Things often go in cycles, and when a topic is hot, you need to stick with it since interest is high. Businesses are usually in reactive mode when new technologies come along, so their appetite is strong for objective information, and hopefully this column helps address that for UC. Of course, another reason for stepping up for a hot topic is that you never know if or when it will come into vogue again.
Regular readers will know that I’ve been writing here recently about the cloud and why this can be a compelling path for businesses to take with UC. You will also know that I’ve raised some concerns about the cloud that serve as valid caveats to address before jumping in. Both businesses and UC vendors can’t seem to move fast enough to the cloud, and for that reason, analysts have an important role to play in providing a measured, objective perspective.
Like anything else that’s happening quickly, there’s a herd mentality at work where nobody wants to be left behind. In other words, there seems to be more concern about the potential fallout if you don’t make this move than the potential downside if you do. The cloud has both short-term and long-term implications, and as I’ve been noting in recent posts, I’m not sure this has been fully thought through by business decision-makers.
In that spirit, before making any hasty moves, let me put forth a few factors to consider. As an analyst, I look at the bigger picture, and while your business will have a specific mix of priorities, realities and politics, you will be well-served by some arms-length perspectives.
Premise-based has worked well, so why change?
This remains the fundamental question all cloud-based options must first address. Regardless of whether you believe cloud-based UC really is better or has unique advantages, IT decision makers must be willing to accept change of the status quo. While this definitely applies to businesses currently using premise-based telephony, it could also apply to those using hosted VoIP.
For the latter, they have already bought into the cloud concept, but perhaps only at a superficial level. As you know, VoIP is fairly easy to do this way, and UC is orders of magnitude more difficult. In other words, a deployment model that works well for VoIP may not necessarily hold for UC.
Furthermore, the “superficial” reference means that they didn’t need to know much about the cloud for VoIP, especially since it was likely sold as a turnkey solution that was either hosted or managed. Since it was only for telephony – which is not bandwidth-intensive – the network implications were limited, and there may even have been a sense of relief for taking telephony off their hands, so to speak.
Aside from only knowing a little about the cloud in these cases, it’s possible that some businesses never even thought about VoIP being there at all. Some providers don’t even call their service VoIP, and it’s usually described as being hosted, not cloud-based. While these terms are used interchangeably, “cloud” has only recently been in vogue, and in my view has more ambiguous connotations than “hosted”. To be fair, neither is that easy to understand, but my point is that some businesses using “hosted” VoIP may be surprised to learn that it’s cloud-based. As such, even hosted VoIP customers are no assurance that the business will be ready for cloud-based UC.
Whether the business is using premise-based or hosted telephony, it’s fair to say that most of your history has been premise-based, and in these cases, I would contend they’ll need a high comfort level before moving to cloud-based UC. Certainly, there are lots of scenarios where remaining premise-based is not the way to go, and for newer businesses that have little legacy infrastructure, this is a non-starter.
However, premise-based legacy systems are still the norm, and for that segment of the business market, this is a bona-fide issue for UC vendors to address. No matter how good the technology, the comfort level must be there on two fronts. First, they must be certain this new deployment model comes as advertised. This is usually when Salesforce.com is raised, citing an example of a cloud-based service they’re already using. No issue there, but telecom is something that IT has owned and operated forever, and it’s not really apples to apples.
As with anything new, it’s hard to move on from the tried-and-true, especially for an alternative you don’t really understand. This brings me to the second front. Even if you believe the cloud will be as advertised, how much disruption will this cause? Premise-based systems are highly familiar and IT has full control – and cloud is the polar opposite. How do you know things will work the same or as well as before? How do you know if some features or capabilities will be lost?
While it’s understood you have to give up something to get something, and that change entails some level of risk, these questions will come up. No matter how good cloud-based UC is, these concerns will trump the benefits because they are based on both emotion and reason. In this regard, cloud has to be sold at this early stage of market adoption – it won’t be bought.
This is a classic case whereby old habits die hard, and since the track record for premise-based telephony has been so good, UC vendors have to be very conscious of what’s come before them. Someday, there will only be cloud-based UC, but until that time, most businesses will need more than a checklist of features and collaboration tools.
I’ll continue this thread in my next post where other reasons for defending premise-based UC solutions will be evaluated.