As the business community migrates toward unified communications, it is faced with a number of challenges. Companies need to contain costs, make best use of existing resources, and build in flexibility for the future.
Consider the two most likely avenues for getting there: Deliver UC through an on-premise system, or buy into a hosted solution. While both have their advantages, hosted is edging ahead.
At least that’s how it appeared in a thought-leader session at the recent Channel Partners Conference in Washington, D.C. Panelists were scheduled to debate the merits of both approaches, but the case for premise-based solutions barely made a showing.
The panel included:
William Bumbernick, CEO, Alteva
Thad Anderson, VP Engineering, Presidio
Jim Ortbals, Manager, Channel Operations Service Provider Channels, Cisco Systems
James Whitemore, CMO, Smoothstone IP Communications,
Jeff Wissing, Senior Product Manager, UC, ADTRAN
Clem Wyman, CEO, ValuLink Technology Solutions
Going hosted #1: Easy to add future layers
Businesses need solutions that go beyond voice. If we look at presence, mobility, and business process apps as layers, each adding upon the one before as a system evolves—what’s the easiest way to plan for future layers? Go with a premise solution and you’ll need to build in each new layer from scratch. “When you put that box down, you are starting from relatively ground zero,” Bumbernick said.
A hosted provider likely has built these layers already, so implementation becomes a matter of adding a pre-built layer to the existing service, rather than an issue of new deployment or development.
Going hosted #2: Simplified integration
Expanding into UC is not just a matter of adding new features and functions. For full value, those elements have to be integrated into a unified whole: Pause a voice call in mid-flow, push a button, switch to video.
Arguably, a hosted solution is better positioned to integrate those elements. With all services available through a single channel, it’s more likely the delivery of those services could be merged into a single interactive whole, then delivered across business units or geographic locations.
Going hosted #3: Enhanced security
This may be one of the most controversial aspects of a hosted solution, at least among potential business users. Once data in any form leaves the premises, security becomes a concern: Who can see what? Will reporting be complete? Will access conform to regulatory needs?
One strain of thought says a premise solution has to be the safest way to go. If UC functionality is kept in house, it can be held under lock and key, with strict local control over how it is managed and accessed.
Panelists presented a different view. A premise solution is too readily subject to human error: Policies can be breached or malformed. Errors can be overlooked. Better, perhaps, to take that control outside the home office, put it in the hands of a hosted provider who performs regular checks and delivers detailed activity reports.
At the very least, hosted providers can subject themselves to rigorous and frequent testing to assure their customers that all is safe and secure.
Going hosted #4: Rip and replace, and rip, and rip…
Most companies will need to rip-and-replace in order to go to a hosted solution, pulling out their present platforms in spite of existing investment. That’s a hurdle.
But it’s bound to happen anyway, panelists said. As technology evolves, legacy systems have to be replaced, or at least significantly rebuilt, on an all-too-frequent basis. With a hosted platform, the initial rip-and-replace may hurt, but after that, future changes can be made within the hosted solution, with no further major overhauls required.
Going hosted #5: Benefits for big players, too
Historically, hosted offerings have appealed primarily to the small and midsize business market. Limited CAPEX, no ongoing maintenance, predictable fixed costs—these features and more are attractive to cash-strapped business that may have few if any in-house IT resources.
Lately the value proposition for UC has changed. Rather than sell on features, providers are selling solutions based on specific business needs, Wissing said. This has a ring for enterprise users looking to make their processes more efficient, for example, or aiming to better communicate with their customer base. With its range of capabilities, all bound together, UC is becoming increasingly attractive at the large enterprise level.
This concept—selling based on business need—came up repeatedly among the panelists. Where voice has been sold as a commodity based largely on price, UC’s powerful tool set demands a more complex selling process. Vendors need to delve deep into the workings of a potential customer’s operations, in order to see the gaps UC might fill. That means vendors will need to retrain their sales teams, who may be used to selling based on price and capacity.
Does need-based selling give hosted solutions an edge over premise-based? Perhaps. If hosted UC can meet those business needs while simultaneously keeping costs down, easing maintenance and simplifying upgrades—these factors together may make a tempting proposition.