Buyer's Handbook: Assess a combined VoIP and unified communications framework Article 6 of 7

Compare offerings from 8 leading cloud and hybrid VoIP vendors

Learn how organizations can select the enterprise VoIP vendor that offers the platform with the best mix of functionality, interoperability, reliability and ongoing support.

Although cloud computing has had a significant impact across much of enterprise IT for the past decade, voice over IP is one area where public cloud services have had slower than average adoption rates. While there are several reasons for this, including companies having limited internet bandwidth or being locked into long-term public switched telephone network contracts, cloud-based platforms from VoIP vendors are finally starting to catch on.

Thanks to the growing popularity of cloud-based VoIP, the number of VoIP vendor options and differentiating features is also increasing. So it's important that organizations select the VoIP system that has the best mix of functionality, interoperability, reliability and ongoing support for the money. The following five use-case scenarios show why a business might choose one cloud VoIP platform over another and examine offerings from these VoIP vendors: 8x8 Inc., Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE International), Cisco, Fuze Inc., Microsoft, Mitel Networks Corp., RingCentral Inc. and Unify.

Scenario 1: A new startup with a mobile workforce

The organization is a new startup with anywhere from five to 200 employees. What sets this startup apart from others is that its workforce is highly distributed. While a handful of employees operate out of a corporate office, the rest simply work on the road or out of their homes. This scenario is tailor-made for a SaaS VoIP platform.

For users who are looking for a simple, no-frills cloud VoIP platform with unlimited calling to many of the most popular countries, 8x8's X Series offers low-cost service plans. The vendor also supports a wide range of third-party phones. These include session initiation protocol (SIP)-compatible softphones and certain Cisco and Polycom desk phones.

The Fuze VoIP platform provides a desktop and mobile app that offers integrated chat, file sharing, video conferencing and VoIP calling. Companies that need a mobile platform that operates seamlessly between devices may want to consider Fuze.

Cisco's Webex Teams platform also combines chat, file sharing, video conferencing and calling into a single unified platform across all modern desktop and mobile operating systems. Webex Teams -- formerly known as Cisco Spark -- tightly integrates Cisco's Webex online meeting platform. From a public switched telephone network (PSTN) perspective, Webex Teams Calling offers unlimited nationwide calling in the U.S. with low per-minute international rates.

Startups that have a Microsoft Office 365 license may want to investigate Microsoft Teams. Since Office 365 is popular with small businesses and startups, it's likely that users will have Office 365 licenses. To get VoIP calling through the PSTN using Microsoft Teams is just a matter of the organization upgrading its Teams license. In 2017, Microsoft announced that it was retiring the Skype for Business platform and urged users to migrate to Teams. While the transition has been smooth for some, others grew wary of the Teams telephony roadmap.

Scenario 2: Replacing on-premises platforms to reduce IT management overhead

This scenario examines a midsize company that's currently using an on-premises VoIP platform. While the current system provides a dial tone to each desk phone in the company, the product has become cumbersome to manage. This includes management duties such as firmware updates and security patches, as well as ensuring there's enough power and cooling in the server room where the PBX is located and that the VoIP platform is being backed up appropriately.

It's important that organizations select the VoIP system that has the best mix of functionality, interoperability, reliability and ongoing support for the money.

Midsize organizations that have been around for a while generally stick to traditional, well-known enterprise infrastructure vendors. In many instances, IT and business leaders may not be as familiar with VoIP vendors such as 8x8, Fuze, RingCentral and Unify. Since VoIP is likely an important component for a business, these companies may prefer to use a vendor they know and trust.

Business leaders are more likely to be familiar with companies such as Cisco, Microsoft and Mitel. In fact, their organization's production environment may already include hardware or software from one or more of these VoIP vendors. It's also possible they're already using an on-premises VoIP platform from one of these three vendors. If that's the case, the same desktop phones, conference phones and video conferencing hardware can potentially be reused when migrating to a same-vendor SaaS VoIP platform, which can save the company considerable upfront costs.

Scenario 3: Voice is becoming a secondary communication method

For a few business verticals such as technology startups, online businesses and boutique retail outlets and restaurants that cater to younger customers, the telephone is no longer the primary mode of communication. Instead, other unified communications tools such as chat, video conferencing and file sharing may be of more interest. Additionally, integration of third-party business apps can help organizations streamline processes. Popular integrations include apps that handle customer relationships, digital asset management marketing and productivity.

Cisco Teams and Mitel MiCloud boast a range of third-party application integrations. Both products also offer easy-to-use API kits for organizations that want to build their own application integrations. Supported integrations include popular business apps such as Salesforce, Zendesk, G Suite and Dropbox.

Microsoft Teams is another UC platform organizations should consider when voice is a secondary concern. As noted previously, Microsoft Teams is free when users are licensed to use Microsoft's SaaS-based Office 365 platform. If only a handful of users need an external dial tone, Teams can be a low-cost option.

Scenario 4: Midsize organization using a distributed, global branch-office model

Midsize companies that are eager to simplify the administration and upkeep of their UC platform often become disappointed when they learn about certain shortcomings of some of the current SaaS-based VoIP platforms. For example, some platforms aren't available or supported in every geographic region where the organization has an office. So, for some, a SaaS model currently isn't an option.

A handful of hybrid cloud alternatives are available for businesses in this situation that want to lower their administration overhead, yet can't fully commit to a SaaS VoIP platform. Two popular choices are Cisco's Business Edition 4000 and ALE's OXO Connect. Both platforms offer on-premises hardware that's configured, monitored and managed in the cloud. For globally dispersed users operating out of branch offices, hybrid cloud platforms offer an excellent alternative to both on-premises and SaaS in certain situations.

Scenario 5: Distributed or at-home call center agents

This scenario addresses companies that have a mobile workforce, yet a sizable portion of those remote workers are call center agents. Surprisingly, the days of centrally locating call and contact center agents in massive cubicle farms are ending for many businesses. Instead, SaaS VoIP and contact center platform services can be delivered over the internet, and agents can work out of branch or home offices.

Products such as RingCentral's Contact Center offer omnichannel customer relations, integration with customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, and in-depth analytics and reporting. RingCentral's Contact Center is an add-on service that includes all the typical call center features and integrates seamlessly with the RingCentral Office platform. This enables office workers and call center agents to use the same cloud-based UC platform.

Another option is Unify's OpenScape Cloud Contact Center for both inbound and outbound contact center communications. Additionally, for businesses that already have a traditional, in-house contact center and want to supplement it with at-home agents, OpenScape Cloud Contact Center can integrate seamlessly between the two systems with a low upfront investment and minimal setup.

For organizations that want simplicity, both Fuze and 8x8 offer most of the features midsize and even large companies are seeking when communicating with employees, customers or B2B partners. This includes CRM integration, call queuing and real-time reporting.

Editor's note:

Using extensive research into the VoIP market, TechTarget editors focused this article series on 10 industry-leading business VoIP providers that offer on-premises, cloud-based and hybrid VoIP and that combine unified communications functionality into a single communications system. Our research included data from TechTarget surveys and reports from other well-respected research firms, including Gartner.

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