by Lisa Healey
Unified Communications (UC) empowers people to connect, communicate and collaborate safely and efficiently, regardless of location or device. Helping managers to break down problematic company silos, it’s no wonder, therefore, that a large number of businesses have already adopted a UC solution.
But, agreeing on a UC strategy for your business isn’t always as straightforward as you might hope. In addition to a plethora of vendors, partners, and hardware manufacturers, you also have to decide how you want to host your communications platform. And, while the UC industry is naturally moving to the cloud (and, as part of the Intercity team, I’ve seen the benefits of a hosted service first-hand), it’s not always the most suitable approach for everyone.
So what are your choices?
- On-prem. With all the hardware stored in-house, on-premise solutions are primarily used by larger types of organisations. Often the business will work with a provider to design and build a bespoke communication system (typically a TDM PBX with ISDN or IP PBX with SIP Trunking)
- Cloud. A hosted solution. The provider hosts the network and service in its data centres, and the business gets access to everything it needs by paying a regular subscription fee
- Hybrid. A combined approach which lets the business connect a cloud-based UC service to an on-premises appliance.
However, setting out the various options doesn’t really help when deciding which approach is right for your business and your people. So, it's important to take a more in-depth look at the pros and cons.
Typically, an on-premise solution involves Physical Services (PBX) that demand office space, racks, power supplies and cooling systems. So, the upfront investment costs can be off-putting.
One argument I regularly hear for on-prem is that it reduces the total cost of ownership (TCO) over time. And, there are potential cost savings by avoiding recurrent subscription costs. That said, when calculating the real TCO of any tech, you must look at the bigger picture. In addition to the initial setup costs, take into account things like hardware, energy, physical space, upgrades, ongoing maintenance and 24/7 internal support; not forgetting the financial impact of unplanned downtime.
In addition to the initial setup costs, take into account things like hardware, energy, physical space, upgrades, ongoing maintenance and 24/7 internal support; not forgetting the financial impact of unplanned downtime.
On the plus side, with on-prem UC your data doesn’t leave the four walls of your business. IT retains control over the IP comms system, and sensitive business data remains behind the firewall. So, for organisations with stringent or unique data compliance obligations, this approach provides absolute certainty that your network and business is adhering to the necessary regulations. However, while this model suits traditional ways of working, in an increasingly global landscape, more and more companies are working across multiple locations and embracing all mobility has to offer. As such, keeping data locked up within the confines of a building is no longer an option.
Furthermore, with an on-prem UC solution, scalability can be complicated. Businesses have to manage capacity needs, and balance these against any increase in costs. In addition to extra hassle for your IT department, this can be a risk with any unforeseen changes to the economy or your organisation potentially leading to resources being wasted.
The cloud provides a way of streamlining and centralising your data. Your entire workforce has access to the same information and systems, no matter where they are in the world. With a silo mentality one of the biggest barriers to business success, the Cloud provides the tools to break them down. So everyone has access to the most up-to-date information, as and when they need it.
The cloud provides a way of streamlining and centralising your data. Your entire workforce has access to the same information and systems, no matter where they are in the world.
At the same time, by offering UC technology on a fixed, managed costs or subscription fee basis, businesses of all sizes can access enterprise level tech at a price they can afford. And, in addition to removing the burden of up-front investment, with the heavy work handled by the service provider, there is no need to worry about ongoing maintenance costs and repairs. Freeing your in-house staff and IT from maintaining the service, they can focus on those tasks that drive business growth and make you money.
Of course, one of the most significant benefits when it comes to deploying a managed cloud service or infrastructure is its instant scalability. With the cloud, adapting to accommodate changing business needs such as new offices and devices isn’t an issue. It's also easy to relocate if moving offices or growing your team. You only ever pay for what you need.
As well as enabling businesses with unique data protection needs to benefit from the power of the cloud, a hybrid solution can be used as a natural transition to a cloud only service. As such, many businesses choose to deploy a hybrid model at the start of their UC journey as sites come out of contract or legacy systems have depreciated.
A hybrid model also allows different tech to communicate (e.g. ISDN, PSTN, SIP), typically in organisations that have some cloud. Furthermore, a cloud-based UC service can be connected to an on-premises appliance, and be used to support various types of communications equipment. So, remote offices can be fed a service through a cloud delivery model, even if the physical hardware is located in one primary location.
However, a hybrid model can be tricky to setup and maintain. The complexity of using multiple vendors can also result in a lack of unity and accountability. For example, there can be less clarity over outages; because if a call fails is it an on-prem app or the cloud provider who is responsible?
The bottom line? Even organisations once reluctant to make the shift from on-prem are now putting their communication and collaboration tools into the cloud. And, with the entire industry working towards cloud-based solutions, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the best way to future-proof a business.
Crucially, despite what people might think, moving to the cloud doesn’t put you at any more risk. Today, most cloud vendors offer a reliable, secure infrastructure that far outstrips what most businesses can build for themselves. What’s more, many on-premise legacy systems were developed before cybercrime became prevalent and haven’t been adequately updated. This makes many on-prem systems more vulnerable than the cloud.
To help you ask all the right questions, consider your various UC options, and decide which comms features are most important for your workforce and your business, download our handy Unified Communications Toolkit.
What does the year ahead have in store for unified communications? It’s a tough one to answer, especially in a changing market that’s been turned on its head by a global pandemic.