Despite all its advantages, Unified Communications adoption levels in the region have been lower than what the analysts and vendors have expected. Mainly because the initial investment is too high for the return, and partly due to the cost of each component. Moreover, the user often needs getaway servers and software to tie the disparate systems together. Even then there is no guarantee that the product will play nicely with one another; meaning one has to add a line item to the budget for trouble shooting.
“Although UC has many benefits, it faces some challenges in deployment and management. UC touches various layers of the infrastructure such as WLAN, LAN, Applications, VoIP, Firewalls and overall Security and yet it requires low latency, delay, etc. Technologies on the firewall in the past have caused issues while penetrating from Internet to LAN and vice versa. Though it has become much more simplified now, UC is still one of the network stressing applications to run on and across the network due to stringent requirements,” says Ashish Saxena, Solution Architect, Middle East, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise.
Ray McGroarty, Director, Industry Solutions and Market Development, EMEA, Polycom, says the main challenge has been educating the smaller businesses about the accessibility, ROI and TCO of implementing UC technologies versus the benefits, ease-of-use, increase in workforce collaboration and business productivity. SMBs are lagging behind the larger enterprises when it comes to adoption of UC technologies.
“Our job at Polycom, in collaboration with our channel partners, is to close that gap between the early adopters and the late-comers to the market by educating businesses and providing expert consultancy and support around the benefits of utilising these solutions. The business world is more challenging than ever before and workforce collaboration is what businesses require to sustain in today’s fast-moving economies,” he adds.
Enter Unified Communications as-a-service (UCaaS), a solution that is fully integrated before deployment and can be beneficial for companies of all sizes, not just massive enterprises with matching budgets.
Cloud-based UC relieves this burden from IT, providing a package that works regardless of internal infrastructure or staffing. Through the cloud, a bundle of services can be purchased and, aside from activating a VoIP phone service, be up and active within an hour.
Obviously the benefits of UC are numerous – the enhancements to collaboration, flexibility and efficiency have been well documented. What is not often discussed are the benefits of UC-in-the-cloud compared with an in-house operation.
Cost is an area where cloud-based UC shines. It offers incredible cost savings when compared to in-house, thanks in large part to eliminating the need for hardware, software and licenses. Alongside the reduced need for hardware and software, staffing costs can be easily managed, as cloud UC doesn’t require a large team of internal experts to deal with upgrades or maintenance, all of this is handled by the service provider and is included in the monthly cost of the UC service.
“There are various factors that are driving UCaaS however, the key factor is moving from the CAPEX to OPEX. This gives feasibility to the organisation to implement a pay as you grow model and allows them to reduce on upfront investment. In addition, scalability is not a concern when using UCaaS unlike the past where any user or features upgrade or change would require a change of the entire hardware,” says Saxena.
McGroarty adds that UCaaS is lucrative to all types of businesses and SMBs in particular are benefiting the most as the services are offered on subscription basis. The pay-by-use model brings the overall total cost of ownership down for businesses and ultimately affects the cost of running business. “UCaaS is equally appealing to all vertical industries as well. From FMCG to education and healthcare, all businesses are embracing the availability and accessibility of as-a-service model adding to the demand and growth of the UCaaS market.”
There are, however, a few things to be aware of before committing.
First and foremost, cloud-based UC services are offered as “all or nothing.” It is usually difficult and expensive (if possible at all) to bring your current e-mail and/or phone service to a cloud provider and “mix and match” these technologies with new cloud services for a hybrid UC approach.
Secondly, outages can still be an issue as they are for any service. Another concern around UC-in-the-cloud is bandwidth. Companies need to have fat pipes so all of the services function properly at the same time. The bigger the bandwidth, the better. Bandwidth not only helps speed up the delivery of the UC services, but can also combat some common problems with VoIP, like “tinny” voices.
Bandwidth is a serious consideration when it comes to UC in the cloud, so if an Internet provider is unreliable or struggles with high data loads, one should consider investing in a faster Internet circuit, implementing a QoS router, or other alternatives to cloud-based UC.
Moving e-mail, Instant Messaging, voice, collaboration and presence awareness to the cloud and ultimately into a single “package” not only eases cost burdens, but enables UC to live up to its promise – a simple, streamlined solution for employees to effectively communicate with one another across multiple channels and devices.
“When considering a UC solution, customers should check the service provider’s contract to see how much uptime is guaranteed and ensure this matches their own business requirements. Most importantly, customers need to think clearly about the level of trust they have on their service provider as they are the ones who will be responsible for keeping their cloud-based systems secure. To mitigate perceived security issues with public cloud services, businesses can also consider implementing a private cloud solution or even a hybrid private/public cloud model,” says McGroarty.
UCaaS comes with its caveats but it allows businesses of all size to enjoy the flexibility and production improvement of UC benefits that were previously only available to enterprises that could afford integrated in-house systems and upkeep.