Jun
13
2014

Two Things Not to Expect with Hosted UC

If you follow my writing either here or elsewhere, you’ll know that I often present two sides of the coin in my thought leadership. Objectivity and balance are hallmarks of being an analyst, and while I’m not shy about taking a clear position, you need this for credibility. It’s easy to take a contrary position with a selective point of view, but you can only fool some of the people some of the time.

I’m not here to fool anybody, and my stock value is based on considering the big picture rather than honing in on a narrow slice of the pie. My previous post in this series set the table for this broader perspective by outlining three things you should expect with hosted UC.

With three viable deployment paths to choose from – premise-based, cloud-based and hybrid – you owe it to all stakeholders inside your company to make the right decision. Now that you know what to expect, it’s time to look at the converse – what not to expect with hosted UC.

1.  Don’t expect this will be easy

Your thinking on this will depend on what UC vendors are telling you, as well as what you actually believe. With cloud being new for communications applications, there is no textbook plan that works for everyone. This is especially true with UC, where the value is built around supporting real-time modes, something that gets harder to do the further removed the solution is from where the end users are.

Add to this the fact that legacy telephony has been so reliable for so long and is relatively trouble-free. This is the gold standard set by TDM, and remains the bar against which all other real time applications are measured.

Just because hosted UC is easy for the vendor to provide, doesn’t mean it will be easy to deploy in your network.  Since the solution is largely in their hands, you are very dependent on them to have the right competence, and this can be a dangerous assumption. They may have a great track record with premise-based solutions, as this is the DNA for most UC vendors. However, the cloud model will be new for them, and whether deploying directly or via a channel partner, this expertise is in short supply.

If this doesn’t inspire confidence, you can always consider UC vendors that are cloud-based by nature. This is a new breed of player, and while hosted solutions are their forte, they lack the communications-based pedigree of the established UC vendors. Some will be small and possibly under-capitalized, so there are different risks to consider here.

Others, however, will be as big if not bigger than the familiar vendors, and for them UC is an extension of other things they’re already doing with enterprises. This could be the safest path of all, but requires a leap of faith that they can provide a UC solution that is truly right for your business.

2.  Don’t expect this will be cheaper

Please don’t shoot the messenger, but this is an important scenario to be prepared for. On paper, the cloud has a lot of economic attractions. Off the top, the burden shifts from Capex to Opex, making UC viable to businesses with constrained IT budgets. Furthermore, depending on how far you go with the cloud, you’ll have a limited financial outlay for hardware-based elements needed such as phones, media gateways and maybe session border controllers. If you don’t have unconditional buy-in from management, this will probably be the way to go.

The positive financial impact will be felt immediately, especially if you have already researched the investment needed for a premise-based solution. In that regard, cloud UC gives you the best of both worlds – IT gets the solution it wants, and management gets it at a cost they can support.

All of this is good, but UC isn’t free. Cloud may be less initially than premise-based, so the upfront savings really only come if you’re switching from premise-based UC to hosted. The expectation of cost savings may come from your VoIP experience, where you are basically going from like-to-like. UC, however, has no predecessor, so it’s not fair to apply that logic here.

Your initial outlay will certainly be less than premise-based UC, but that can provide a false sense of security. Over time, leasing is always more costly than buying, but hosted UC hasn’t been around long enough for us to know when those cost curves reverse course. As UC becomes more entrenched, the hosted model will deliver economic benefits, especially in terms of the IT resources needed to support it. Furthermore, cloud costs will likely decline as data centers scale to support booming demand.

Conversely, as UC matures, new applications will be added, and deeper integration with your business applications is inevitable. Hosted UC vendors will become endlessly inventive to create new revenue streams by making their platforms as mission-critical as possible. Over time, your IT expertise will likely atrophy, making you ever-more dependent on your cloud UC vendor. In this regard, there is a hidden price to be paid, and you need to be prepared for that.

Of course, this becomes a non-issue if you can leverage the power of the cloud to deliver new benefits that drive business growth. This is no different than any other risk-reward scenario, and if you embrace the cloud with this outcome in mind, cost will really be a non-issue.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/two-things-not-to-expect-with-hosted-uc/

Jun
05
2014

Three Things to Expect with Hosted UC

Over the past few posts, I’ve been examining the rationale for deploying cloud-based UC. Whether you call it hosted or managed or cloud, this is becoming the model of choice for any and all business applications. This model has been widely used for years by IT, but communications applications are quite new. As such, there’s a need to be asking some basic questions about the cloud when it comes to UC.

