Gotchas with Cloud UC
Know what to look for when investigating and then contracting for cloud services.
Cloud/hosted Unified Communications (UC) is very attractive--you outsource the function. It has the benefit of bill consolidation, lower capital expense, increased savings, and a single point of contact for the complete service, all bundled in one monthly fee. However, implementing a cloud UC service is fraught with potential blocks to its success.
These obstacles were presented in "5 Stumbling Blocks to Avoid When Sourcing Managed and Hosted UC," a session led by Marc Lindsey of Levine, Blaszak, Block & Boothby and David Lee of TechCaliber Consulting at the recent conference, "Negotiate Enterprise Communications Deals," sponsored by CCMI. The presentation provided a number of recommendations and cautions that are of interest when negotiating for cloud Unified Communications.
Missing Costs in the Business Case
When the enterprise staff develops a business case, there is always the chance that something will be overlooked. Moving to a UC cloud service is probably a new experience for the IT staff. The one-time initial costs include:
* A needs assessment, plus site surveys and system design
* New or upgraded endpoints (phones, PCs, headsets) required to take advantage of the UC features
* LAN upgrades
* Implementation services that may be required from third parties
* Decommissioning the legacy systems or services like Centrex
* Internal staff resources, training, and documentation production
The one-time costs do not cover recurring costs like:
* The cloud service itself
* Management of the service if it is performed by a third party
* WAN access upgrades for the connection(s) and the increased bandwidth
* SIP trunk services
* Loss of discounts/cost increases/shortfall charges on existing communications arrangements
Adopting Inflexible Terms
Many enterprises want to be asset-light. They also want to push the capex to be the burden of the service provider. However, this can lead to longer contracts, 3 or more years, for the provider to recoup their costs.
Choosing a hosted service can be complicated by the fact that UC is made up of many features and functions, whose adoption by end users may be difficult to predict. What if:
* The selected features and functions do not end up being used?
* The selected feature and function mix changes?
* The enterprise has a reduction in force, is acquired, or experiences a business downturn?
* The technologies offered do not meet the enterprise needs as the enterprise matures in its use of UC?
These questions go to the heart of the contract terms and their flexibility. Inflexible agreements will not allow the enterprise to evolve in its use of UC.
The enterprise is also looking for price predictability. The service provider should offer a service catalog with clear pricing components. The enterprise should pre-negotiate the rates and their overall structure before embarking on the cloud service.
Inadequately Protecting Data
The need to ensure security and privacy is a continual challenge for the enterprise. In addition, there are industry regulations and compliance requirements that have to be satisfied. The legal responsibilities and liabilities of the service provider and enterprise need to be fully documented.
In this age of virtualization it is sometimes hard to determine where data is located. What if--and this has happened--a government agency subpoenas data of an enterprise sharing the same UC service infrastructure as yours? There has been one case where the FBI confiscated all the servers because it could not isolate the subpoenaed data; as a result, the other service subscribers no longer had access to their data. How is the enterprise protected in this case? Enterprises are accountable for their data and cannot contract their compliance requirements to a third party.
There are ways to mitigate these problems:
* Limit the geographic location(s) of the data.
* Adopt a provider compliance management program.
* Establish litigation hold and support guidelines
* Contract with providers that are compliant with standards.
* Routinely assess the provider's evidence of compliance.
* Encrypt the stored data and limit the provider's access to the keys.
Failing to Address Access to Emergency Services
Supporting emergency conditions and handling 911 and E911 calls present challenges. There is the safety of employees, contractors, and visitors to consider. Inadequate emergency response actions may lead to legal liability. Many states require E911 location information to be as granular as 7,000 square feet for the location data. You will likely require technical design to meet the requirements.
The cloud service agreement should accurately and completely define the enterprise and provider responsibilities. The costs may not have been factored into the into the original service quotation. Will the enterprise have to:
* Retain some of the TDM lines?
* Pay fees to third parties, especially for nomadic device applications?
* Arrange separately for international emergency access capabilities?
Providers would prefer not to accept the emergency responsibilities. So look for disclaimers in the contract that assign the burden solely to the enterprise. Some disclaimers will probably exist for the provider concerning death and personal injuries. Negotiate limited indemnities.
Tripping Over Telecom Regulations
The enterprise should know in advance where the communications may take place. Does the provider have the proper authority to offer the services in another country? Other considerations include:
* What is the relationship between the persons communicating? Depending on the country, they may have to be employed by the same enterprise or subsidiary to use the service legally.
* Does the service connect to the PSTN and if so how?
* Where is the audio bridge located? Does it have both dial-in and dial-out features?
* Will there be chargeback and transfer pricing among the various entities that compose the cloud service?
Many enterprises want to try UC in the cloud. It is almost inevitable that some UC cloud implementation will occur. Knowing what to look for when investigating and then contracting for cloud services can only lead to a better level of service and improve the chances of success.