cio_cloud_computingAs a recent Wainhouse Research white paper outlined, Unified Communications (UC) investment rates should continue to increase over the next few years, especially as organisations adapt to new business models and embrace workplace mobility: “Enterprise UC revenues increased 31% last year, and [Wainhouse] expects the aggressive growth to continue for several more years. Fuelling this demand are the simultaneous drivers of increased productivity and meeting employee expectations.”

For many businesses, work has been transformed from a static location into an ‘anywhere-anytime’ concept. Unified Communications has played a significant role in this change process, but despite the potential benefits many organisations are still hesitant about how to approach the technology.

This is because every workforce has its own communication and collaboration legacies, technology consumption preferences and end-user expectations. The delivery method alone can be overwhelming: on-premise, hybrid deployments or fully hosted; which is the correct choice? Cloud or CAPEX?

The above was recently explored in a CIO Today article that discussed the differences between on-premise solutions and more flexible, cloud hosted services.

As Shirley Siluk explained, the financial advantages of cloud-based solutions – clearer cost management, faster returns and longer-term business value – are having a drastic influence on the IT landscape. The PBX and Unified Communications market is expected to reach nearly £800 million by 2018, especially as services become more accessible through the cloud.

But while flexibility brings greater vendor choice, it can also generate more IT complexity. It is important for all businesses to remember that Unified Communications is not just a technical decision, but also a business one. The wider impacts are just as critical and include:

  • Cost – prohibitive up-front CAPEX expenditure has meant that Unified Communications has remained out of reach for all but the largest organisations, but the cloud is changing this. For SMEs, affordable cloud solutions have levelled the playing field, and many larger organisations have migrated to hybrid IT environments because of the cost and scalability advantages.
  • Security – occasionally compliance and regulation will make it necessary to retain IT systems in-house, but those that are apprehensive about their data being put at greater risk can offset this concern with competent network monitoring technologies and policies. Network management itself can be delivered as a simple managed service to keep costs down further.
  • Speed of deployment – the cloud is often a much faster path to delivering a healthy return on investment and widespread software integrations have helped this process. Organisations do not want to wait years to experience a return and solution flexibility has become central to ensuring the business benefits from Unified Communications are achievable quickly.
  • The network –any IT solution, including Unified Communications, will only deliver long-term business value if the corporate network possesses the necessary performance and availability capabilitiesto ensure an excellent end-user experience.

The Best of Both Worlds

Even after Unified Communications has been deployed, occasionally a new working method, like Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), can prompt workplace-wide change. Businesses need to have the capacity to react quickly and cost effectively. This is where the value of a hybrid IT environment really reveals itself.

CIO Today echoes this point, “Many organisations are finding that a hybrid Unified Communications solution is best – for example, using an on-premise server to support IP phones, but also using a cloud provider for additional Unified Communications services, such as web conferencing and mobile device management (MDM).”

Staying flexible is key otherwise the Unified Communications platform of today could become the IT upgrade project of tomorrow. A business should identify its specific communications requirements, build a portfolio of business tools that meet current and future demand, and then prepare each business department for the shift in working practices.

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