I’ve already addressed some of those questions, and in this post, I’m going to extend the analysis by citing three things to expect with hosted UC. As you’ll see, this move is more than simply adopting new technology in a new way – although there’s nothing simple about UC, but that’s another conversation.

Expectation #1 – greater flexibility

You will likely expect that going in, but you may not appreciate what this really means until after the fact. Even if you’ve already experienced this with cloud-based applications like Salesforce.com, UC is more central to everyday operations. When deployed effectively, UC touches everyone, especially once you get them all using the same interface across their devices.

This is where the cloud earns its keep, and the more dynamic your environment, the gladder you’ll be for taking this path. Some workplaces are stable in terms of headcount and day-to-day communications needs, but that’s not the norm. For companies in growth mode, the cloud is ideal for scaling UC as you expand – regardless of where employees are located. This capability also aligns nicely in cases where businesses are trying to grow cost-effectively by decentralizing operations. Cloud-based UC makes it easy for home-based or remote workers to access the same tools as their office-based co-workers.

The same benefit holds for businesses with cyclical or seasonal swings in demand. These peaks put undue stress on the network, and in the legacy world this means over-provisioning capacity at great expense. This problem goes away with the cloud, as its elastic nature means you can always right-size the network to provide as much UC horsepower as needed – no more or no less.

Building on this, consider the fact that as a product, UC will never be finished. Unlike a purpose-built phone system, UC is a platform that supports an ever-evolving suite of communications applications, and also integrates with an ever-expanding set of business applications. With the cloud, you don’t have to worry about how to possibly keep up with all these changes. As such, you should expect this to not be an issue when deploying UC via the cloud.

Expectation #2 – IT’s role will change

You may not be thinking this way yet, but your role will change with the cloud. If you stick with a premise-based UC plan, the impact on IT will be little more than an extension of upgrading the phone system. With the cloud, maintaining that comfortable status quo will prove difficult, if not impossible.

Depending on where IT ranks on the depth chart inside your company, this change could be drastic or even fatal for the future. By going to the cloud, IT becomes absolved from many roles that would be needed for a premise-based solution. In some cases, this is simply the right thing to do if the in-house expertise isn’t sufficient to support UC. IT budgets aren’t generally growing, especially for infrastructure projects, so it’s not likely an option to get the funding required to ramp up the team for premise-based UC.

This could also be reflective of a bigger trend in your company where outsourcing is becoming a mantra for cost reduction. If so, IT’s role will most definitely change or even come close to being phased out. This wouldn’t be happening if IT was innovating and finding new ways to add value, so cloud-based UC may be a serious challenge to your future.

At minimum, IT will need to think about new roles, both internal and external. With cloud, IT needs a different type of relationship with both the UC vendor and service provider. Your budgets will shift from Capex to Opex, meaning that IT’s focus will be on ensuring that UC applications are optimized for your network rather than the other way around. Internally, you will have to develop new competencies, namely around driving end user adoption, along with demonstrating the value of cloud UC to management in terms they understand.

Expectation #3 – the jury will remain out on cloud UC

Finally, you should expect that all of this will unfold with a fair bit of uncertainty. The mysteries of the cloud will not be solved any time soon, and the track record is too short to reliably ascertain its TCO. Being optimistic, there will likely be more successes than flops, but everyone is climbing the same learning curve.

As such, you will encounter both doubters and believers of the cloud all across the UC value chain, so good judgment will have to carry the day. Management will be looking to IT for an informed recommendation, so it’s very much in your interest to be prepared. This is especially important in cases where management has bought into the cloud – or rejected it – for reasons you may not agree with. If their thinking is misguided, it all falls on you to refute this with a better argument. Your future may depend on it, so don’t underestimate the realities of making decisions on somewhat shaky ground.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/three-things-to-expect-with-hosted-uc/

May
28
2014

Two Reasons for Deploying Hosted UC

I hope that the research findings discussed in my last post provided some grounding for how you’re feeling about which way to go with UC. You may not take comfort in the fact that so many businesses are undecided about the cloud for UC, but across the value chain, everyone is in the same boat.

