Collaboration in the cloud: why unified communications is ready to take off

By moving unified communications & collaboration (UCC) into the cloud, companies would be in a better position to cope with an unpredictable economic climate, better attract Generation Y employees who want the latest social media services and to use their own smartphones at work, and test prototype services before widespread deployment.

While many companies have dipped their toes in the water with UCC, the lasting presence of legacy systems – whether they are mail servers, video conference head ends or IP-PBXs – have held back adoption. A cloud-based approach means that pricing matches demand, and the latest technology is always available.

These are the conclusions of unified communications experts from Cisco, Orange Business and Informa Media & Telecoms who participated in a telepresence-enabled round table discussion.

Camille Mendler, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media; Eric Schoch, senior director hosted collaboration solutions, Cisco;  and Cedric Parent, marketing director, unified communications and collaboration, Orange Business engaged in a lively discussion about how as-a-service computing models will rocket-propel UCC take-up.

Here is their discussion:

Eric Schoch, Cisco:  "The time is now for cloud collaboration. We’re in the middle of a major market transition. The whole offer has matured and it's ready now for customers to take advantage."

Camille Mendler, Informa: "I agree, but what I find interesting about the cloud aspect (to UCC) is that we can now democratise collaboration throughout the enterprise – helping workers not just in the office, but maybe in oil fields, for instance. For companies it enables immediate information and rapid decision making. This is my definition of agility."

Eric Schoch, Cisco: "Per user business models have been around for 10 years when we were putting a PBX in a data center and charging a service fee. But with cloud it’s a utility service – customers are not stuck on 3 or 5 or 7 year contracts, and they are not stuck on that same software platform as when they sign up. Customers only pay for what they need, and users get the same experience, regardless of where they are at."

Camille Mendler, Informa: "Yes these models have been around for a while, but they were tightly associated with a particular brand of hardware. Now that you are paying for the interaction, not the hardware, its fundamentally different."

Cedric Parent, Orange: "Because of the economic uncertainty, a lot of businesses are building two budgets for next year. One is business as usual, and one is with the economic environment collapsing. What’s interesting about UCC as a service is it can benefit both environments."

Eric Schoch, Cisco: "IT spending continues to contract but companies still want to adopt [collaboration] faster and more ubiquitously. Many of their staff are from a new generation who want to use the same technology at work as they use to socialise. To attract the next Steve Jobs, in this war of talent acquisition, you need pervasive internet and mobility. Generation Y wants it whenever, wherever."

Camille Mendler, Informa: "I choose to communicate based on “fitness for purpose”. I use IM and social media. It’s not just Generation Y wanting [these things]."

Cedric Parent, Orange: "Generation Y doesn’t care whether they speak on an iPad, softphone, deskphone – it’s all the same to them. When the CIO is investing in collaboration, he needs something that will be future proof to cope with different types of communications as they arise. And each device must be fully integrated – IM, presence, click to call, email, voice mail functionality on all of them. And they need the same interface across devices."

Camille Mendler, Informa: "There are also big cultural difference in the way UCC is adopted geographically. In LAM, workers might to use Instant Messaging. In Asia, they may prefer video. The challenge for companies is to make sure all these tools are available wherever they are needed. And this decision is not always the CIO's – a lot of IT budgets are governed by business units."

Cedric Parent, Orange: "What I think is important about the as-a-service model is that if you only want to test capabilities on a small number of users, you can pay for a few user monthly licenses. It’s easy to test where something works for you – you may upgrade to a premium license or downscale to basic functionality."

Camille Mendler, Informa: "Definitely, most companies are not going to take the big bang approach to UCC.  With as-as-service, you can introduce it areas where you would never have deployed it. Look at offshore oil & gas exploration– they need good collaboration with head office to analyse data and where to go next. Now we have satellite broadband and collaboration tools as a service. Before this they did not have easy way to collaborate. They had to airlift data off the ship. UCaas brings collaboration to users who really weren’t included before."

Eric Schoch, Cisco: "There is a hybrid model emerging. From surveys we know 80-90% of enterprises will use cloud in 3-5yrs. But not for 100% of their activities. Maybe 40-50%. There will be a lot of legacy. With UCCaaS, you can mix up as-a-service with already installed equipment."

Camille Mendler, Informa: "Each company has a different priority for adopting UCCasS. They want an end to capex. They want to scale up quickly. They want to break down silos for each channel. They want to deploy very fast. They may event want to prototype new types of services, maybe with customers."

Eric Schoch, Cisco: "The focus is slight different dependent on your size. For companies with, say, 1000 knowledge workers, the CIO might be looking at scalability, utility, security, mobility. But in SMEs and finance, healthcare and government, cost is the number one factor. They still want utility and mobility but cost ranks as number one."

More information

A link to the replay is available here.

Katie DeTitta

I've spent more than 17 years in global telecommunications, and was formerly responsible for international social media activities at Orange Business. I enjoy making technology accessible to non-techies and I'm a strong supporter of flexible working.