Cloud communications is a huge topic. As a method of deployment rather than a specific type of product or platform, talking about cloud communications means covering all forms of business communication – telephony, conferencing, contact centre, video, email, IM, collaboration and so on.
What we mean when we talk about cloud communications is the way the end user accesses these platforms. Instead of buying a PBX system or a piece of software which allows a business to, say, make telephone calls and send e-mails, cloud communications refers to the fact that these tools are hosted remotely and access, via an internet connection, is sold as a service.
The hosted cloud service model offers several benefits to businesses compared with buying equipment outright and running it on-premises. These include:
- Lower capital costs. With no up front purchases to make, cloud communications incurs operational expenses only, i.e. the cost of the subscription.
- Lower maintenance overheads. And as you are paying for a service, the costs of system management, maintenance and repair are already included.
- Faster, easier deployment. With no complex hardware to install or software to configure on your own data centre, getting going with a cloud communications solution is simply a case of signing up.
- Flexibility. Because they depend only on an internet connection to work, and maybe downloading an app, cloud services mean you can access your cloud tools on any device, anywhere.
- Scalability. It is extremely easy to add new users, new branch offices, and new communications tools, simply by changing your subscription. There are no glass ceilings, so your comms system can grow exponentially with your business.
Who does this benefit?
Businesses of different shapes and sizes experience the benefits of cloud communications in different ways. Here are some examples.
The Small Trader
For SMEs, reducing costs is a big factor in choosing cloud communications. Subscription-based pricing makes expenditure stable and predictable, and for the businesses without their own in-house IT teams, the service model also offers technical reassurance. Small businesses also benefit from being able to access a broader range of high quality comms tools than they would otherwise be able to afford.
The Midmarket Company
For medium-sized businesses, scalability is a big attraction. These are often businesses which have ambitions to grow, and want enterprise-class IT networks which can support their ambition. In the past, setting up anything other than a telephone network at a new branch office connected to the main HQ system could be prohibitively complicated and expensive. Now setting up a fully functioning UC suite or contact centre system fully integrated with HQ is just a matter of registering new users.
The Large Enterprise
The agility and flexibility of cloud-based systems make it easier for people to work and collaborate together, even over distance. Cloud communications has coincided with an explosion in collaboration platforms, integrated messaging, conferencing and document sharing, as large businesses look for new ways for workers to connect and remain productive on the move. The ready availability of added value applications like analytics and integration with CRM means cloud-based communications can also help to improve standards of service. Finally, the Cloud makes it easier to connect regional and global offices under a single, unified network.
Nowadays, businesses of all shapes and sizes operate with remote and distributed workforces – branch offices, home workers, staff who spend much of their working lives out on the road. The Cloud has changed how communications works over distance. People working from home on a laptop can connect to the office network simply by logging in via a web browser. Staff can be contacted on a mobile phone not just with a voice call, but can be invited to join a video conference, review a document, or asked to share opinions on a group collaboration session. The Cloud keeps people working together any time, any place.
All in one or app by app?
The terms cloud communications and UCaaS are often used interchangeably, but actually cover an important distinction. Unified Communications as a Service – or UCaaS – refers specifically to the provision of all-inclusive UC platforms with a full range of multi-modal comms tools as a hosted cloud service. Cloud communications refers to any individual or combined comms platform made available as a cloud service, so as well as UCaaS, you get cloud PBX, specialist hosted video services, and so on.
The choice a business makes in what type of cloud communications to adopt is very much down to their individual circumstances. UCaaS is a full migration option, ideal if you want an affordable, accessible and agile way to deliver the full range of communications options right across your business. It is also the right choice if you are looking for the efficiency and service benefits you can get from having all communications tools in one place.
Choosing different apps to do different jobs is still a very popular model, however. You may, for example, already have a good quality on-premises PBX which you are keen to get full ROI for, so have no wish to migrate your telephone system into the cloud just yet. Hybrid solutions where you pick and choose different comms platforms hosted in the Cloud, and run them alongside or integrated with your existing on-premises solutions, are very popular because they add an extra degree of choice and control.
How do I know if my business is ready for cloud communications?
As already noted, the decision to migrate communications to the Cloud must be based on a careful analysis of the potential benefits to your individual business. Any business decision boils down to money, and the key thing you need to be sure of is a good ROI.
According to research by Masergy, by far and away the biggest driver for businesses to adopt UC solutions in general is to improve employee collaboration. That is also the top factor used by businesses to calculate ROI (54%), followed by improving employee productivity and job satisfaction (52%).
We have already discussed how the Cloud makes it easier for colleagues to work together and stay productive over distance, any time, any place. If it works out that cloud communications can also save you in capital expenditure and operating costs, you already have a compelling business case to migrate.
This article is part of the July Series of the Technology Track on Cloud Communications, follow the link to see all published and planned articles.