This reality is important to understand since it’s not just about you. Of course, you have to do what’s best for the company, and that can get pretty complicated, especially in larger enterprise settings. Equally, however, vendors, operators and channels all have to do what’s best for them. UC can be a great business opportunity across the board, and being cloud-based has distinct implications for each of these players.

Earlier on this blog, I wrote about what this means for each, and as a potential buyer, you really need to consider their motivations. Pushing cloud-based UC will be a life-and-death decision for some of these offerings, and you have to determine if they’re playing from a position of strength or weakness.  Some will be doing this because they are forward-thinking and want to capitalize now before the market gets too crowded and confusing. Others, however, will have fallen behind the curve and are rushing to the cloud out of necessity to reinvent their business.

Depending on how much homework you do – and what pressures you’re facing – you may hold the knowledge advantage over these players. Cloud is still a work in progress for communications technologies, but your success with UC will largely depend on who is schooling who for making this decision. Whether you are the teacher or the pupil, you can still make the right moves so long as you know where everybody stands. Don’t put blind faith in any of these partners, as they may be even further behind the curve than you.

With that in mind, here are two basic scenarios that will drive you to a cloud-based plan for UC.

Scenario 1 – you want to go with the cloud

At this point, you should consider distinctions between cloud and hosted to be moot – basically, this is the outsourced model, where the solution is leased and not owned. To a large extent, this is the XaaS path, where UC is consumed as you go, and you’re not terribly concerned with the mechanics of how it works.

This scenario plays more in your favor, as it implies you know what you’re doing. You read thought leadership such as this blog, you get good advice from vendors and channels and you have a pretty good sense as to how technology is evolving. Perhaps most importantly of all, you’re listening to and learning from your employees, especially Millennials. They likely provide the best cues as to what’s working and how to best consume technology. Based on that, you need a realistic assessment as to how well equipped you are to serve those changing needs.

Otherwise, you need to step back and consider the strategic needs of the business. What appetite does management have to fund Capex projects? How enamored are they with Big Data, virtualization, the Internet of Things, etc.? Are they looking for UC to make employees more productive, or do they have bigger things in mind? To some degree, you can influence their thinking, but regardless, your rationale for the cloud needs to be aligned with these priorities.

Scenario 2 – you have to go with the cloud

This is a less desirable scenario, as it implies loss of control. Nobody likes being told what to do, but many businesses are not masters of their domain and can do little more than react to what’s changing around them. These are the characteristics of followers rather than leaders, and on that level, it’s easy to understand why this situation is fairly common.

You’re not alone if you feel things are changing faster than your ability to adapt, especially when it comes to technology. When IT concedes this to be a losing battle, then you pretty much have to go hosted for UC. Some of this is determined by the resources and internal expertise available to IT, but it will also be impacted by how management views IT. In cultures where innovation is a driving force, IT will be expected to play a role, and if value creation isn’t evident there, management will stop viewing IT as a strategic function. At that point, outsourcing decisions are inevitable, especially for new things like UC where the ROI is difficult to demonstrate.

In that event, IT’s role will be diminished, but at least you get to bring UC into the fold. Now you face new pressure, since you will now be tasked to ensure that your UC partner can deliver as promised from the cloud. There is nothing wrong with this path, and it may simply require an attitude adjustment.

Since management is making the final decisions, you have to go with the flow to get UC going, and with this, comes a new role for IT. You may see it as a step down, but you’re better off welcoming this as an opportunity for reinvention and finding new ways to add value. After all, UC isn’t the last thing you’ll be deploying from the cloud, so these news skills just might come in handy.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/two-reasons-for-deploying-hosted-uc/

May
22
2014

Should you go with hosted UC? What does the market say?

Well, that’s a pretty direct question, and not surprisingly, there is no simple answer. First off, the term “hosted” has a history, and creates confusion when used interchangeably with “cloud”. They largely mean the same thing in the sense that hosted services reside in the cloud, which really means data centers that are firmly planted here on the ground. Got that?

