Has Unified Communications [UC] undergone a fundamental paradigm shift in 2016? By this I’m referring to a switch from on-premises based solutions to cloud subscription offerings, i.e. Cloud PBX, or rather Cloud UC.
If you go to any UC trade show these days, it seems that if you throw your newly garnered freebie stress ball into the crowd (don’t try this at home) you’ll hit more Cloud PBX/UC providers than you thought you could, there’s an ever increasing number of offerings in this arena.
Cloud PBX and hosted telephony has been around for years and has moved on a long way from just being telephony via the Internet, it now comes with the other things we expect from Unified Communications [UC] including Instant Messaging and Presence [IM&P], video conferencing, native application integration and APIs (some folks now say “it’s all about the API” but that is another tale for another day).
The use case, work flows and cost profile for Cloud UC is going to be very different for a small company at a single site with 10s of users as opposed to one with 100s or 1,000s. For the small company it’s a “no-brainer”, go for it. For a larger company you need to take as much care [if not more] in selecting your Cloud PBX/UC provider as you would for on-premises solutions. Why? Because of the fundamental change in financing the systems, Cloud PBX features do not match those of on-premises systems, you may also be throwing away significant existing investment and removing functionality that you already have and use, e.g. LDAP based user credential checking! Also consider that the larger the Cloud PBX requirement (1,000s of users) the longer it will take to migrate systems, let alone add/change functions such as contact centres, voice recording, IM&P compliance/logging or custom usage/KPI reporting. In this regard, not all Cloud PBXs are equal.
Other aspects have also moved on in the last few years for the Cloud PBX, it’s no longer just about getting the cheapest call rates – it’s the extra things too, things like:
- Excellent user experience/interface
- Excellent self-service management portal/interface
- Endpoint/client options and features; IM&P, persistent chat, desktop share, video…
- Anywhere and any device working
- Software only solutions, exclusively browser based communications
- Always up to date apps
However, with Cloud PBX offerings you typically have to take what you’re given and accept any updates and UI changes as they’re issued. If you don’t like it, you can switch to another provider, can’t you? Hmm… never underestimate the potential level of change or disruption – if you’re looking at Cloud UC be sure you choose your provider wisely the first time round.
- Now also consider PSTN access, what are your choices?
- Do you have to use the Cloud PBX’s own centralised service and their set tariff?
- Do you need a separate direct agreement with the Cloud PBX’s preferred provider?
- Can you use or choose your own/existing PSTN access provisions?
- Can your PSTN access be on-premises?
- Does it include PSTN minutes/bundles?
Also in the mix now are niche hosted providers that you actually [sort of] invest in. Here I mean; delivered like a Cloud PBX where you pay per-user-per-month but at the end of a X-year agreement you can carry on with them, or move your ‘new’ license assets to someone else’s platform, or even take it back on-premises! This is a great option if you have to upgrade an out of support platform or have a complex relocation to perform!
The Cloud PBX/UC providers give us the platform and a portal to configure things – the expectation is that you’ll know how to and be eager to set it all up yourself. But what if you can’t, who sets these things up and keeps them running with respect to value for money, business needs and communications workflows?
So what about “the 2016 UC paradigm shift” in the title?
Everything from the vendors is cloud, cloud, cloud… and annuity subscriptions. So yes there is a paradigm shift in our consumption model of UC and it’s happening fast. But however good the price, the user experience/interface there is still the underlying need to correctly specify, design, implement, maintain and evolve our communications environments – many are not equipped to do this for themselves. I think as a part of this shift, we’ll see more of the resellers that sell the on-premises UC solutions providing the consulting and professional services for the new Cloud UC offerings (just as they do for on-premises) as a managed service, perhaps even including the fee as a part of the Cloud PBX subscription.
What about the next big cloud communications game changer – for me (crystal ball gazing) it will be when Apple delivers their own Cloud PBX solution as an iOS update, for then we will truly live in “interesting times”.
Authors notes: (1) Cloud PBX and Cloud UC are almost interchangable terms these days. I’ve used both here, hopefully both will you’ll get the gist of what I mean by each from the context. (2) I’ve worked for systems integrators and resellers, mostly for on-premises UC solutions or as bespoke hosted solutions. The vendor solutions I work with (mostly Cisco and Microsoft) both offer Cloud PBX solutions, in addition to their on-premises equivalents. (3) There is a significant vendor, and user, momentum to drive these solutions to the cloud. (4) In this post I have ignored resilience and connectivity to the Cloud PBX, 9-times-out-of-10 the weakest point will be the access circuits to the Internet or direct to the provider. (5) If a larger number of voice/video channels/sessions are required, on-premises based PSTN access can be advantageous in order to save on bandwidth. (6) The advantages of continuous development and always up to date apps can be a two edged sword for users; it cuts both ways – being always up-to-date is very good in my opinion but if major changes are foisted on you they can be significant and also force changes to the way you want to work.