Unified communications heads into the cloud
Unified communications heads into the cloud
Increasing awareness of cloud computing and the enduring appeal of reduced capital expenditure will generate considerable growth in the hosted unified communications market over the next few years.
Unified communications (UC) improves employee productivity and reduces operating costs in a number of ways, including reducing latency in business processes, improving the quality of the work product, enhancing disaster recovery capabilities and improving collaboration. To date, the majority of solutions have been implemented within the customer's premises, but hosted UC (otherwise known as unified-communications-as-a-service) is gaining traction.
Frost & Sullivan suggests that the hosted IP telephony market in Europe - which includes UC - will grow fivefold over the next five years to reach €4.9 billion in 2016. One of the factors behind this growth is that enterprises who have successfully outsourced other ICT applications are comfortable with communications being delivered as a service.
"The economic slowdown and limited capital availability for investments urged many enterprises to consider alternative communications delivery methods," says Frost & Sullivan analyst Dorota Oviedo, with operational expenditure-based solutions such as hosted UC fitting this profile perfectly.
UC-as-a-service (UCaaS) remains an early stage market, but has matured significantly over the last year according to Gartner analysts Bern Elliot and Daniel O'Connell. While suggesting that hosted solutions lag on-premises systems in terms of functionality by approximately 18 months, they add that this gap is likely to narrow over the next 12 months as service providers make additional infrastructure investments.
on-premise dominance to end
David MacKenzie, product manager in the unified communications & collaboration domain of Orange Business Solutions, says companies are increasingly moving away from on-premises UC. "Unified communications is particularly well suited to being hosted externally because it can extend service availability to remote office or mobile workers. Plus, it provides a new level of agility and flexibility that allows companies to quickly open new offices, add or reduce the number of users because you only pay based on the number of active users," he says.
Those seeking an off-premises solution can go for either a dedicated service - where the application and infrastructure is dedicated to one customer - or a cloud-based service, where infrastructure is shared among multiple customers lowering the price point of the service. Yet, the UC application itself is still dedicated to each customer ensuring complete separation.
Organizations with specific and/or complex requirements (such as a large set of additional applications that complement the UC system) tend to go for a service dedicated to their unique requirements. These additional components are often business-specific applications or customized contact center functionality. For companies operating in highly regulated sectors there might also be regulatory reason for a dedicated services, such as data storage or reporting requirements.
Rresearch from WaveLength Market Analytics supports the view that cloud-based UC is an increasingly attractive proposition for organizations that can benefit from the on-demand nature of the service compared to the less flexible on-premise or dedicated environment, where a requirement for additional capacity might necessitate building new infrastructure. The survey of 127 US companies with 500-plus employees found that more than 27% were using, piloting or planning to implement cloud-based UC.
As cloud offers become more mature there will be migration from on-premise or dedicated solutions because the end user experience is nearly identical, explains MacKenzie. "There are some customers who simply don't like the cloud, but any reluctance to use it is more likely to be an integration issue driven by service providers who don't want to run large numbers of different applications or who only offer a 'one size fits all' service."
young but competitive market
MacKenzie recommends enterprises prioritize service delivery capability when searching for a UCaaS provider. "Whether it is hosted dedicated or a cloud-based service, you need to find a provider with a proven service management track record to ensure the service is reliable with high availability. Adherence to industry standards, such as ITIL, ensure good interlock with your organization's processes, You also need to ask whether they can back this up with service level agreements."
According to Gartner, North American UCaaS offerings vary in capability and maturity. In a few cases, the solutions are well integrated; in other cases there is limited integration among communication and collaboration components.
In some cases the actual functionality offered is limited and not particularly unified, according to Elliot and O'Connell, who suggest enterprises should look carefully at the capabilities and integration actually available and consider whether bundles of non-unified hosted communication applications are sufficient to meet their needs. They also advise enterprises to be prepared to switch providers as functionality and pricing options change.
A version of this story appeared first in Enterprise Briefing. To find out more about unified communications solutions from Orange Business Services, please visit: http://www.orange-business.com/en/mnc2/solutions/unified-communication/