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Cloud unified communications adoption still faces barriers

Upgrade costs and security concerns were once the main barriers to cloud unified communications. But while vendors addressed those concerns, new barriers to adoption have emerged.

Cloud-based unified communications, or UCaaS, offers companies large and small unprecedented functionality with almost zero hardware investment. So why isn't every company racing to convert to the cloud? Technical and cultural issues, and even company politics could be barriers to adoption -- or at least slowing it. Let's explore a few possible reasons.

Cloud, but which cloud?

For many prospective customers, the decision to move to cloud unified communications is easy, but immediately gets complicated by the question "which cloud?" When we say cloud, we typically mean a public cloud, but other options exist. A company can build a private cloud instead. This option provides better control over security -- a common early concern about cloud UC -- but will cost more since the resources are not shared. Organizations can also choose from several hybrid options where UC deployments can use both private and public cloud, or combine some on-premises equipment with cloud-based gear.

While some vendors like Avaya can provide cloud UC in any of these combinations, others may only support one approach. In such cases, deciding which architecture and implementation to choose can slow down a move to cloud unified communications.

Cost and loss of ownership

One of the early benefits companies saw in UCaaS was the ability to replace costly and often complex gear with gear-free, per-user pricing. That is both good and bad.

In the past, telephony and UC gear had a long life span, and after the initial Capex, UC infrastructure had relatively small Opex consisting of software maintenance and in-house tech support for configuration and upgrades. With cloud, the Capex and on-premises support requirements go away, but the usage payments never do. Vendors are all for the monthly subscription model, but customers can do little when locked into a vendor contract and costs keep creeping up. Some organizations may be reluctant to go all the way into cloud unified communications and lose ownership and control of their deployment.

Company politics

Existing UC deployments consisting of telephony, messaging and video can be expensive and require a lot of in-house tech attention. The IT manager who owns the technology in a UC deployment might not be happy to see the related Capex budget disappear, along with the staff responsible for in-house UC getting assigned elsewhere in the company. Many managers are happy to expand their kingdoms but less enamored of shrinking them. So be aware of politics and consider how to make the shift a win-win.

Feature integration

Feature integration and presenting a simple and seamless platform is important to organizations, according to a report from UCaaS provider Fuze, based on surveys of IT leaders and knowledge workers. The UCaaS market has seen a flurry of consolidation as vendors have made acquisitions and formed partnerships in order to be able to provide the full range of UC functions. In the beginning, it's likely these acquired or partnered functions are not integrated as intuitively as users would like them to be. You should identify what UC functions your employees will be using initially and make sure your prospective vendor has made this subset of functions usable and intuitive.

Forced change

Some users resent the idea of forced change, according to the Fuze report. It's important to remember that a lot of users might be comfortable with existing-but-lacking communications and collaboration systems. In fact, moving to a new cloud unified communications system could initially make some users less productive simply due to the change and the associated learning curve. For those in the vanguard of cloud UC, it's important to reach out to existing users and build a path forward that they can embrace and support.

In removing barriers to cloud UC, look closely at the technology to select the right architecture and vendors, but also take a wider perspective to show your company's users how the long-term benefits will outweigh any short-term migration or learning-curve issues.

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