for all the applications it supports. First, identify the applications that comprise your UC service, but keep in mind that new ones will be added as your needs evolve.

You must identify how the applications will be used, both for everyday personal communication and team collaboration. You'll need to do this on a standalone basis and determine what other apps need to be integrated.

The main takeaway is: Determine which UC applications are too mission-critical to be outsourced.

For example, customer relationship management apps, such as Salesforce, may already be cloud-based; and if your sales team relies heavily on telephony, you'll want that piece of UC hosted. Fewer integration issues will arise when both services are cloud-based, especially if they're hosted by the same provider.

The main takeaway is: Determine which UC applications are too mission-critical to be outsourced. Similarly, beware issues concerning data sovereignty or industry-specific compliance, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

If you're finding most applications could go either way -- cloud or premises-based -- IT needs to assess how well each one can be managed in-house.

What are the integration challenges for each application?

Internal and external integration challenges will emerge. Internally, you may have multivendor challenges, such as having one vendor for the phone system, another for video and another for email. Another internal challenge would be the integration of communication apps with business apps, such as operational and business support systems and contact center services.

Externally, several other integration issues could challenge the hybrid deployment, such as supporting remote workers and collaborating with business partners or customers.

All these integration issues, and more, need to be considered as you plot your vision for UC. Once that landscape is understood, then you need to determine if IT has the right expertise and resources to meet each challenge. That strategy should help determine which UC elements are better suited for the cloud -- in which case, IT won't have to tackle all these issues.

How much support and upgrading will each application need?

UC keeps evolving, and that means ongoing support. Having a UC component on premises requires support during implementation. But IT will also have ongoing needs, especially as upgrades and new applications become available, which need to integrate with everything else.

New applications in particular, such as social media or analytics, may require specialized expertise that is beyond IT's domain. As the speed of business picks up, you need to consider which applications you can support in-house over time.

Some applications will require new expertise, while others are more static, such as fixed-line telephony, and can probably be managed internally. But applications you've never managed before -- perhaps video or contact center services -- are likely better suited for the cloud, especially if management expects those apps to produce results immediately.

Determine what's best for the applications and IT

The hybrid approach to UC can be worthwhile, especially if the cloud is still a mystery and you want to manage some elements internally. A hybrid strategy mitigates the risk around deploying UC and finding a balance between technology you already know and what's new. In that regard, the key to managing a hybrid deployment lies not in the technical details, but by examining how well IT can support each application.

When launching cloud services, no magic formula determines how much cloud you should use. The focus needs to be on understanding what's best for each application that's part of the UC service. Once you've done that, you can start evaluating a range of UC providers, who have varying abilities for supporting a hybrid deployment.

The objective should be to ensure the provider's service aligns with the balance that IT wants to maintain between on-site and cloud. Otherwise, if you let the providers define that balance, you may migrate to the cloud faster than planned, at which point it becomes their service, not yours.

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