However, it's often difficult to gain clarity when you try to sort through all the claims and promises being made in relation to unified communications solutions.
The truth is, unified communications is a set of technologies in transition. There is enormous uncertainty about what tomorrow's applications will look like. It's unclear how to strike an appropriate balance between capex and opex, on-prem and cloud, what's core and what's peripheral.
Recognizing these uncertainties, you'll have to decide the right path for your organization. How will you preserve your options? How will you prepare your communications infrastructure for the future? And how will you maximize the business impact of your UC investments?
Along with answering these questions, you'll have to determine what type of partner can provide the guidance and support you require. Of course, you'll be approached by product vendors and systems integrators—each offering a complicated path to UC implementation.
Now is the time to consider a third alternative—a flexible, cloud-enabled UC service provider.
Flexible because it integrates with all technologies and platforms, avoiding proprietary lock-in and enormous upfront investments; cloud-enabled to seamlessly integrate into any cloud configuration you may have.
This third alternative to unified communications has never been more easy or effective. Read on to learn why.READ ENTIRE ARTICLE »
The concept of unified communications has changed considerably over the years. At present, there are four key components that collectively contribute to the UC concept:
Together these four factors make up a unified communications framework. While enterprises have generally taken steps in relation to each one of these areas, perpetual innovation requires IT and business decision-makers to continuously re-examine their options on all fronts.
But it's difficult to make decisions when everything is seemingly in flux. Indeed, this is a fast-paced, often confusing and risk-laden moment in the world of unified communications. In his opening presentation at the Enterprise Connect conference in the spring of 2013, event director Fred Knight discussed three key factors that reflect the present transition in the UC field.
Citing research from UC Insight, he noted that the growth rate for unified communications products and services was 2.5% per month in 2012. And yet, only 40% of Fortune 500 companies claim to have UC deployments. "So, there's been a lot of progress, but there's a long way to go," he said.
Secondly, Knight pointed to a change of focus from hardware to software as yesterday's special purpose devices give way to general purpose computing and communication tools. Finally, he pointed to the "webification" of enterprise communications—putting real-time voice and video onto the web.
On top of these transitional factors, Knight pointed to the overlay of delivery systems, particularly wireless delivery. "How much of your traffic and how much of your business," he asked, "is going to shift to mobile?" And yet another point that he raised about delivery is ownership. "How much of your service and how many of your apps will run over systems that you own, manage and control, and how many will be run in the cloud or through some other outsourced service?"
It's against this backdrop that you are challenged to make sense of your investments in communications infrastructure and applications. It's clearly a lot to consider—and there's a lot at stake. As competition intensifies and stakeholders become increasingly demanding, you'll have to determine the most strategic path for your organization.
You face a full spectrum of needs and challenges with respect to unified communications. And there's no shortage of parties knocking on your door and offering to solve your problems. The two types of entities most actively promoting UC solutions these days are product providers and systems integrators. But it's worth considering the strengths and weaknesses of these types of players when it comes to fulfilling your UC objectives:
To ensure you are preserving your option value, you'll want to carefully consider a third path to unified communications: the cloud-enabled solution. You'll want a service provider that is fully committed to best-of-breed technology as opposed to proprietary lock-in. And you'll want a partner that can provide unified communications as a cloud-enabled service—enabling you to shift from capex to opex investment as appropriate.
But not every communication demand is necessarily met with a cloud-based solution. With that in mind, you'll need a service provider that can support you across a spectrum of scenarios ranging from on-premise support to managed services to advanced, cloud offerings. With a solid track record, your partner should demonstrate:
These are the factors that matter most as you consider your short-, medium- and long-term options. You need flexibility and freedom to most effectively match advanced products and solutions to your business communications roadmap.
Cloud-enabled service providers enable you to focus on the activities that strategically differentiate you as an enterprise. But they also recognize and address the constantly transforming nature of technology. In other words, you'll want to preserve the option to purchase a growing number of services on-demand—consuming them just-in-time as opposed to just-in-case.
Consider some of the companies that have embraced this approach. Among them: Scott's Miracle-Gro; Monsanto; and D+M Group.
With more than 60 geographically dispersed sites, Scotts Miracle-Gro realized it needed an advanced platform enabling its people to communicate and collaborate in more productive ways. With that in mind, executive decision-makers committed to a cloud-based solution addressing several facets of the unified communications framework.
The hosted solution, based on West's VoiceMaxx CE platform, encompasses voice, messaging, mobility and a full spectrum of conferencing capabilities, which enable the company to bring rich communications to both its in-house and remote workers at all locations. Relying on West for platform management and support, IT leaders at Scotts Miracle-Gro can turn their attention to the strategic business factors that set the company apart and drive growth.
Monsanto, the $11.8 billion bio- and agriculture-technology leader, also has embraced an on-demand vision. With 21,000 employees spread out across 404 facilities in 66 countries, the company invested strategically to obtain a robust conferencing and communication solution.
Such capabilities not only enable effective meetings within the company, they help it actively engage farmers and other agricultural professionals around the planet. With implementation and hosting support from West, Monsanto has even taken active steps to ensure it can richly communicate with customers in fast-growing regions, including parts of Asia and Africa, that have limited telecom infrastructure and challenging tariff policies.
Mahwah, NJ-based D+M Group, a specialist in consumer electronics with 2,000 employees, sought a way to increase operational efficiencies, promote innovation and lower its total cost of ownership for communications infrastructure. "Teamwork is a central corporate value, and our CEO wanted to break down barriers between brands to encourage collaboration and innovation," says John Jackson, vice president of global infrastructure and vendor management for D+M Group.
To bring its consumer, professional and automotive divisions together, the company began offering shared services, including communications and collaboration. "When every division had its own communications system, there was no tie to bind them together," says Jackson. "Making it easy for people to collaborate across divisional and geographical boundaries would help D+M Group function as an efficient, single entity."
Jackson asked himself what type of communications system he would invest in if starting a brand-new company. The answer: a cloud-based solution. "Our goal was to gain advanced communications and collaboration capabilities without a large, up-front investment," he says. "We are moving many of our services to private or public clouds, and a hosted communications service seemed like a natural fit."
Having clarified its objectives, D+M Group adopted a common cloud collaboration platform based on Cisco's Hosted Collaboration Solution and delivered by West. The results? The company bridged organizational silos and made it easier to collaborate from any global location. It accelerated decision-making by enabling more people to collaborate without travel. And it lowered its three-year TCO for communications at its headquarters by 72 percent.
So what should you expect from a world-class, cloud-enabled service provider? Here are three key criteria to consider:
As an IT leader, you have to ensure your investments have a strategic impact. To do so, you'll want to ensure your unified communications solutions are enabling you to drive growth and competitively differentiate your company—whether they are on-premise or in the cloud. Your decisions with respect to investment and partnering must start with the end in mind.
Enterprises like yours are now realizing they need an alternative to proprietary lock-in and expensive managed services contracts. They've discovered they need a new kind of solution support if they are to preserve their option value and invest in their communications platforms for the long term.
As you consider you own options, you'll want to compare product vendors, systems integrators and cloud-enabled service providers. But you will want to conduct this activity with a keen eye toward which option will help you best capitalize on unified communications.
Keep in mind that cloud-enabled service providers bring a laser focus on those activities that strategically differentiate you as an enterprise—and help you wade through the thicket of an ever-changing technology landscape from a business perspective. The intersection of networks, technology and applications is a complex one. Look for a partner that understands those complexities and can help you move your business forward.
The lead contributor on this white paper is Scott Etzler, President of InterCall.