The concept of unified communications (UC) — voice, video, chat, email and collaboration all delivered over a single IP connection — has been hyped for more than a decade, but takeup rates remain low. Will shifting those services into the cloud make them more appealing to businesses?
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No-one is arguing that UC isn't potentially useful if you actually implement it. However, the gap between the theoretical benefits and companies actually taking the plunge has always been very broad. New NEC-sponsored research from Telsyte suggests that while companies are warming to the concept, uptake is still relatively low.
"Unified communications has been touted as the best thing since sliced bread, but penetration of cloud UC is still only around 10 per cent," Telsyte analyst Rodney Gedda said. However, that figure is likely to rise; by 2017, Telsyte is projecting that 20 per cent of Australian businesses will use the cloud for enterprise communications, and a further 13 per cent will use a combination of both on-premises and cloud models.
What that tells us is that while the benefits of a cloud approach are manifest — more flexibility, easier expansion and lower maintenance costs — it will be some time before business communications take full advantage. In the meantime, conventional phone systems are still very much the norm. Telsyte's research suggests 78 per cent rely on on-premises systems.
Telsyte's paper points out that even these older systems can be tweaked for better performance and flexibility: "Whatever the delivery model, a modern business communications system should offer more than just a desk phone. Calls can be traversed over data networks to reduce toll charges and applications and mobile devices can be integrated with voice and video communications to enhance employee productivity."
Despite the promise of increased productivity, the biggest motivation for adopting any cloud-based form of communications remains the potential to save money. 44 per cent of cloud users surveyed by Telsyte identified lowered cost as the main benefit. The next most common benefit was better uptime (cited by 16 per cent). Conversely, the cost of converting from and replacing old systems was the most common reason not to identify UC.
NEC, which has traditionally played largely in the on-premises space, will launch its own Cloud Collaboration suite in November. The service uses Cisco's Hosted Cloud Collaboration Solution platform, and offers optional connectivity through AAPT. We'll look more closely at the service when it launches, but based on the Telsyte data, price will remain a key consideration.