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A Dissenting View on 'Cloud for All'

I'm going to go against conventional wisdom and, for the record, state that in my humble opinion the future will not be 100% cloud-based. The more businesses I speak with, the more I'm convinced that while the cloud will be the sole answer for many, many organizations, others will take a middle ground. And even as the cloud communications market continues its strong growth, and cloud deployments soon overtake premises-based solutions, I believe vendors will still need to provide premises-based options for customers.

I have become even more resolute in my belief that premises-based solutions will have an important role to play for the foreseeable future based on conversations I've had with CIOs, IT professionals, consultants, resellers, vendors, and others over the past few months. Don't get me wrong, I think cloud communications and UCaaS are great, and provide tons of benefits for businesses of all sizes. But that doesn't mean that the cloud is for everyone, and providers and resellers shouldn't be pushing businesses to move to the cloud if it's not right for them.

UCaaS and cloud communications makes the most sense for SMBs and organizations with primarily remote and/or mobile workers, fluctuating staffing, or small IT departments that want to outsource management of their UCC systems. No Jitter readers are familiar with the myriad cloud benefits, including speed of deployment, ease of management, the ability to stay current with the latest releases, and increased flexibility. Organizations of all sizes have reaped the benefits of cloud communications, and the number of businesses moving to the cloud will continue to increase. Nevertheless, providers that are essentially forcing customers to move to the cloud model are being shortsighted.

Interest If Not Action

Several communication consultants I spoke with at a recent industry event acknowledged that while all of their clients ask about the cloud and want to investigate cloud options, the majority are still deploying premises-based or hybrid solutions. Many resellers are also finding that while every customer asks about the cloud, the majority still purchase and deploy premises-based solutions.

According to these consultants and resellers, hybrid seems to be the most popular model going forward, as businesses want to retain their existing investments. This is especially true for larger organizations that have a range of products from various vendors and suppliers.

Several reasons stand out as to why many of these companies are reluctant to move to the cloud. The most common are cost, loss of control, and security concerns. While the UCaaS and cloud communication vendors have done an admirable job of providing enhanced security features for their cloud offerings, many of the resellers and consultants I've spoken with confirm that a good portion of their customers, particularly those in industries like health care and defense, are not convinced. One consultant who specializes in hospitals and the health care market noted that none of his clients are moving to the cloud for the foreseeable future, as these companies want to have full control over their communications solutions and operations. Almost all of the consultants I spoke with reiterated this view.

The other key issue is cost. Once you do the math, you realize that the total cost of a cloud solution is much greater than the cost of a premises-based solution. While cost isn't the primary factor, and there are many other considerations favoring the cloud, many organizations can't rationalize paying more for a cloud offering.

All About Choice

I believe it all comes down to choice, and businesses should be able to choose the best solution that meets their needs. However, more and more vendors are pushing their customers to the cloud, whether the customers want it or not.

At a "Future of UC" session I moderated at UC Expo in London last month, I asked my industry panelists if the cloud is a foregone conclusion for business communications. While they all agreed that it was, they showed some subtle differences in their opinions. When asked about the balance between cloud and premises solutions in the near future, for example, Andrew Maher, customer engagement evangelist - EMEA at Avaya, said that while a lot of UCC is moving to the cloud, some organizations still want control of their own equipment. "I'm not convinced that everyone is ready to move to the cloud," he noted.

Alternatively, Snorre Kjesbu, VP & GM for Cisco Collaboration Endpoint Technology, and Kerri Hollis, senior product marketing manager for Microsoft Skype for Business in the U.K., each said their companies are pushing for 100% cloud, and that the future will be totally cloud-based.

Frankly, I was surprised to hear this, as both companies have significant installed bases of on-prem customers. While both companies are helping premises-based customers migrate to the new world of cloud, I got the sense that, going forward, customers won't have a choice -- it will be cloud or nothing.

Moving at Your Own Pace

At a Mitel event last week, I was impressed when Bob Agnes, president, Mitel Enterprise Solutions, acknowledged that not everyone is ready for the cloud -- and pointed to the company's new CloudLink technology, which will help companies move to the cloud if and when they're ready. "CloudLink lets you move forward at the pace you want to move, at the budget you have," he said. The Mitel executives I met with all said the same thing -- while they want to move everyone to the cloud, they know that it's not right for all companies, and they'll offer customers options.

As I noted, companies have many, many good reasons to move to the cloud, and I expect the vast majority will do so and will benefit from the many advantages that cloud communications has to offer. However, vendors and resellers need to recognize that some companies, for one reason or another, will want their communication systems to remain on-prem and under their control. If we still believe that "the customer is always right," we need to enable each customer to make the right choice for its particular needs.