Virtual Office Featured Article

Cloud Communications Many Benefits: Less Cost, More Security, Long-Term Advantages

October 24, 2018
By Arti Loftus - Special Correspondent

While leveraging the cloud for real time communications – voice, messaging, video, collaboration and other human interactive modalities – may not be the last bastion of cloud computing, it is certainly positioned to be the next big breakthrough for enterprises and the service providers providing connectivity and related applications.

Adoption of Cloud Communications as a Service, better known to some as Cloud Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS), is still very early in the adoption curve. While microbusinesses, start-ups and some medium-sized businesses jumped on subscription based RTC years ago, leveraging free or very inexpensive services like FreeConference, UberConference, Google Hangouts, and too many others to list here, large enterprises have been more conservative.

In part, this is likely due to what we refer to as “technical debt” – meaning phone systems including handsets, PBX (News - Alert) and hosted PBX, video conferencing rooms, and more – which still work and have been mainly paid for.

And in part, this “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality has caused an inertia that has been hard for visionary virtualized communications service providers to address.

On top of this, in industries where voice, messaging and video collaborations are regulated (financial services, contact centers in certain industries, healthcare, and more) are conservative and careful before they make moves that could disrupt their day-to-day operations and not support the compliance requirements in place (which are in many cases becoming even more intense).

The fact is, there is still caution on the part of organizations that need to justify their investment quantifiably in any new and disruptive technology, including CPaaS, and its cousin, Unified Communications (News - Alert) as a Service (UCaaS).

Unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) solutions are now, however, exploding in popularity, both domestically globally. According to a study by Transparency Market Research, the UCaaS market is poised to reach $61.9 billion in value by the end of this year, with a 15.7 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2012 to 2018.

Cost savings is one big part of this.

Buying cloud-based communications means, generally, an all-OPEX (News - Alert) vs. CAPEX spend, and a lot of flexibility and scalability given the per-seat models competitors are rolling out.

But cost reduction is just one benefit: what enterprises are finding is an increase in productivity, collaboration, and innovation when team members (internally and externally) can communicate more easily, more visually and more intuitively using their mobile devices and desktops, skipping complicated, onerous and outdated desktop phones all together.

(Most people can’t even figure out how to work desktop phones if they didn’t grow up with them!)

Sacha Gera, SVP of Cloud Products and Engineering, Ribbon Communications (News - Alert), explained it this way: “Cloud communications done well is easier and more efficient to design, implement and maintain for everybody: end users, IT teams, managed service providers and communications service providers. It’s software, it’s secure, and it improves compliance given the digitization of everything from call records to call recording.”

“We’ve bypassed legacy UC and UCC technologies,” Gera continued. “It turns out that linking voice and other services to mobile devices, with the BYOD strategies that started well over a decade ago, represented a transition, connecting the old world to the new world, and it worked out well. Today, however, even the UC and UCC solutions are dated, given the growth of cloud and the confidence in cloud after years of enterprises trialing the cloud for compute and getting incredible cost efficiencies and productivity gains. Real time communications via the cloud is the natural next step, and this is very exciting for our customers, large CSPs, and their customers, SMBs and large enterprises and organizations.”

From the perspective of an IT owner, in-house UC and UCC is unsustainable and not something they want to manage anymore. They are responsible for services working now, not necessarily systems (telecom closets, servers, PBX systems, hosted-PBX systems, desktop phones, softphones, wires and more).

“Services really is the story,” Gera said, “services and applications, which means software that can be delivered via the cloud and over more virtualized network infrastructure generally. That said, voice and video are not as easy to get right as something more familiar, like email and instant messaging. There is quality-of-service to deal with, as well as connection to the PSTN which still connects a surprisingly huge amount of end-points. Cloud communications solutions need to take all this into consideration, and the same skills that made calls sound good and videos look good are still needed, just expressed differently in our increasingly all-IP and Internet-based world.”

If cloud communications were easy, businesses would be deploying “DIY” solutions, and they are not. Why? Because a self-managed cloud solution would require a lot of stuff – networking infrastructure, servers, firewalls, desktop apps, mobile apps, CRM integration, contact center integrating, routing, branch connectivity and more. On top of that, once a home-grown solution is in place, the IT team is stuck with scalability issues and feature requests, help desk and support and a lot more that adds up to a lot of headaches – and money – very quickly.

So today, the role of the IT team (which integrated the “telecom team” years and years ago) is to identify the right service provider and platform, applications, features and economics before they walk away from the old world and move completely into cloud-based RTC.

“ Some service providers who have provided everything from bandwidth to complete ‘phone systems’ have seen a few attempts at in-house cloud communications projects, and they may not have achieved the results they were seeking,” Gera said. “There have also  been attempts to use inexpensive applications which may have ended up not having the necessary security and workflow mechanisms built in, causing risk and downward productivity. The good news is, with high quality cloud communications platforms, service providers can roll out lucrative managed service offerings, which are profitable for them, and save their customers money. And they are doing this to get out in front of being disrupted, and their strategies – to help orchestrate and ensure a successful transformation, are working.”

The other benefit of virtualized, cloud RTC, Gera said, “is the inherent flexibility that makes it easy to add new features, to customize and to layer in value without ever having to ‘rip and replace’ again. This is huge for service providers, being able to utilize a CPaaS to build their own offerings, then customize solutions for their customers in a unified, software defined environment.”

With the global public cloud market expected to top $178 billion in 2018, according to Forrester (News - Alert), businesses can leverage public cloud for some locations, and use private cloud for others; a well-designed CPaaS doesn’t care whether or not the IP and cloud is public or private, but the opportunity to build extremely secure private networks for mission critical enterprises is another huge opportunity for CSPs, according to Gera.

“Industry partners are communicating more, not less, and we’re seeing exciting innovation in the way of private extranets, for example,” Gera said. “One such example is connecting traders in the financial community, where banks can be connected to thousands of other banks, using new RTC technologies that are far more secure, resilient and performant than VPNs. We’re seeing MPLS investments delivering more value, even as the world continues to move towards better management to of the public Internet to bridge the gaps with smaller locations or individuals where a private physical network would be impossible to deliver and justify economically. CPaaS is so much more flexible, particularly when it is delivered on premium bandwidth with the necessary security software in place. We’re talking about dramatic improvements at a fraction of the cost of what organizations had to pay for the equivalent networking 10 or 20 years ago.”

With a quality CPaaS and related network and service, enterprise IT and OT teams no longer need to maintain separate platforms for voice sessions, text messaging, chat, conferencing, business apps, contact centers, and compliance. These services are now easily bundled in the virtualized world and can be provisioned and managed for each user and application and service with point and click admin consoles.

This makes management and maintenance of RTC dramatically more streamlined for enterprises and their service providers.

“The operational and economic aspects are very exciting,” Gera said, “but what we get most excited about is the response from end users, who can work from their desktop, tablet, mobile device and virtualized desktops. Lowering the cost of RTC is a noble and achievable goal, but the highest impact, we are learning from our customers and their customers, is productivity gains and creativity gains – and simply happier and more productive workforces.”

Arti Loftus is an experienced Information Technology specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the research, writing, and editing industry with many published articles under her belt.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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