Cloud Communications: Asking the Big Questions
We're almost there, but lingering questions will keep 2016 from being the year of the cloud in UC.
As the 2016 edition of Enterprise Connect unfolds in Orlando, Fla., next week, one of the hottest topics will be the rise of the cloud in unified communications. Many industry pundits have heralded 2016 as the year of the UC cloud, and the mania is at an all-time high.
Truth be told, I see 2016 being more the year of UC-as-a-service (UCaaS) hype than the year UCaaS becomes pervasive in the enterprise. Too many big questions still need answering. They are as follows:
- Is cloud communications cheaper that premises-based solutions? One of the main value propositions of cloud services is the "pay per use" or consumption-based pricing models. While organizations looking to shift from CapEx to OpEx spending may find this model an advantage, it doesn't necessarily mean cloud is cheaper. Much of the cost comparison revolves around how long a company would have kept its premises-based technology. My research has shown that four years is about the break-even point, so if your business is one of those that keeps its communications platforms for seven to 10 years, cloud likely isn't going to be cheaper for you. Personally, I don't believe cost should be the primary factor to do or not do cloud, but talking about the pricing models is a worthwhile exercise.
- When will cloud solutions be interoperable with one another? They say that no man is an island and while that's true, UCaaS solutions are islands. Some UCaaS providers might offer interoperability with their premises-based counterparts, but little interoperability exists across cloud services today. This means if your organization wants to use a different service for voice, video, and Web conferencing, you're probably going to have to administer those services independently. If cloud is to be ubiquitous, interoperability must get better.
- Are cloud services really secure? For as long as I can remember, the top barrier to cloud adoption has been concern over security. I've heard many experts at RSA, Interop, and other events talk about how to secure the cloud, and I've found some of the recommendations to be highly impractical. Most organizations have zero visibility into the internal policies, hiring practices, and processes of their cloud providers, so they have no real way to know their data is secure. You could demand an audit, but cloud providers aren't obliged to comply. In addition, securing data can be a challenge as it traverses the Internet. Is encryption enough? Securing the cloud is a multi-dimensional problem that we've yet to solve.
- What's the future of cloud communications? More and more I believe that the UCaaS market is a stopgap on the way to communications platform as a service, or CPaaS. Right now you call up your favorite communications cloud provider and buy voice, video, chat, or something else as a service. Is that really the ideal model? Might it not be better to build applications that have communications functions built into them? For example, if a customer is using a retailer's application and has a question, should he or she have to leave the application to make a call or send a message? If you ask me, that's better done in the application itself. This model of communications as a platform is ideally suited for the mobile world where switching between applications adds a lot of latency to a process.
These are just some of the things that make me wonder whether cloud communications is ready to fulfill its potential.
At Enterprise Connect, I will be co-moderating the Cloud Summit with Beth Schultz, No Jitter editor, on the morning of Wednesday, March 9. During the panel, Beth and I will be drilling down on these points and others with the below set of panelists:
- Carl Baptiste, SVP UC and Enterprise Solutions, Genband
- Aaron Shepler, Platform Solutions Director, ShoreTel
- Manav Khurana, VP Product Marketing, Twilio
- Frank Ciccone, Executive Director, Verizon
- Jeff Platon, Chief Marketing Officer, Interactive Intelligence
- Andrew Sinclair, GM of Skype Product Marketing, Microsoft
- Enzo Signore, Chief Marketing Officer, 8x8
This should be a great panel, so please attend and determine whether your organization is ready to make the leap to the cloud. See you in Orlando!