Like anything else, you really need to understand what you’re getting into when trying something new. Going with a hosted form of UC may actually not be that new if you consider that businesses routinely use the cloud for many everyday applications such as Salesforce.com. To counter the ever-present threat of Google, Microsoft has made a big push to the cloud with Office 365.

Stepping back a bit, both vendors share a common threat in Amazon with their cloud dominance, and the same can be said, actually for all UC vendors. Amazon is not likely to become a UC provider, but their platform could support virtual player quite easily.

These are really existential issues for the UC space in general, but they shouldn’t keep you from deploying UC. There are valid use-case scenarios for both hosted and premise-based models, and I’m going to explore those over the next few posts. Regarding hosted, you don’t need a comprehensive understanding of what the cloud entails, but you do need enough to make an informed buying decision.

A big part of this entails knowing how the trade-offs compare between these models and how well your choice aligns with bigger picture drivers in your business. To be fair, this is easier to do with premise-based UC since there are more knowns than unknowns. This is the model you’ve come to trust and rely on with telephony, and in most cases, that thinking will be top-of-mind. After all, many UC offerings are extensions of IP PBX systems, so it’s natural to think this way.

Before drawing your own conclusions either way, I’d like to share some current data on how businesses are thinking. InformationWeek just published its annual State of UC report, and it’s based on responses from 488 businesses compiled during April 2014. The research is fairly extensive and worth reviewing, but for now, I’m just going to highlight some cloud-related findings.

  • Among those currently or planning to deploy UC, only 3% have done so fully in the cloud today. When asking those who are planning for UC, just 9% responded the same way. As such, in absolute terms, only a small minority are totally sold on the cloud as their deployment model for UC.
  • For the rest of the research sample, deployment plans are less clear, although cloud is very much in the conversation. To illustrate, here are some basic data points:
  • 40% of those already deployed are fully premise-based, and 30% of those planning on UC will do the same.
  • 41% of UC deployments are actually hybrid. In other words, both premise and cloud are being used, but the mix leans in favor of premise. The numbers are very similar for those planning on UC.
  • Another segment is undetermined, reflecting an uncertainty about what the cloud model will really be like. Among those with current UC plans/deployments, 16% are undecided, and the number bumps up to 19% for businesses looking to deploy UC in the near term.

As you can see, the market is far from clear about what role the cloud will in their UC plans. If you’re feeling uncertain about this, you’re in good company, and it’s fair to say this is normal for the buying process at this stage of UC’s evolution. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should be resigned to sitting on the fence, as the long term outlook favors the cloud.

I’m sharing the above data here to validate what a lot of businesses are no doubt feeling. You know the cloud is out there, and you believe UC will be a good business decision, but you’re not sure if the cloud is good for UC. For now, I’ll leave aside the semantics over cloud versus hosted, but you get the idea.

In short, it’s okay to feel uncertain, and this just means you have to pose a lot of questions to UC vendors. Hosted UC may be first nature to them, but maybe not for you. The industry has its reasons for pushing UC to the cloud, and you have to be comfortable that this thinking will serve your needs.

To be fair, hosted UC is never carved in stone, and that’s why hybrid models are so popular. You want to minimize the technology risk that comes with a new model, but at the same time you want the benefits that come with the cloud’s promise. There is no singular right way to strike this balance, and for now, the main message is that nobody really has the answer.

Your best path is to learn as much as you can from industry trends such as the study cited above, and to get clear answers from the vendors. I’ll continue my analysis next time by looking more closely at the key drivers that are pushing businesses to use hosted offerings for UC.

Well, that’s a pretty direct question, and not surprisingly, there is no simple answer. First off, the term “hosted” has a history, and creates confusion when used interchangeably with “cloud”. They largely mean the same thing in the sense that hosted services reside in the cloud, which really means data centers that are firmly planted here on the ground. Got that?

Like anything else, you really need to understand what you’re getting into when trying something new. Going with a hosted form of UC may actually not be that new if you consider that businesses routinely use the cloud for many everyday applications such as Salesforce.com. To counter the ever-present threat of Google, Microsoft has made a big push to the cloud with Office 365.

Stepping back a bit, both vendors share a common threat in Amazon with their cloud dominance, and the same can be said, actually for all UC vendors. Amazon is not likely to become a UC provider, but their platform could support virtual player quite easily.

