Cloud: Enhancing Truly Unified Communications for Businesses
Unified communications is a tall order for CIOs. Users, especially millennials, have come to expect they can communicate with any media, any device, anywhere, anytime.
What does that mean exactly? Let me break it down: It means integrating voice, email, instant messaging, presence, web collaboration and video conferencing. It also means making these applications accessible from desk phones, PCs, laptops, smartphones and tablets. And, it means making them available in offices, cars, airports, hotels, coffee shops, home offices and places in between. Oh and, by the way, they have to be available 24/7 reliably, simultaneously, seamlessly, and securely.
Just thinking about it can give you a headache. But, making UC happen—deploying, supporting and managing it—is an order of magnitude more painful like a full-on migraine.
Fortunately, there’s a remedy—managed cloud UC. Cloud has had a tremendous impact on realizing the promise of truly unified communications for business users and in shrinking the burden of day-to-day management for IT departments.
Managed cloud UC gives you the opportunity to outsource infrastructure management of the former and explore the revenue potential of the latter
The Way We Were
To really understand the value proposition of managed cloud UC, let’s travel back in time about a decade or so. If your company had at least 20 employees (e.g. it was a small to medium business), you would buy a telephone system called a private branch exchange (PBX) to share local phone lines across users and facilitate extension-to-extension dialing, hunt groups, auto attendants, etc. Not only would you have to buy the hardware and phones, you also had to hire a telecom manager or contract with an outside interconnect to manage it for you—all of which was expensive.
All moves, adds or changes had to be done by a professional system admin, adding to your costs. And, since PBXs were sold in modules supporting a certain number of users, once you reached its capacity, adding another user required you to buy another module of 20 or 30 or even 100 seats. This would not only add costs, but unused assets.
Similarly, if you wanted to add new features, you’d have to buy an add-on module or sometimes a whole new system. In the case of a patch or a feature upgrade, you would have to schedule maintenance after hours, pay staff overtime wages to install the upgrade and deal with inevitable day-after glitches.
If your office lost power for any reason, so did your phone system and you’d have to send everyone home for the day, racking up more costs in lost productivity.
This scenario presumes your business is in one location with employees going to the same building every day, making it easy for you to distribute phones and connect them physically.
But, today, that’s not realistic. More than likely your business has a distributed model—possibly multiple offices and/or remote and mobile workers. That’s where the on-premises PBX model really starts to fall apart. How do you get extension dialing, automated attendants and hunt groups to work across these sites when you can’t exactly run a cable for the tens or hundreds of miles between them?
Sure, you could tunnel between virtual private networks (VPNs), but that’s expensive and adds another layer of complexity for your IT department to manage.
In contrast, centralizing call management functions in the cloud is a simplification. It enables all of your “sites” to operate independent of each other. Now, for example, the auto attendant doesn’t care if your employee is in the LA office or a Dallas hotel or an Atlanta home office, it will reach them at their assigned extension.
The Way We Can Be
Technically, your IT department can “host” a PBX in its data center to similarly distribute communications functionality to your dispersed user groups. And many companies have chosen to do so, presuming increased control. But a DIY approach doesn’t offer the advantages of a managed cloud UC solution, including economies of scale, quality of service and business continuity that a carrier-class managed service provider (MSP) can deliver.
• Economies of Scale—Literally, the cloud model enables an MSP to invest in state-of-the-art technology, robust facilities and expert personnel while spreading the costs across its entire customer base. The result is a level of applications development and operational efficiency that even the largest enterprises can’t replicate.
• Quality of Service (QoS)—It’s true that broadband availability, speed and bandwidth have improved significantly over the years, making cloud UC possible, but not perfect. Your network has to handle voice, data, video, and content sharing seamlessly and simultaneously. It’s important for you to work with an MSP that has end-to-end control over the network, so it can offer the QoS guarantees your business needs for communications free from latency, jitter and packet loss.
• Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery (BC/DR)—When one of your sites loses power, you can still send employees home if you like, but since the cloud-based UC server is unaffected, you can forward their calls to their home offices or cell phones, or they can just use the softphone client on their PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet.
By themselves, these characteristics easily justify managed cloud UC, but there are a few more ways that it simplifies your daily management load:
• Right Sizing—With managed cloud UC, adding an employee is easy. It’s a matter of purchasing another seat. You don’t have to buy more than you need, only what you need even if it’s only one seat. Then, your MSP should ship you the phone already configured, you power it up and plug it into the network, it calls “home” and downloads any updates, and your new employee can start using it right away. It’s that simple.
• Self Service—With managed cloud UC, your employees can manage their own preferences from their softphone client or web-based portal. If your sales director needs to work remotely, for example, she can forward her extension to her home office or set it to ring simultaneously across all her devices so she can answer from her car or a client site.
• Automatic Updates—With cloud-based systems, patches and new features automatically are deployed during scheduled maintenance windows with no interruptions in service for your users.
• Future Proofing—Once upon a time, you could lease a phone system for five to 10 years. But who’s walking around with a cell phone that’s 5 years old, let alone 10? Technology is evolving very quickly. Inevitably, new technologies will come out, enabling communications capabilities that we haven’t even thought about.
Since IT departments inherited communications back in the ‘90s when voice became an application on the data network, management demands have grown exponentially, but so have the possibilities. UC is no longer just a cost center, but a business driver. UC supports sales and service, of course, but it also can be part of your product and service itself. Managed cloud UC gives you the opportunity to outsource infrastructure management of the former and explore the revenue potential of the latter.