A+ A A-
Wednesday, 29 August 2012 09:49

Should your company move to the cloud?

Should your company move to the cloud?

Cloud-based communications has clear benefits, but whether those benefits will accrue to your organisation depends on a number of factors. If your enterprise answers to any of the questions in the checklist below, you may be in the market for a hosted PBX.

Are you likely to expand?

Entities with significant potential for branch-like expansion – such as a medium-to-large-footprint bank, a retail chain or a service station franchise – can derive the most value from cloud telephony. Every time a new branch of franchisee comes on-line, the expense of an on-site PBX has real potential to sink the business case. With cloud, the franchisor or corporate head office can offer hosted telephony into the bargain, significantly lowering the entry barrier for local businesses. In addition, this model of telephony is much easier to roll out and manage for uptime, and the "on-net" savings possible with cloud further lift the business case.*

Are your employees mobile?

Is a significant portion of your workforce mobile, either by virtue of being constantly on the road or remotely stationed? A cloud communications configuration can provide satellite working units with full enterprise collaboration and unified communications at low cost. Even user administration tasks can easily be done via Web portal, from any operating platform (device).

Do you need flexible communications capacity?

Cloud computing operates on a "virtualised" design principle, where physical separations between resources like disk drives or servers are irrelevant – all the computing power represented by these resources are pooled together in an amorphous "cloud" of divisible capacity. In such a scenario, you're not bound by the limitations or excess capacity of discrete servers; you can simply procure just enough virtual capacity for your use in any given month (or shorter time increments). This makes sense for campaign call centres or varying seasonal demands on your business communications.

Is your power supply unpredictable?

Cloud data centres are amply provided with protection against power surges and cuts. The alternative is unappealing – a high-end UPS (uninterruptible power supply) that only keeps you going for so long, or costly on-site power generation.

Does your business rely on collaboration?

You may want to employ cloud techniques to give access to at least some applications, such as hosted enterprise resource planning (ERP) for managing suppliers, or hosted collaboration applications for shared workflow. It is also highly advisable to have hosted communications to cheaply bring partners "on-net" if there is a business relationship requiring constant communication. This applies, for instance, to retailers getting purchasing authorisation from a customer's credit card institution.

Do you need to standardise?

Cloud also makes sense where you want group businesses to standardise on certain applications, such as financial and ERP.

These scenarios are by no means exhaustive, and new usage cases are constantly emerging. Chances are that you will discover a few of your own if you see benefit in having access to shared or centralised ICT infrastructure with best-in-class business continuity assurance.

* On-net savings can accrue between branches, to head office, and even to business partners if the installation provides for it.

Published in Software
Tuesday, 28 August 2012 11:24

When UCC and BYOD collide

When UCC and BYOD collide

A lot of businesses today are working towards creating Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) systems that replace the disparate mixture of voice, e-mail, video, instant messaging (IM), SMS' and used by their employees.

However, it would seem that the progress towards UCC is on the verge of colliding with bring your own device (BYOD) mobile device management.

The reality is most companies won't be able to standardise on a single mobile-device platform. Workers are accustomed to using their own personal devices and switching back and forth from a company-provided appliance to their own may prove to be intrusive and time-consuming.

The question therefore is how can BYOD be integrated with a corporate UCC systems strategy that will only be effective if everyone is engaged at all levels?

What and how

A good place to start is to determine what and how. Therefore, what mobile devices are supported and importantly, how? This will give organisations a clearer picture to work with and provide a good foundation to start for developing a UCC strategy that incorporates BYOD.

Quite logically the next step is to ascertain which devices are used by employees. Undoubtedly there will be a myriad of products and manufacturers to deal with. Here it will be important to list the 'most to less' in order to identify the devices to priority. Chances are two or three operating systems (OS') will dominate the list.

The next is then what features should be supported and how. For example, for those companies that feature a large contingent of remote/mobile workers, e-mail accessibility is a must. Another example is access to enterprise business applications which is particularly beneficial to sales people who have to provide answers on product availability on-the-fly.

Drilling down to essential services that must be provided by the UCC system is half the battle won. Coupled with OS' and manufacturers profiles, the sheer volume of devices will become less complex.

