Three Things to Consider Before Moving to Cloud Communications
Cloud-based technology is growing exponentially. Does that mean it’s time to get rid of your in-house PBX system and move to a cloud-based Unified Communications (UC) service, or UCaaS? Or does it mean you should keep your onsite system and link it to cloud-based branch offices (hybrid communications)?
The answer is “Maybe.” Different companies have different needs. Jon Arnold, Principal of J Arnold & Associates, a telecom analysis and marketing consultancy, sees three important trending issues that every growing company should consider before choosing a cloud-based UC system: scalability, integration, and security.
The advantage of a small, growing company is its ability to be more agile than larger competitors. UCaaS can be just as agile.
Consider the ways in which your business is likely to grow and how that will affect your future communications needs. Will some new employees work from home or from different locations? Will you add offices in remote locations? Is there a possibility of growing through acquisition or merger? Are you likely to move into new markets? Is it possible your staff size will contract, perhaps due to seasonal markets or future recession?
All these point to the UCaaS option, where new lines and services can be added or removed easily, quickly and at lower cost. It can provide a single interface for the entire company, an especially important issue in the case of merger or acquisition. Further, cloud systems are operating expenses, much more cost-effective than capital expenses, and allow you to focus your IT budget in other areas.
Once you’ve analyzed your needs, shop around. Does a potential UC vendor have experience in your market or similar markets? Has it supported customers that have grown at the rate you expect? Can it support a hybrid premise/cloud configuration? Arnold suggests getting them to share their best practices and success stories with you. “The vendor has to show that they’ve done this before,” he says.
UC is not just telephony. It must encompass conferencing, IM, video and fax. And in order to maximize productivity and adaptability, it should also integrate with other applications your company uses, such as CRM or ERP apps. “Voice is no longer just a stand-alone application,” says Arnold. “That’s the magic that UC brings that we didn’t have in the legacy world.”
Big data is also an important emerging industry, and cloud-based systems make data more accessible. Integrating telephony with other apps creates new forms of data, such as new metrics to gauge customer needs, employee performance, and the efficiency of your business processes.
BYOD is a huge trend in business today, and the UC system should be able to handle both fixed and wireless environments, smartphones, tablets and other devices.
Make sure your vendor will be able to work with your apps. Is it certified for those apps? Can it support open APIs and hybrid environments if necessary? Can it support BYOD and WebRTC support for web applications? “WebRTC is on fire right now,” notes Arnold.
Another advantage is the ability to adopt new apps quickly in response to your business needs, such as adding call reporting and collaboration software, says Richard Winslow, Senior Director, Product Management at ShoreTel. “And it’s flexible on your budget,” he adds.
VoIP and UCaaS are vulnerable to hacking if not handled properly, but the issues are generally poorly understood, says Arnold.
A cloud-based service should be more secure than premise-based equipment. Security is a huge priority for a UCaaS vendor, and its security system is often more sophisticated than an onsite system.
UCaaS vendors can encrypt your VoIP traffic, but there are tradeoffs. It’s hard to do, can be expensive, and can introduce latency if it’s not done correctly. You need to ask yourself what risks you’re willing to take.
Some UCaaS providers have their own data centers, while others lease space in large data centers run by others. In the latter case, you’re one level further removed from knowing where your data is, how it’s managed, and how problems are handled.
Question potential UC vendors about their security track record. If they really want your business, says Arnold, “you can lean on them and ask how much of their churn rate is due to security breaches. A company that really knows how to handle this will tell you right away that they don’t lose business because of security. That’s what you want to hear.”
But security is not just an issue of technology. It’s also about people. Ask vendors about their ability and willingness to help you develop best practices for VoIP security at your company. Then engage your employees in the process. They can either be part of the problem or part of the solution.
With the right help, cloud-based UC can add flexibility, business intelligence and security to virtually any SMB.
For more information see the J Arnold & Associates research paper, “3 Hot Buttons For Hosted UC” http://www.itbriefcase.net/downloads/ShoreTel_3HotButtonsForUC_proof4.pdf
For further discussion of this topic, listen to the audio of a discussion with Jon Arnold and ShoreTel’s Richard Winslow https://www.shoretel.com/files/3-hot-buttons-uc