Unified communications (UC) are a game-changer. Imagine not having to leave your office for a face-to-face meeting half a world away, or saving thousands in new hardware costs because you've outsourced UC needs.
It's now possible — and popular: according to data from Infonetics Research, the UC market grew 31 percent in the second quarter of 2014 for a total value of $207 million. Unified systems are quickly closing the gap with more traditional private brand exchange (PBX), but this is uncharted territory. What are the real enterprise impacts of these hosted solutions?
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This is the big one — every company wants to lower costs where possible, and according to Computer Weekly, telecommunications company Virgin Media has done just that. Virgin claims that travel costs are down 20 percent after they rolled out new communications technology that allowed employees to schedule and attend meetings remotely.
The company also points to improved employee culture, saying “teams are able to see exactly where they are on a project and managers are able to track progress and updates.” And the absence of jet lag is likely a boost to employee morale and corporate culture — no one wants to meet with the boss after an eight-hour flight.
Beyond travel costs, however, it's also possible to lower the total cost of ownership (TCO) using hosted UC systems. When you don't have to purchase hardware, expenses change from variable capex to more manageable opex. Plus, you're not on the hook to dispose of servers when they reach their end-of-life.
Communications at Scale
Leveraging a hosted solution also gives enterprises direct control over scale. On-premises systems come with a finite amount of space for users and for storage; once full, you need to purchase, install and configure new hardware.
Hosted alternatives, however, allow enterprises to start with a small-scale deployment and then ramp up on demand. Need support for 10 more employees? 20? 100? No problem. And this scaling doesn't have to be permanent — scale up during busy seasons and scale back when things calm down.
Support is another key factor in communications. For example, SIP trunks support voice, video, email and text — but what happens when something goes wrong or isn't properly configured? If your UC solution is on-premises, this means calling in local IT professionals or outside help is required. Until the problem is fixed, your entire network could be compromised, minimized or taken offline altogether. Anyone who's been on a conference call with huge lag, big echo or j-j-j-j-jitter knows the frustration of a sidelined system.
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Hosted solutions, meanwhile, allow off-site IT to handle problems on a case-by-case basis and without interrupting your communications service. InformationWeek notes that third-party support services are often on par with first-party IT because these outsourced support professionals deal with UC services all day, every day.
Multiple Avenues to Success
Going hosted also offers multiple paths to success. As a recent IT Business Edge article points out, the definition of “unified communications” isn't set in stone, and many services that don't fit into traditional corporate niches have become critical to everyday business function. Tools like Skype or Google Hangouts can be spun up by employees with minimal tech knowledge and used just as effectively as high-level meeting tools.
Google, meanwhile, created an on-the-fly tool for tracking AdWords effectiveness in generating phone calls — the “right” way to do this is using WebRTC code, but instead, the search giant took a shortcut and just used what works: an integration with their Voice-type numbering system.
In other words, how you use hosted UC solutions isn't a fixed value. Want a virtual PBX? No problem. Looking to leverage high-bandwidth video streaming? It's possible. Need support for BYOD? Absolutely. Going hosted opens the door: use what you want, when you want, and don't worry about typical use cases.
Hosted solutions offer real value for enterprises. It starts with lowered costs, tied in part to scale-on-demand. Outsourced support limits IT costs, while the wide-open nature of UC tools provides the power of choice over every aspect of your communications platform.