Consider hosted UCC

For companies that are driven by BYOD user needs, a hosted UCC system is a compelling solution. Hosted UCC provides access to systems via the cloud which means the physical software doesn't have to be installed on the device.

Hosted UCC systems work well with collaboration whiteboards, e-mail and IM applications. Smartphones for example use standard mobile voice services and integrate with most voice systems that support the PSTN (public switched telephone network) used in SA and most parts of the world.

Tablets, however, typically require a compatible VoIP client even in the case for browser-based UCC systems. Fortunately most hosted UCC providers have developed plug-ins that can be installed with minimum disruption.

Another important consideration is managing and monitoring all these devices. Hosted UCC takes over the management and monitoring of devices, controlling access to applications and minimising potential risk to the organisation and its data.

The major plus though is that hosted UCC providers are constantly developing new mobile applications that overcome interoperability and access issues, keeping trend with new devices and their required features.

It therefore takes away a lot the headache associated with managing a BYOD environment.

The human element

Once you have your BYOD integration in place there is another important issue to contend with: the human element.

For one, BYOD users must be able to add applications / components to their devices to conform to company communication standards. Also, if some applications / components are not available for a specific device it is up to the user to report this and work with what is available.

Lastly, chances are good that business critical functionality will stay within strict accessibility parameters only accessed via fixed technology such as thin clients and user PCs. BYOD users will have to accept this and realise that they will lose some accessibility features when using their mobile devices.

What is clear is that integrating BYOD as part of a UCC strategy is a must for the future. The devices aren't going to become less feature-rich and companies should harness the productivity gains associated with BYOD.

Published in Mobile
UC projects fail when they don’t heed cultural impact on organisations

Unified communications (UC) is changing the way organisations operate, as their employees tend to be more available, productive and effective when invested with UC tools.

But report published in July from analyst firm Canalys points out that many UC deployments fail or don’t meet their goals because their cultural (people) impact and the related contexts of IT consumerisation ‘BYOD’ (bring your own device) and workforce mobility are ignored.

In Tellumat, we are in agreement that many UC failures can be avoided by approaching projects as a business transformation process in which the user experience is central.

Three key trends

Consumerisation is the increasing use by employees of technologies like smart phones, iPads, video and social networking tools in the enterprise.

As Canalys points out, organisations that fail to assimilate and take advantage of consumerisation (for instance, with a BYOD strategy) will find themselves increasingly at a disadvantage against competitors.

For example, organisations that aren’t visible on in social media will become remote from customers who want to communicate via an increasing number of channels. (Conversely, UC solution providers that do not recognise the touch points of the technology with consumerisation and BYOD will at the very least miss the opportunity to leverage existing consumer platforms.)

Vendors and partners must also advise customers on the impact of workforce mobility, on processes and information accessed by employees.

Workforce mobility is not a new concept, but due to the consumerisation of IT and BYOD, it is a rapidly accelerating trend, making it an IT priority.

The proliferation of mobile devices provides employees with greater access to tools like video collaboration. Increasingly, employees want to access business applications and social media while on the move. If mobility is not considered as an integral part of future UC strategies, then the investment will be wasted.

Expert guidance

To accommodate these trends in employees’ everyday workflow, organisations will need guidance from experienced UC partners. Issues that have to be thrashed out include:

  • The decision about which platforms to support (iOS, Android or BlackBerry),
  • The changing security ecosystem, and
  • Networking (the number of devices without Ethernet ports is on the increase).

But it goes deeper than processes and architecture, touching the very core of an organisation’s objectives. Technologies like UC, BYOD and mobility have impact far beyond the scope of just an IT department purchasing decision. They affect management, HR, marketing, sales, R&D and back-office integration, in countless new ways.

To prepare for the impact of the new technologies and accommodate them, organisations must ask themselves what they want the technologies to achieve, and within what parameters. The following considerations are common:

  • Organisations must work through changing access modes and trust accords very closely and apply corporate policies as well as IT security measures accordingly.
  • Education of employees is a crucial aspect of a holistic UC deployment: employees must understand their responsibilities and obligations in a world where they are able to freely move sensitive data from device to device and location to location.
  • Equally, the corporate culture of the organisation must embrace trust and openness in a mobile, UC-driven, BYOD environment, so that employees are able to take more rapid but well-informed decisions.
  • UC deployments that incorporate collaborative tools and social media work most effectively when the deployment is aligned with business goals such as improving customer satisfaction or streamlining decision-making processes.
  • Collaboration must enable individuals to identify other individuals in order to be able to freely form communities that can quickly come together to tackle specific company issues.

