The Cloud Helps Businesses Confront UC Complexity

Carl Weinschenk spoke to In-Stat Analyst Dave Lemelin. Lemelin and In-Stat released a study last month, “Global Unified Communications Emerges From the Cloud.”

Weinschenk: What’s driving UC right now?
Lemelin: What’s driving the movement toward the cloud is that there is in fact no single lead player in unified communications. There are a lot of different strong players who work together to bring solutions to end users. In a lot of cases, the key is trying to come up with solutions that integrate mobility and IP. Trunking is an important factor and enabler.

Weinschenk: But, increasingly, companies are looking to outsource some or all of the tasks.
Lemelin: Particularly in small and mid-sized businesses, they are looking for managed or hosted solutions for a couple of reasons. These solutions are getting fairly complex. Even though end users have better and better tools in terms of the ease of use, what happens behind the curtain can be fairly complex. A hosted solution is attractive to them because they don’t have the internal resources and skills to manage. The second factor, particularly in these economic times, is that equipment-based solutions often involve capital, not just managing those resources or capabilities. The front end costs are often difficult, particularly in the small and mid-sized markets.

Weinschenk: To some extent, is the use of the term “cloud” is replacing more mundane terms, such as “hosted” or “managed” solutions?
Lemelin: Yes�What it really equates to in a lot of cases is a step away from reliance on the PSTN. A lot of this is driven by SIP trunking and end-to-end IP connectivity — or as much IP connectivity as possible.

Weinschenk: UC adoption seems uneven.
Lemelin: The technological capacities are moving faster than the felt need by the end user. These capabilities have been here for a few years. But wireless integration with UC, VoIP integration with UC [and other advances] still are in a fairly nascent stage. VoIP is moving at a faster pace than UC in some cases. It really gets down to end users finding value in the solutions. What’s frequently happening is that they get the capability before they really understand the true value.

Weinschenk: But it catches on among people who use it.
Lemelin: Once they experience it and see the benefits of collaboration combined with presence, the fact is that what is happening over IP is fairly meaningless to the user. It is meaningful to IT managers because it’s a more effective and efficient way to enable these capabilities. Once the business end users experience these types of capabilities, we’ll see much more of a hockey stick in terms of growth when it comes to UC and IP being integrated, particularly when you begin throwing mobility into the puzzle. Fixed mobile convergence is pushing out PBX and Centrex capabilities to mobile handsets. It is all part of this equation of how capabilities in unified communications and IP are all converging.

Weinschenk: So what is the key to getting people to use it? Can a campaign of some sort be mounted, or is it just a matter of waiting until these services permeate the organization?
Lemelin: The marketing in a lot of cases is to the CIO and increasingly to the CFO. We are really talking about productivity and efficiency gain. It’s not just cost savings. It’s making people’s time more valuable. The beginning point is to market to the IT manager and CFO. The CFO understands the return they get with the standard kinds of investments they make in their business. It is a harder sale for the CIO to the CFO when it comes to productivity gains. There’s a bit of a mind shift that has to take place. In terms of marketing and campaigns, it’s really that triangle of influencers that includes the CFO, the CIO and the end users. Service providers and UC players really need to speak individually to those three audiences.

Weinschenk: Who is the key?
Lemelin: I think there’s an understanding that you have to influence the CIO, that he really is the catalyst to making this work. They can then begin to evangelize in the organization. The end user is not pounding the desk demanding these solutions.

Weinschenk: Different people have different views of precisely what presence is. What is you view?
Lemelin: I think the ability to escalate, and that often is triggered by an understanding of presence. [Examples are the ability] in a voice call if someone suggests tying in somebody else or turning it into a Web or video conference or looking at someone’s presence status and bringing them into the call without having to go off-hook on the telephone. That’s the type of differentiator we see.

Weinschenk: What is the main driver now?
Lemelin: The core capability or driver of UC is still messaging and collaboration. Increasingly it’s movement toward Web conferencing. That’s picking up momentum in all sizes of business. Video conferencing is picking up. There are multiple flavors there. It is moving to the desktop for a variety of reasons. More employees are remote and mobile. A lot of businesses in this economy are happy with people working from home. That leads to things like IP VPNs and desktop video conferencing.

Weinschenk: You seem to distinguish between Web and video conferencing. How do you break it down?
Lemelin: Think about WebEx or GoToMeeting. Those kinds of solutions have a lot of momentum among all sizes of businesses. A lot of times, [it starts] with simply a client-type of video conferencing. It’s someone saying, “I have an IM client, a camera on the desktop, let’s give that a try.” As people experience that, you begin to have the IT person say, “That’s all well and good, but we have to have business-grade solutions.” It’s not just one-to-one, which is what you often find with Skype or similar solutions. They begin looking at lower-end systems from Polycom, Cisco or Tandberg — solutions that offer multipoint-to-multipoint type of convergence. The good news there is they are beginning to say, “Lets take it beyond residential applications, use something with more security, something integrated with voice and data network.” And being aware of where it sits behind a firewall, those kinds of issues.

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