Unified Comms in the Cloud Era

Gary Adey, Commercial Marketing Director, Vodafone Global Enterprise, takes a look at how the growing base of mobile workers and their devices is causing IT department a headache and asks; is the tipping point away from premises based solutions on the horizon?

The proliferation of mobile workers armed with a range of devices and a variety of services mean enterprise communications have never been more complex. The variety of devices, ranging from smartphones, tablets, desk phones and laptops, which have different phone numbers, voicemail boxes and instant messaging services mean enterprise communications have become unacceptably fragmented.

IDC figures suggest that by 2014, 70% of employees will access company data from outside their offices. But the ability to communicate effectively away from the office is not trivial. A survey conducted by Forrester Research has shown that 50% of workers have their projects delayed because a key decision-maker can’t be reached.

The result has made unified communications essential to doing business. By uniting the various communications devices and methods into a single, intelligent and completely configurable service, employees can work effectively wherever they are without the risk of missing important calls or messages. Organisations can also expect to see significant benefits including, reduced communication and infrastructure costs, increased productivity and overall streamlining of business processes. It’s little wonder that Ovum predicts that over 80% of businesses will be implementing some form of unified communications over the next two years.

A recent report from TechNavio found that the global unified communication market is set to grow at a CAGR of 15.85% from 2012-2016. It notes that within this rapid growth, they are starting to see a shift from on-premise to cloud-based solutions.

This reflects a wider trend in the enterprise IT market. A GigaOm Research survey recently found that 75% of companies are using some type of cloud platform – up from 67% last year. When asked why, the joint top response was that they are more scalable (54%) and make them more agile (54%), followed closely by the cost benefits (47%).

By adopting a cloud-based approach, enterprises can slash their capex costs as there is no need for a PBX and therefore no need to periodically upgrade and ultimately replace it. These costs are significant especially across multiple sites with each PBX also incurring on-going maintenance charges. They also only pay for the number of connections they need and can expand or reduce this as the organisation shrinks or grows. Critically, the system is completely future-proof so the latest features can be added as they are developed.

The cloud approach also lends itself to a distributed workforce as traditional solutions can clog enterprise broadband connections by routing traffic to and from the enterprise PBX. Given IDC predicts that mobile workers will easily outnumber their fixed counterparts by 2016, this makes the argument for cloud-based unified communications especially compelling.

The benefits of cloud-based unified communications include greater flexibility and the ability to scale resources up and down as required, ultimately enabling the organisation to be more adaptable and responsive. Cloud based UC enables users to access their voicemail box, instant messenger service and contact directory for their fixed phone, smartphone as well as desktop, laptop and tablet clients through one single geographic number – greatly simplifying the process. This is completely customisable so they can control how and when each ‘phone’ rings or how SMS, voicemail or instant messages are delivered.

Customers also benefit from enhanced call management capabilities enabling them to easily transfer to more advanced hunt groups and integration with customer relationship management applications. Cloud based UC can therefore not only benefit the organisation’s internal processes and operations, but also help improve customer service, with queries being answered in a more timely and efficient manner.

Increasingly the cloud services are embracing a wide range of collaboration tools. These include audio, video and web conferencing, which allow increased collaboration among employees enabling them to share their screen as well as use applications like white-boarding across all fixed and mobile devices. These extend to more advanced social media services that enable geographically disparate teams to work together far more effectively than .has previously been possible.

This range of collaboration tools join a growing number of enterprise applications, like salesforce.com, that are now supported on mobile devices. Herein lies an IT management headache, as ensuring all employees have the right apps, and the right versions, is proving to be a time consuming task. In response unified communications are increasingly being offered in tandem with mobile device management services in a single cloud-based offering. This greatly helps the IT departments who – using cloud – are now able to set up new users with complete unified communications capabilities and remotely install the required enterprise apps across all their devices, including smartphones and tablets. They can manage these in bulk and install a new app on all smartphones simultaneously.

The rapid growth of cloud services has highlighted that businesses are increasingly interested in buying flexible services rather than physical products that they then need to manage and upgrade. As enterprises inevitably move toward unified communications the appeal of outsourcing the service to a cloud provider is compelling. Given the cost, flexibility and operational benefits of cloud-based solutions, the tipping point away from premise-based solutions is on the horizon.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine
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