All these and more must be keen focus areas in the purchasing decision, to ensure that the organisation is prepared for the big changes that UC can bring, and that benefits will be realised.

Published in Mobile
Working in the Cloud

The annual SME Survey released in May this year has showed that only 9% of SMEs made use of the Cloud at the end of 2011, but the outlook for cloud delivery of unified communications platforms seems to be getting brighter. We’re seeing bandwidth supply restrictions lifted and high costs lowered – all of which could drive businesses to the cloud.

It’s not surprising if one considers the benefits of cloud-based computing – not only with unified communications (UC) but also for most other applications. The low upfront cost and predictability makes it easy for businesses to enter the market, giving those who didn’t have prior access to a high degree of functionality/scalability an instant tech upgrade.

Gone are the capacity issues that has been a bane to the existing of growing companies – your business can be opened like a floodgate one minute, and then slowed down to a steady trickle the next, depending on your needs. Likewise, you never have to worry about investing in technology that gets old or broken or in need of an upgrade – adoption, upgrades, support and maintenance are all in the hands of your cloud provider. Not to mention the fact that the cloud is as eco-friendly as it gets with just-enough, centralised server and electrical power and cooling. The cloud promises to transform your business instantly, at a fraction of the cost of traditional computing.

At least – that’s the theory.
Many companies who rushed to the cloud have experienced what is now being referred to as “the broken promise of the cloud”. For one thing, it is not as inexpensive as the hype has promised. The South African telecoms environment has all but overcome its history of high-priced, under-supplied bandwidth – which means that cloud solutions do not scale as well as it could. Although SMEs may be benefitting from wholesale cloud delivery of UC, larger companies aren’t in the same position, opting to run hybrid UC environments that embrace the efficiencies and functional enhancements of cloud computing without running up high incoming bandwidth costs. Others combine the best of both worlds by opting for an on-premise solution at Head Office, and cloud-delivered UC at their branches.

At the end of the day, there is still some peace of mind that goes along with knowing that your equipment and data is on hand – particularly from the point of view of data security, reliability and quality of service (QoS). If you’re willing to make the investment in solid access technology with extra-line redundancy and other means of assuring QoS and business continuity, then a remote service need not be a scary prospect. But keep in mind that data security often enjoys a high priority with enterprises, in which case the hybrid model makes sense yet again.

In terms of private cloud configurations, where the infrastructure is dedicated solely to the customer, there may be a way out of the dilemma – whether hosted on- or off-site – as it offers dedicated security and reliability while handing over the headache (and cost) of managing the solution to the service provider. On the whole, private cloud solutions are suited to top-scale enterprise clients like banks, and not everyday computing environments.

In my opinion, the cloud is a viable prospect with 30 to 50-user clients as well as corporate with branch networks. To serve these, UC technology and platform providers will increasingly adapt their business models, moving from on-site integration experts to remote delivery managed service partners and infrastructure hosts in the medium to long term. Customers should also have a good understanding of why they’re considering a cloud solution. If it is purely financial, a managed service offering from a vendor may provide the same benefits in terms of scalability, pay per use and with remote management, they same response time in terms of moves, adds and changes.

This will not only provide a solution to a market increasingly spoilt for cheap bandwidth and mature, virtualised computing applications, but to service providers will find a source of annuity revenue that safeguards their business when times are tough. And more importantly - users will have the benefit of accessing their entire computing environment from anywhere, on any device.

Businesses considering a cloud strategy should avoid the hype and take note of the trade-offs in order to be successful.

Published in Software
Copyright © 2014 gdmc (Geoffrey Dean Marketing Corporation cc). All rights reserved. Material may not be published or reproduced in any form without prior written permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy. External links are provided for reference purposes. SALeader.co.za is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.

Login or Subscribe