These are really existential issues for the UC space in general, but they shouldn’t keep you from deploying UC. There are valid use-case scenarios for both hosted and premise-based models, and I’m going to explore those over the next few posts. Regarding hosted, you don’t need a comprehensive understanding of what the cloud entails, but you do need enough to make an informed buying decision.

A big part of this entails knowing how the trade-offs compare between these models and how well your choice aligns with bigger picture drivers in your business. To be fair, this is easier to do with premise-based UC since there are more knowns than unknowns. This is the model you’ve come to trust and rely on with telephony, and in most cases, that thinking will be top-of-mind. After all, many UC offerings are extensions of IP PBX systems, so it’s natural to think this way.

Before drawing your own conclusions either way, I’d like to share some current data on how businesses are thinking. InformationWeek just published its annual State of UC report, and it’s based on responses from 488 businesses compiled during April 2014. The research is fairly extensive and worth reviewing, but for now, I’m just going to highlight some cloud-related findings.

  • Among those currently or planning to deploy UC, only 3% have done so fully in the cloud today. When asking those who are planning for UC, just 9% responded the same way. As such, in absolute terms, only a small minority are totally sold on the cloud as their deployment model for UC.
  • For the rest of the research sample, deployment plans are less clear, although cloud is very much in the conversation. To illustrate, here are some basic data points:
  • 40% of those already deployed are fully premise-based, and 30% of those planning on UC will do the same.
  • 41% of UC deployments are actually hybrid. In other words, both premise and cloud are being used, but the mix leans in favor of premise. The numbers are very similar for those planning on UC.
  • Another segment is undetermined, reflecting an uncertainty about what the cloud model will really be like. Among those with current UC plans/deployments, 16% are undecided, and the number bumps up to 19% for businesses looking to deploy UC in the near term.

As you can see, the market is far from clear about what role the cloud will in their UC plans. If you’re feeling uncertain about this, you’re in good company, and it’s fair to say this is normal for the buying process at this stage of UC’s evolution. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should be resigned to sitting on the fence, as the long term outlook favors the cloud.

I’m sharing the above data here to validate what a lot of businesses are no doubt feeling. You know the cloud is out there, and you believe UC will be a good business decision, but you’re not sure if the cloud is good for UC. For now, I’ll leave aside the semantics over cloud versus hosted, but you get the idea.

In short, it’s okay to feel uncertain, and this just means you have to pose a lot of questions to UC vendors. Hosted UC may be first nature to them, but maybe not for you. The industry has its reasons for pushing UC to the cloud, and you have to be comfortable that this thinking will serve your needs.

To be fair, hosted UC is never carved in stone, and that’s why hybrid models are so popular. You want to minimize the technology risk that comes with a new model, but at the same time you want the benefits that come with the cloud’s promise. There is no singular right way to strike this balance, and for now, the main message is that nobody really has the answer.

Your best path is to learn as much as you can from industry trends such as the study cited above, and to get clear answers from the vendors. I’ll continue my analysis next time by looking more closely at the key drivers that are pushing businesses to use hosted offerings for UC.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/should-you-go-with-hosted-uc-what-does-the-market-say/

May
22
2014

Connecting Alabama Event: June 11, 12 and 17

Alabama Public Sector Employees are  invited to Connecting Alabama in Birmingham (June 11), Montgomery (June 12), and Mobile (June 17). Hear from institutions who are making a positive impact by leveraging communications technology.

8:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Birmingham, June 11 | Montgomery, June 12 | Mobile, June 17

 

As an Alabama-based company (Huntsville), ADTRAN is committed to helping our schools, communities, and state deploy networks to enable better services, enhanced learning, and increased efficiency. To that end, we are hosting a half-day event called Connecting Alabama in June. We’d love to see you there!

 

Scheduled Guest Speakers

• Jack Doane – State of Alabama Finance Department – Information Services Division

• Stephen Putman – University of North Alabama – IT Services

• Jenel Travis – Calhoun County Schools – IT Services

• Tommy Whitten – Madison County Schools – District Technology Director

 

Register today!

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/connecting-alabama-event-june-11-12-and-17/

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