When we speak to clients and prospective customers about their unified communications (UC) needs, they'll often tell us that they want something based in the cloud. Take a top-level look at their requirements and it's easy to see why: there's a big appeal in having the UC platform and endpoints you need, without the investment and complications of having to acquire, deploy and manage it all yourself.
Dig a little deeper though and for many businesses a cloud-based solution may not be ideal. For a start, the cloud is far from the only way to achieve a UC system that you need neither own nor manage: for example, Ideal can provide Cisco Hosted Unified Communications Services (HUCS), located either on the customer premises or at our own secure datacentre.
Far from specifically wanting a price-per-handset cloud offering, often clients simply want to not own the solution, or not manage it. Often they want the flexibility to support comparatively short-term deployments over six, 12 or 18 months without investing in infrastructure. Clients tend to have in mind how a UC solution might look and feel to them, but without such a clear picture of how it's actually provided.
The elephant in the cloud
Recent developments remind us that there's a bigger consideration, though, particularly for those businesses who collect and process sensitive customer information: the modern UC solution is a conduit for information that's commercially sensitive, or which is personal and confidential to your customers. Much of the data being collected in these systems really shouldn't be sent outside of the organisation, let alone into the cloud and completely beyond your sphere of control.
In fact, more and more I believe there are critical elements of a UC solution that should be highly controlled by the client organisation - even though they need not remain on their own premises. Some other features and benefits can be delegated to third parties and provided from the cloud or by partners, and it increasingly looks as though successful and secure UC solutions will become based around this kind of hybrid offering.
You can see from Cisco's strategy that it understands this. Cisco Hosted Unified Communications Services are deployed either wholly on a client site, or on dedicated or shared and partitioned hardware in the datacentre, but as well as hardware solutions HUCS encompasses features like collaboration meeting rooms that can integrate with telephony solutions, with mobile workers and so on.
For our clients, this kind of hybrid system can deliver most of the advantages of a cloud service, without most of its concerns or limitations. I think that's the best match for the current market demands, and it's this ecosystem that's most interesting and of most value to our clients.
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