The forecast is looking pretty sunny for cloud-based unified communications (UC).
Transparency Market Research predicts the value of the global UC-as-a-Service (UCaaS) market will grow from US$5.6 billion in 2013 to US$37.8 billion by 2022. (In case anyone’s wondering, that’s a wow-worthy compound annual growth rate of 23.4 per cent.)
Cloud UC is gaining traction with businesses big and small, according to Ovum’s 2017 UC Trends Study. SMEs see it as a way to devote less IT resources to communications applications, Ovum says, while larger enterprises view it as a way to replace complex multivendor PBX networks and move communications spending from capex to opex.
Of course, stumbling blocks can still crop up when organizations adopt any technology. Here are potential speed bumps to be aware of — and prepare for — on the road to UCaaS.
1) Hybrid hiccups
Ovum suggests hybrid UCaaS — a mix of on-premise and hosted UC — “will become more commonplace, particularly among large enterprises with complex communications needs.”
That’s because it takes time to phase out older voice systems, migrate end users from one platform to another, and convince various business units to move their UC applications to the cloud. To make all of that happen smoothly (and buy more time for a smooth UCaaS phase-in), hybrid UC “is often the most practical path for large enterprises,” Ovum points out.
The thing about any hybrid model, however, is that it calls for a mixed approach, which probably requires more than one cloud and/or UC vendor, possibly several architectures, ongoing integration — you get the picture. If you’ve got a hybrid UCaaS framework, you’re probably …
2) Monitoring multiple clouds
Most businesses have a multiple cloud setup, not specifically for UC, but overall. In Viavi’s 2016 State of the Network report, 43 per cent of the 740 IT pros surveyed said they use two public cloud vendors; 13 per cent rely on three or more. That means more than half (56 per cent) are managing a multi-cloud environment.
The use of multiple clouds could be making it tougher for IT to see exactly what’s going on inside them, including UCaaS applications. Nearly 60 per cent of the Viavi respondents said their top cloud concern is the ability to track application bugs and patches; 53 per cent cited loss of visibility and control; and 50 per cent said it’s hard to assess the impact of their UC deployment.
“As more applications are virtualized and migrated to the cloud, this introduces new visibility obstacles and potential sources that can negatively impact performance and increase delay,” the Viavi report concluded. “To minimize this exposure, IT teams will need to collaborate for optimal service delivery wherever cloud is deployed.”
3) The move to mobile
The world has gone mobile, and UC is no exception. Employees at enterprise organizations want to work remotely; their bosses in the C-suite are looking at UCaaS as a way to make that happen.
Ovum notes that “vendors developing UC solutions will increasingly take a mobile-first approach to development … Meanwhile, providers will lead with UC services that are based on architecture that is mobile in its core, rather than one in which mobility is more of an afterthought.”
But adding mobile to the UC mix requires real-time communication capabilities to be embedded into business applications. That requires APIs. So taking UC mobile, in a multi-cloud framework, sometimes leads to more complexity.
4) Vendor shakeups
There’s been a lot going on in the UC vendor space. Avaya filed for bankruptcy protection in January, Polycom was acquired by a private equity firm, Unify was bought by Atos, and Nokia’s deal to purchase Alcatel-Lucent was finalized at the end of last year. In the midst of these changes, Ovum advises UC and UCaaS customers to do their research and “proceed with caution.”
“Such a large amount of M&A activity will disrupt the UC market throughout 2017. In some cases, product lines will be consolidated and in other cases strategic initiatives will be reconsidered and potentially changed,” Ovum predicts.
5) More LOB involvement
Since UCaaS is viewed as a centrepiece of the new digital workspace that goes beyond just communication, line of business (LOB) has become far more involved in its deployment.
This means “CIOs and IT departments will need to work more closely with other parts of the company,” Ovum states. “Different departments and different groups of employees will have different objectives. And they will use collaboration technology differently to accomplish those objectives.”
Although LOB input is essential to help IT refine the UCaaS user experience, involving more players and opinions in the process can result in complications and delays.
These are all challenges that can be overcome with proper diligence and planning. Organizations that take their UC into the cloud with their eyes open to these potential situations will have an easier transition and reap the business benefits earlier.